Matt Warshaw - The History of Surfing

Briefly describe your "job" and what the Encyclopedia of Surfing is.

Encyclopedia of Surfing is full-time. I supplement by being married to a very kind, very understanding, well-paid Amazon employee. 

When did you get your first surfboard? Describe the board and include the year.

Summer of 1969. Horrible no-rocker longboard cut down pintail, 7’ 4” (I was maybe 4’ 10”), fire-engine red, too wide to get my arm around, had to carry the thing on my head until I hit the beach, at which point I dragged it. Total piece of shit, I loved it to death. 

What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?

Looked up to see if my dad got the picture.

What is going well/badly in surfing today and how can we best navigate it to have the greatest positive impact on our sport? 

Going well: World Surf League streamed events, when the surf is good. Best surf writing ever, thank you Bill Finnegan. Computer-made surfboards and the merciful end of the Shaping Guru. Brazil! Steph Gillmore and this incredible 11-year- old girl I just found out about named Sabre Norris. Sean Doherty’s contest coverage for SURFER. Blog posts by Rory Parker. Surfing is doing great!

Going badly: Too many surf photos, videos, forecasts, cams, resorts. A future filled with wave pools and Olympic medalists. For a long time, this was kind of a secret, shadowy non-sport sport. That’s over. Surfing is boring!

Overall most influential surfers of all time?

George Greenough created high-performance surfing. Mickey Dora set the mood—for a lot of us. Gidget put out the Open For Business sign. Gerry Lopez and Tom Curren made the ridiculous “surfing is art” claim seem totally reasonable. Steph Gilmore made us likable. Andy Irons reminded us that even the biggest legends are mortal. Kelly Slater is post-descriptive. I have no words left for Kelly Slater. 

Describe the journey that is your "surf career". Did people ever say you were crazy for doing this, or have you received more praise than criticism?  

I love surfing, and failed at being a pro, and didn’t want a 9-to- 5 job. I’m a good imitator, so I wrote some surf articles more or less in the style of Phil Jarratt and Derek Hynd, and got a job at SURFER. My writing got better, but more importantly I got used to working with all the different magazine pieces—photos, text, design, ads.

How does everything fit? What elements can I format month to month? What has to be created new each time out? I didn’t know it at the time, but those kinds of things, solving those problems, set me up for working on the Encyclopedia.

What would you tell someone who wants to make their way in the surf industry today? How has it changed since you started out nearly 30 years ago? 

There’s very little money in the part of the surf industry that I’ve worked—writing articles, editing mags, owning a website. Pretty much everybody I know in surf media whose work I admire is living at least in part on somebody else’s dime.

Speaking only to those people interested in the editorial-creative side of surf media, I’d say look for inspiration outside of surfing. Subscribe to the New Yorker. Read the Times. Watch Adam Curtis documentaries. Read and watch all the surf stuff too, but know that it will be inferior in every way to the people who really know what they’re doing.  

Where did you grow up and who did you look up to when you were a child? 

Venice, then Manhattan Beach. My favorite surfers were Jock Sutherland, Jeff Hakman, Larry Bertlemann, Buttons, and Shaun Tomson. SURFER editor Drew Kampion, in 1969 and 1970 — I was only 9 or 10 years old, but I somehow knew that he was full of integrity, and not afraid to take on the powers that be, and really funny. In terms of setting me on a career path, Drew pretty much got me started.  

Who/what inspires you today?

Nick Lowe, Anthony Lane, Michael Chabon. Old people who still love what they do, and are good at it. I just read a fantastic New Yorker column on the Cubs winning the World Series, written by Roger Angell, who is 96. Still killing it. I have 40 years left! Maybe more! 

What’s next for you?

History of Surfing website is built, and partly loaded, and I before going to bed I sit here at my office desk and rev it up and listen to it roar and rumble. If Encyclopedia is my glorious Frankenstein, History will be the Bride of Frankenstein. Will pull the curtain back hopefully by the end of the year.

Where can we find you online?



Posted by: Dan Stokes Roman, on November 20, 2016
Categories: Interviews