Matt Warshaw is a former pro surfer from the Zephyr team of Dog Town & Z Boys fame, Editor of Surfer Magazine 1984-90, the author of several books including The History of Surfing, Above The Roar and Photo/Stoner and currently the man behind the greatest website in our sport (and arguably, up there with any website in any sport), The Encyclopedia of Surfing.
We caught up with Matt in his Seattle home during April’s full moon to consider surf-tinged things past, present and future, (read The Warshaw Conventions here) as well as take a deeper dive into Matt favourite chapters from surf history:
I seem to get asked about my favourite chapter or chapters of surf history all the time, and my answer’s always the same, for reasons that are sentimental as much as factual.
Right after WW2, the magnetic centre of the surfing world shifted from Waikiki to Malibu. It makes that jump where the boards change really quickly, from sort of planks to the early balsa boards they call Chip or Malibu boards.
The idea of being in a place like Malibu from 45/46 to the mid 50’s, a ten year period, just about everything that was progressive was taking place on that one beautiful beach, without a crowd.
There were no contests, it all seemed like ‘let’s push this forward just for the sake of having fun’, there was zero commercial component to it. Boards didn’t have stickers – which always really attracted me – and Malibu, with it’s proximity to Los Angeles, seemed like it was almost this secret clubhouse, just 20 miles from this huge urban sprawl. LA itself was a really interesting place, you could almost say that the locus of the country went from New York to LA at the time, and meanwhile just a short drive from this urban area there was this beautiful beach with great surf, and these people living this great life that nobody else in that huge metropolitan area knew anything about.
“Malibu from ’45/’46 to the mid 50’s, a ten year period when just about everything that was progressive was taking place on that one beautiful beach, without a crowd”
Because I grew up down there and because I surfed Malibu a lot in the 70s when it was already a sort of lost cause… the sentimental part is that it’s my home area except, ten times better. I don’t often get kind of wistful, but anytime I see something, images or film, or read something from Malibu just after the war, I can really drift off and think how wonderful that would’ve been.
Another great place to be would be the Gold Coast, Queensland, just when the boards were getting short. An incredible place with a group of people that were about to become the best surfers in the world. MP, Rabbit, PT and everybody, again it’s like a place that hadn’t yet been overrun… although it wasn’t uncrowded. Queensland in the late 60’s- early/mid 70’s seems like it would have been a pretty wonderful place.
Hawaii has never done it for me as much. Maybe I was just scared of the waves there, too big too gnarly, and just being the white boy over there. I started surfing in 69, already always reading about haole go home thing, Hawaii always felt like an unwelcoming place for me. So Australia in the 70’s and California in the early 50’s would be the two eras for me.
I guess another kinda cool period… I remember seeing footage from Waves of Change or Sunshine Sea, so 68/69, with Keith Paul and Mark Martinson riding early shortboards at Hossegor. That seems like that would be a great period. I went to Hawaii lots of times when I worked at Surfer, I challenged myself and I got a lot of work done, I did enjoy it, but it never really lit me up. But one kinda transformative trip for me was my first trip to France in 1988.
I got this opportunity to go to France back then with a few other people, I guess I wasn’t expecting much, I was gonna bring my 6’2″ and last minute I borrowed a 6’6” step up board from Bob Hurley. We surfed Hossegor and Biarritz and I rented a car and got these two really good, big scary days at Mundaka.
That trip was so much better, in every way than any of my Hawaii trips, I’m convinced that it was that trip encouraged me to leave Surfer. At Surfer, everybody was convinced Hawaii was the place to go, and that Southern California was the place… and just walking around Biarritz and seeing all the buildings, the food, and talking with the people we were staying with back then, it was something like ‘It’s a much much bigger world than I’ve been thinking about’.
Not long after that I quit Surfer to go back to school and went to live in San Francisco, which was kinda my way of replicating what I’d kind of found in France on trip, surf, but with alot of other stuff on the doorstep.
It really expanded what I thought of the world in general, not just of surfing, maybe it would have happened anyway as I was coming up to 30, but France is what kicked it off.
I can remember packing up my car with all my stuff, driving thru San Francisco, being back in school and thinking, ‘OK. I’m back on track’.
Cover Photo: Alby Falzon