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Between the Lines

Interview with Matt Warshaw
The Encyclopedia of Surfing
Matt Warshaw

"The leviathan of surf literature .... Wild variety and perfect pacing ... offer greater insights into surfing's vast reach."
Surfing, 10/1/2003"

The most thorough, comprehensive guide to the sport of surfing ever."
Eastern Surf Magazine,

The Encyclopedia of Surfing is the most comprehensive review of the people, places, events, equipment, vernacular, and lively history of this fascinating sport by "one of surfing's most knowledgeable historians" (San Francisco Chronicle). A remarkable collection of expert knowledge, spine-tingling stories, and little-known trivia, this is a book that no surfer-or armchair adventurer-will be able to resist.
Matt Warshaw was born and raised in Southern California, began surfing at age eight, was the 45th-ranked professional surfer in the world in 1982, and became the editor of Surfer magazine in 1990. After receiving a B.A. in History from UC Berkeley in 1992, Warshaw moved to San Francisco and once again began to write about surfing for the surf press as well as general interest magazines and newspapers. His surfing books include Maverick’s: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing, Above the Roar: 50 Surfer Interviews, and Surfriders: In Search of the Perfect Wave.
A Conversation With Surfer Matt Warshaw
Q: What started your fascination with surfing? What keeps that passion going today?
A: Uncle Dan, my mom's much younger brother, visited our San Fernando Valley house in 1965, threw his 9'6" Hobie in the pool, stood me in the middle of the board and pushed me into the deep end. Literally and figuratively. I was five. By '69 we were living in Venice Beach, and I got my own board.

Q: What keeps the passion going today?
A: How to avoid the cliché trap on this one? A minor reason is that even on bad days it’s a far more enjoyable way to exercise than running or going to the gym or whatever. But I guess the main thing, the main attraction, is just the change in environment, from land to water; it still thrills me, and still leaves me feeling, afterward, as if I've been gone somewhere and had a little adventure. Waves themselves, their shape, color and rhythm, their variety, still have a really powerful effect; a curl pitching out and dropping in an ellipse into the trough, to me, is the perfect line; looking into (or better yet, out of) the ovid shape of a tube hits puts me into this strange hyped-up/blissed-out condition, and I don't expect there will be a time when this won't be true. Also, blue has always been my favorite color.

Q: What do you think accounts for surfing’s enduring popularity?
A: Snowboarding and skateboarding were both surfing spin-offs, so I guess surfing is better off in part because its standing is perhaps higher then it was before. I don't know if you'd say that surfing has acquired a gravitas, but it does at least have a history. I also think that as other things get flashier and faster, there's something attractive about the fact that waves keep coming in at the exact same rate; that (tow-in surfing aside), you can't go faster in surfing. The rhythm is still set by nature.

Q: How has Hollywood helped or hindered the image of surfing?
A: “Endless Summer” was made by a surfer (Bruce Brown), totally on the cheap (about $50,000), and he just captured something of the magic of the sport. Nothing before or since has really done it. Surfing wasn't any be-all, end-all activity in Bruce's movie; it was beautiful and lots of fun, and that's about it. Other surf movies had hot action, but either had no point, or tried to make a point and sounded lame. “blue crush,” “in god's hands,” “point break,” “big wednesday” - all made by hollywood, and all a hollywood-facsimile of surfing. Only Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in “Apocalypse Now” comes off as a real surfer. And Jeff Spicolli (Sean Penn) in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Both were excellent portrayals. Surf movies (the ones made for and by surfers) and Hollywood surf movies have, with very few exceptions, been a bust.

Q: What do you think accounts for the great appeal surfing has for young and old alike?
A: It's a sport that changes to fit the person, or changes as the person changes. It can be a competitive outlet, a reason to travel, a way to test your guts, an artistic medium. Also, the amount of time you actually spend riding waves is so small—measured in seconds for each hour spent in the water, usually—and the waves are so often crummy or crowded, that we all live in a state of mild to severe anticipation. Rarely, rarely, does a surfer feel satiated. That's a huge part of the appeal, I think. That, and of course just plugging into a pretty amazing energy source. Waves provide the strangest and most beautiful playing field of any sport. Other fields are static. Ours moves.

Q: How are women treated in surfing?
A: Lisa Anderson from Florida was (and still is) a ripping hot surfer and a blond-haired blue-eyed fox as well, and in 1994, when she won her first world pro title, the smart marketing people at Quiksilver-spinoff Roxy decided to put Lisa at the front of a huge marketing campaign to promote women's surfing. A way overdue move. This sport has treated women really badly through the decades. So there was a moral debt to pay, as well as a ripe marketing opportunity -- Roxy jumped in first, and everybody else followed, and pretty soon it was a trend: women's surf shops, magazines, surf schools, etc. There was still kind of a sexist thing there, as the featured surfers were all young hotties. But females of all ages and sizes were at least more likely to pick the sport up, and we're a lot better off for it.

Q: What’s with surfer “fashion?”
A: Loose, baggy and comfortable. Long trunks were the solution to that nasty inner-thigh rash that comes from straddling your board. Everything else pretty much comes from being easy to slip in and out of, or what feels good while on the beach. Slaps (sandals), baggy shorts, t-shirts; no belts, no socks, no jewelry.

Q: Where are the best waves in the USA?
A: Big waves: Maverick's
Point waves: Malibu, Rincon
Reef surf: Pipeline
Beachbreak: Blacks in La Jolla, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina

Q: Where are the strangest places you've heard of people catching a wave?
A: Tidal bores (Britain's Severn River, the Amazon in Brazil, and the Dordogne River in France), where an equinox tide will funnel up the river and create waves, usually along the banks.

Q: What do you consider your fondest memory of surfing?
A: Millions of best moments. Four years ago I was sick for a few weeks, and the first time I went back into the water it was a sunny afternoon, with these little transparent two-footers running over a sandbar; I caught one, stood up, angled and just stood there, and almost felt like crying because it was so beautiful, and because it still felt so good. Millions of moments like that.

Q: Your worst moment?
A: A friend talked me into surfing Maverick's in 1992. I'm not a big-wave surfer, and really had no business being out there, but I was able to grub my way into a couple of smaller waves. After an hour or so a huge set came through, and I began sprint-paddling for the deep-water channel to the south, and it was about a 20-second period where I wasn't sure if I'd get there in time. The incoming wave was probably 20 feet, and had it caught me, I no doubt would have had some kind of psychotic panic episode underwater. I paddled up the face just as the lip started to fringe, and I was just about vertical as I crested the thing and fell down the backside, making little whining noises in my throat.

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Matt Warshaw

Matt Warshaw

The Encyclopedia of Surfing

The Encyclopedia of Surfing