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Talk to Matt Warshaw, the Rainman of surf history

1971 photobooth fun with Matt Warshaw and Jay Adams



Surfersvillage Interviews

Mr. Warshaw's backstory for the Encyclopedia of Surfing online

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 28 February, 2014 - When surf editors and writers leave the long hours and thin salaries endemic to publishing they tend to move on to greener pastures. They run marketing departments for surf brands. They start up public relations firms. They even become sportscasters. In general they follow other, more lucrative upwardly mobile career paths. But Matt Warshaw is downwardly mobile. 

In 2003 The Encyclopedia of Surfing was published. There was much excitement, some money, but then… what? By all accounts that was it. Maybe there’d be an update every couple years to keep the pages fresh but really, not much more.

Mr. Warshaw keeps whirring away. Like a monkey clanging on a miniature cymbal, Matt continues to obsess, log, pontificate, research, and collect all things surf for the Encyclopedia of Surfing. Print is finite. There are deadlines, one can leave material out because there isn’t enough space and when a job is finished the editors go surfing. Minds free. But online means enough room for everything. It’s a big pit needing constant attention to remain relevant. 

Matt knows this. But he hasn’t shied away. In fact he's embraced it. It's like he can't stop. 

But Matt is just bent like this. He has built up an amazing database in the Encyclopedia of Surfing online. And we all need to take a minute and thank him for it.

How many hours to put together this most recent incarnation of the EOS?

No way do I have the math skills to even begin to figure out the number of hours spent on EOS. Not even sure, in this brave digitized multi-platorm age, what constitutes a "working hour" any more. Hours spent inside plastic space helmet while making "EOS is Live" video clip? Hours spent in fetal position while learning Final Cut Pro? Hours spent reading @rottmouth and @dranolds Twitter feeds for inspiration? Probably best to just say that, over the past four years, minus sleep and meals, and minus dropping off and picking up my kid at pre-school, and minus the criminally rare night out with my wife—that all hours have been spent on EOS. I am the Benedictine monk of surf media. 

If he could go back in time, Mr. Warshaw would do so to get drunk-dialed by Shirely Haley (photo Stoner)


Are you making a living doing this?

I've been making intern-level wages, but hope to soon be making entry-level wages. 

It’s a lot of content to get right. In researching material, what was your biggest gaffe?

Not sure if I'd describe it as a gaffe, exactly, but twice now I've suggested that Kelly Slater take his steamer trunk full of world title trophies, give us a wave and smile, and ride off as the (almost) undefeated champion of surfing. Slater fans marched to my house with pitchforks and lit torches. With good reason. Slater can't dip a toe in the water at Pipe without scoring a 10 these days, and he still takes John John over his knee to spank him like the firm but just father. I was wrong about him retiring. Joe Turpel will be interrupting my funeral with news about Slater winning his 38th world title. 

Surely everyone can’t be happy with your record of surf history, share with us one of the more colorful confrontations you’ve had while doing this project.

It wasn't much of a confrontation, but I managed to piss off Malcolm and Duncan Campbell, two of the nicest, gentlest surfers on the planet. They felt shorted by EOS for their contribution to the tri-fin. I addressed their issues in the online version (or I hope I did!), and I think we're good now. But I'm still amazed that of all the people in surfing who probably have some cause to be angry with me, I ended up having beef with the Campbells, who are both pretty saintly. 
What in the EOS online totally fascinates you, but seems to lie dormant in the public’s curiosity - Is there something you sctratch your head about and think: “But this was soooo important! Don’t they get it?”

Alana Blanchard is a fembot. It's so obvious. 

Saddest story?

There is a beautiful sequence in Paul Witzig's movie "The Hot Generation," shot in 1967, of Bobby Brown and Kevin Brennan, surfing alone on the south of Noosa Head. "Orange Skies," by the band Love on the soundtrack. Two friend sharing really fun clean waves. Brown was killed not long afterwards in a bar fight. Brennan OD'd a few years later. It chokes me up every time, seeing that footage. 

What was your biggest “Rocky” moment?

Three years ago, when designer Ryan Mahar first showed me the site layout. Right at the moment, I knew the EOS was going to work. 
OK Mr. Peabody, we’re firing up the Wayback Machine… You get to drop into five great moments in surf history, what are they?

- Laying the cornerstone for Tubesteak's shack at Malibu
- On the boat with Ron Stoner and friends, heading to Cojo
- Dropping into the wave just behind the one Mike Hynson got at the beginning of the Cape St Francis Endless Summer sequence
- Getting drunk-dialed by Shirely Haley in 1966
- Hobbling across the stage, in 2051, bent and grey but amazing dapper, to present Slater with his 38th world title trophy

Bryan Dickerson

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