The surfing life, like a fleeting wave, carries its own timeline. For many, it's a consuming fire that sparks a chase for perfect waves, camaraderie among surfing legends, and a devotion that can seep into every facet of existence.
Yet, just as abruptly as the passion ignites, some find themselves turning away, trading the waves for a normal life. But Matt George defies this typical narrative, refusing to abandon the surf's siren call. I encountered Matt George at Bali's Thruster Club, amid the neon haze of a …Lost surf film premiere.
Amidst the conversations and cigarette trails, he moved effortlessly, seeking dialogue with each person. Approaching our table, he inquired with genuine concern about the quality of the poke bowls. His advice, born from his own experience, was to ask for less rice next time.
Unbeknownst to me then, this unassuming advisor was Matt George, a name familiar from my work with Matt Warshaw on the Encyclopedia of Surfing. Images of Matt's life flashed through my mind: standing on a Chinese beach teaching children to surf, watching his brother catch a wave at Trestles while he headed to the Naval Training Center, and even modeling for Karl Lagerfeld.
"In Deep": Matt's Evocative Surf Stories
Recollections aside, Matt remains an active figure, devoted to the surfing world. His recent book, "In Deep," spanning over 500 pages, captivated me even on a journey to Sumatra, leaving me engrossed until the final destination.
In its pages, Matt critiques conventional surf tales, replacing them with profound narratives that capture the essence of a meaningful surfing life. Matt's writing, raw and poetic, delves into lives defined by their unwavering connection to surfing.
From a teenager on the World Qualifying Series dancing with an older woman in a strip club to newlyweds on a plane filled with rowdy surfers bound for Herbie Fletcher's Cabo Classic, each tale is a vivid portrait of life's passions and vulnerabilities.
Through a Zoom call from Bali, Matt's aura of ease and candor persists. Amid the clamor of noisy children and Indonesian workers, he exudes an affable composure. "I’m no stranger to the difficulties of Indonesian internet," he jests, requesting to turn off the background MMA match.
His life, as I learned, is marked by perpetual engagement, as evidenced by his interruption to attend Mikala Jones' ceremony. Such depth of involvement brings challenges, but Matt thrives on them. His life, a mosaic of connections and stories, found its culmination in his book.
When I asked if his surfing life had been full, he replied, "Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to be a senior contributing editor at SURFER magazine for about 35 years. I write for all the major surf websites and I have for my entire life." Matt's profound engagement with surfing began at a tender age, tracing back to his initiation in Waikiki at the age of eight.
His extensive global experience, both as a surfer and a writer, endowed him with unique perspectives, evident in his articles spanning philosophy and professionalism. When asked about the connection between his upbringing and writing, he acknowledged the role of early travels in shaping his perspective.
Crossing the Atlantic twice by age eight, his mother's latent writing prowess, and a life filled with global experiences lent a distinct global outlook to his work. Delving deeper, I inquired about his motivation for compiling his book.
Matt emphasized the urgency, a race against the encroaching dominance of AI-driven content creation. His book, "In Deep," chronicles an era spanning from the '80s to today, capturing the dynamic evolution of surfing. This isn't merely a historical account, but a journey through time, offering readers a glimpse into pivotal moments that defined an era.
Matt's profiles, essays, and stories unravel the lives of surfers, offering a behind-the-scenes look into their world. Drawing inspiration from the ethos of immersive journalism, his commitment to his subjects is resolute.
"I was influenced by Rolling Stone magazine...I do not do that," he declared, emphasizing his dedication to living with his subjects, to truly understand and portray their essence. As the conversation wove through his book's stories, Matt's philosophical inclinations became evident.
He believes in the cosmic connection that surfing holds, a bond that transcends mainstream sports. For him, surfing isn't a mere pastime; it's a place, an achievement, and an experience that connects with the natural world in a unique way.
Matt's stories often center around Indonesia, particularly Bali, a place he considers both spiritually resonant and beautiful. His deep connection to Indonesia has been enriched through his immersive experiences and connections with local surfers.
The tales he tells aim to capture not just the waves, but the spirit of the place and its people. The discussion turned to gender dynamics, evident in his portrayals of male and female surfers. Matt's stories often deviate from traditional macho portrayals, showcasing vulnerability in men and strength in women.
"Men are vulnerable, women are powerful," he asserted, drawing from his encounters with surfers like Stephanie Gilmore, Layne Beachley, and Keala Kennelly. As the interview concluded, Matt's passion for storytelling remained palpable.
He shared insights into his writing process, emotional engagement, and his belief in mythology as a crucial storytelling element. His book, he stressed, is a testament to preserving the essence of surfing, capturing heroic narratives and the intrinsic connection between surfers, waves, and the cosmos.
In the end, Matt George isn't just a writer; he's a mythologist, a chronicler of the cosmic dance between humans and the waves they ride. His stories transcend time, serving as contemporary cave paintings, connecting readers to the heroes of our sport and the depths of their experiences.