Matt Warshaw: “I count steps on Fitbit!”

Or when is the precise moment we should commit surfing seppuku?

Since today is officially Matt Warshaw Day (he is the New Yorker Talk of the Town!) let us continue to discuss him in all of his glory!

Tucked into the New Yorker profile it says this about Matt’s surfing:

Warshaw is fifty-six. Moving to Seattle from San Francisco, several years ago (his wife works for Amazon), forced him to give up his habit of surfing more or less every day. Also, he’d grown weary of witnessing his own physical decline in the water. “After forty years, I let it go,” he said. “It’s embarrassing. Now I’m a walker. I count steps on my Fitbit.”

And we’ve spoken about this together on a few occasions. In reality, he hasn’t actually “let it go” or at least I don’t think, but has reorganized priorities and only surfs on specific surf vacations instead of trying to grind out little nuggets in the unforgiving Pacific Northwest.

He has, in any case, committed surfing seppuku.

Of course you are aware of this Japanese samurai act but let me refresh your memory. The samurais lived by a severe code of honor, so much like surfers, and if their honor was compromised in some way, say losing in battle or embarrassing themselves, they would commit seppuku. My favorite new source Wikipedia describes as such:

The ceremonial disembowelment, which is usually part of a more elaborate ritual and performed in front of spectators, consists of plunging a short blade, traditionally a tantō, into the abdomen and drawing the blade from left to right, slicing the abdomen open.

Matt Warshaw has done well and right by our code in admitting, publicly in the most esteemed source, that he is embarrassing and now counts his steps for exercise. Surfing seppuku.

My question is, what is the exact moment of physical decline that a surfer should no longer enter the water on a surfboard? When he regularly drags his knee on the pop? When she gets a stiff back while waiting for sets? When he can’t catch a wave on anything other than a 8’6? When she can only glide in a straight line?

Is there an exact age or is it more a state of mind?

And should friends encourage surfing seppuku from their aging friends?

Honor: “The Linnaeus of the lineup!”

Surfing's living treasure, Matt Warshaw, is lauded in the New Yorker! Let us celebrate him!

You most certainly know how much we (me n Derek) love our Matt Warshaw. The bespectacled surf historian is absolutely indispensable and do you want to know why? Because his brain is filled with so much wonderfully pointless fact, yes, but more importantly he ain’t afraid to share an opinion. And in our oftentimes beige little world an opinion, any opinion, is like a pastel masterpiece.

Oh I could spill thousands upon thousands of words on the man, what he means, why he is important but mine are, more or less, worthless. The New Yorker, on the other hand, is the Shangri La of writing! The pinnacle of respectability! And today, Matt Warshaw is there. Let’s read!

Last year, editors at the Oxford English Dictionary, in the midst of a long march toward a third edition, set out to add an entry on “tandem surfing.” (“The practice of two people riding a single surfboard at the same time.”) They were seeking an earlier citation; the best they had was from 1961, in the Los Angeles Times. A researcher contacted a surf museum in San Clemente, California, and eventually wound up in touch with an autodidact in Seattle named Matt Warshaw.

Warshaw is the world’s leading surfing scholar, the Linnaeus of the lineup. Over the years, he has assembled a research library, in his home, of hundreds of books, thousands of periodicals, and some three hundred and fifty movies, and created a database: logged, indexed, searchable. From all this, and from his own experience as a California beach rat, middling pro surfer, and surfing writer, he composed the idiosyncratic yet authoritative “Encyclopedia of Surfing,” which was published, to wide acclaim, in 2003. “I decided to rule this domain that no one gives a shit about,” he said the other day. In the past half-dozen years, he’s been transferring the encyclopedia’s fifteen hundred-odd entries to the Web, and adding many new ones, along with a wealth of photographs and videos. He has likened this migration to Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

Within a day of the request from Oxford, Warshaw came across, in his stacks, a mention of “tandem surfing” from 1935. You can now find, in the O.E.D.’s Web edition, the following citation: “T. Blake Hawaiian Surfboard (front material, verso of fifth leaf) (caption): ‘A tourist, without surfboard experience, can enjoy . . . tandem surfing. The boy in most cases does most of the work, his partner enjoys the rides.’ ”

The O.E.D. sent Warshaw a few more terms, and before long hired him to be its first-ever Surf Consultant (total pay: four hundred pounds). The O.E.D. has some three hundred consultants, who provide an extra layer of expert scrutiny in such areas of arcana as falconry and wine. It has always tried to keep up with American slang; noted recent additions are “Masshole” and “vape.” “Clearly, they felt they needed to up their surf game,” Warshaw said. He speculated that there was a closet surfer on staff.

The dictionary people sent him about seventy terms, among them “barrel,” “reef rash,” “board sock,” “grom,” “close out,” “dawn patrol,” “doggy door,” “green room,” “shaper,” and “swallowtail.” His database, unfortunately, didn’t contain most of these, so he soon found himself scouring old magazines and manuals—“like a fucking intern.” Days turned into weeks. “I got obsessed,” he said. “I didn’t want to let them down.” Often, he succeeded in finding an earlier mention. Now and then—maybe every third entry—he found something to tweak in the definition, or a bit of illuminating context.

Finish it here!

Proven: If you don’t surf, don’t start!

Science backs up everything you’ve always guessed… 

There’s nothing in this world that is sadder, or more hopelessly encouraged, than the late-in-the-game surfer.

Those wide eyes that see the ocean for the first time. The wallet that falls open in surf shops, gobbling up board after board, each buy returned with criticisms the shopkeeper earnestly acknowledges while laughing behind his back, while swiping the magnetic stripe of his credit card. Claims of barrels and airs made with the innocence of children.

You know all that. It’s a perennial. Like trade winds or the star jasmine flower that blooms all over Sydney in mid-October.

It was Gotcha who coined the phrase If you don’t surf, don’t start in an advertising campaign from the nineteen-eighties. But did you know that it is now an established… fact… that in almost every single instance it is impossible to be a good surfer unless you started riding waves seriously by the time you were thirteen? It’s only in these early years when life is freed from the complexity of love and work that the mind can feed on the examination of a difficult sport that requires constant thought and analysis. A kid will go to bed and dream of turns he’s never made. A twenty year old will be filled with thoughts of work, money, sex.

And that anyone who started between thirteen and seventeen will only ever be competent, a good competent, yes, but never what you would call a good surfer?

The definition of a good surfer, for our purposes, is this: someone who knows, instinctively, the feel of rocker and bottom curve under his feet, and who can adjust his stance and his approach to a wave accordingly. Manoeuvres, as they come into vogue, are easily absorbed into his repertoire. He can tuberide on both sides and he can, from experience, explain the varying characteristics of shock waves and foamballs. He may or may not be into competition but, at some point, he will have competed. He may never have picked up a longboard but, within an hour, it will be mastered. He may not necessarily enjoy big waves, but he’ll look comfortable in any size.

Now, for anyone who came in over seventeen, the bad news.

Surfing will always remain a mystery. You’ll only be able to ride certain boards. When you ride a wave you’ll nearly always outrun the pocket requiring three-chapter cutbacks. You’ll pause in the lip during takeoffs. You’ll never have that time-slowed-in-the-tube feeling. You’ll never snatch that feeling of surfing being… easy. But in return for your efforts you’ll experience moments of fun, and you’ll get the bonus of having better skin than the good surfers who’ve been getting cooked and basted in UV for the last twenty years.

Below, I present lines on the same graphs. The red line is the good surfer.

See how the graph explodes in those first few years. By the time he’s 15 the good surfer has the option, if he chooses, of becoming pro. After twenty, the graph plateaus. But notice how high it remains above the competent surfer in blue. His initial spurt is relatively high, but never reaches the heights of the good surfer.

Now, in pink, we see the late-to-the-game surfer. There is no sudden surge in ability, a small lunge upwards, but then a long-term plateau, and a plateau so far under the good surfer it makes any attempt to close the gap a futile, pointless charge.

Does this science ring true for you?


The world's best unsponsored free surfer absolutely dances!
The world's best unsponsored free surfer absolutely dances!

Let’s play surfboard Rorschach!

What races through your mind when you see identifiable surfboard shapes?

You know the Rorschach Test of course. The ink blobs that psychologists show patients in order to peek into the very soul. Wikipedia, which we all know as an unimpeachable source, describes as such:

The Rorschach test (/ˈrɔːrʃɑːk/ or /ˈrɔərʃɑːk/,[3] German pronunciation: [ˈʀoːɐ̯ʃax]; also known as the Rorschach inkblot test, the Rorschach technique, or simply the inkblot test) is a psychological test in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly.[4] The test is named after its creator, Swiss psychologistHermann Rorschach.

Wonderful! But as a surfer ink splotches mean nothing to me. Surfboard shapes on the other hand send my mind whirling. Today, for example, I was walking down the steps to go for a surf. Below I saw a pasty man with an extra two inches of blubber, long-ish trunks and a choker necklace gripping a brand new, very small, Hypto Krypto too tightly.

Now, I have absolutely nothing against Hayden Cox. If we ever met I’m sure I would wish him to be the godfather of my daughter. But when I see a chub gripping a Hytpo, or frankly anyone gripping a Hypto, my mind spins uncontrollably and thinks the following things:

  • Can’t surf
  • Paid alot
  • Paralyzed by trend
  • Ejaculates prematurely
  • Owns a French bulldog
  • Sings Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire when he goes to karaoke
  • Dairy free
  • Snapchats
  • Has an ankle tattoo
  • Shops at IKEA but tells his houseguests his furniture is from Restoration Hardware
  • Once owned nunchucks
  • Owns a gerbil
  • Dinner party conversation guaranteed to include line, “Whatever. All politicians are lame.”
  • Really can’t surf. Like, can’t catch a wave
  • Drinks expensive coconut water
  • Uses a uniquely named Instagram geotag for his “Mans Cave” (apartment)
  • Craig Anderson

What do you think when you see a Hypto Krypto?

Jaws: “Blue scary not brown scary!”

Ian Walsh talks surfing Jaws. The lost files!

You have certainly seen the teaser for Ian Walsh’s new film Distance Between Dreams with the swirling passion, the guts, the glory. If, for some reason, you missed please click here. 

I wrote, when the clip was released, about meeting with Ian Walsh under a warm Cardiff sky to discuss. Oh we had fun and I scribbled his descriptions of big wave surfing, Maui life etc. in my moleskin and then put it away, forgetting about it until just yesterday when I was flipping through and saw the phrase “Blue scary not brown scary” in reference to, I assume, Jaws.

There were more scribbles too but the context is unclear so I will just reprint here, context-free, and call this Ian Walsh Talks Surfing Jaws (Probably): The Lost Files. Like poetry!

Blue scary not brown scary.

Big waves.  Dropout

everything bills (stills thrills?), feelin etc.

Only time I’m completely in one place, one goal

How fast everything moves

Football speed.

So much faster, the speed.

The wave is so

kind of have a general idea

part of surfing

Jaws… any big wave such a challenge

head down sending it the appreciation is so much more.