Welcome to the 8th episode of the third series of our podcast! I hope you enjoyed the episodes so far.
Today with us, from Australia, is surfer, mentor and expert of surf culture (and classic cars), Matt Chojnacki.
We discussed with him about all of this, but also much more!
You can find the episode on all major podcast platforms (Spotify, ITunes, Amazon, YouTube, …) or read below the interview transcribed
TTOS: Hi Matt, welcome to the show, where are you today?
Thank you for having me, I have a rush of adrenaline actually today, I'm feeling good, I'm feeling fresh, helping people is so fantastic and I had even the time to surf today!
TTOS: how is it the situation over there in Australia right now? It's perfect time, right?
Right! It's starting to come into cyclone season, I live on the East Coast of Australia and summer is usually small waves until we have a weather system, like a cyclone or a weather event that creates a huge swell activity, now is a little early in the season, not too many waves toda…. it has been I would call it an interesting season because we've come off the best winter from April through to September that we've ever had.
And then come through a very bizarre spring. Now it's summertime (this episode has been recorded back in December/January 2021) and it's been quite slow. I'm hoping that, by the end of summer and into autumn will get better.It's feeling like the sand is in all the right places and everyone is getting pretty edgy, but also no one has been traveling, we've all been staying at our local areas and people are happy for the COVID to slowly start dissipating and maybe we can go and surf some of the famous waves the East Coast is known for….
It's been a tough year for Australia, you know, from the wildfire that was actually only at the very beginning of 2020 when some of the surfers on the WSL shortboard and longboard were wondering if they could even come to Australia because our fires were inhibiting a lot of flights coming into the major airports. That was only in January and February and to think, come March and April, how bad the COVID became, the fires were distant memory, unfortunately. Still a lot of people doing a tough rebuilding and then we had to deal with the coronavirus, people couldn’t travel safely.
We have to hold tight for a few months, hopefully, I'm not going to try and disprove any government on what their decisions are, but it will be nice when we can travel again and see the surfing community in person.
TTOS: Today we're going to talk about many things, surf of course, but the first question that I have for you is, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing?
I think surf culture, whether whatever that means to each person it's different. Surf culture is the reason why we start, it could be the culture of fun, it could be the culture of a family, it could be the culture of brotherhood and it could also be the culture of history, performance… There is a whole bunch of different reasons that people surf and I think that's the most important, never forgetting why you started and when you begin something and you begin to really take interest, doesn't matter if it's surfing or skateboarding, you know, writing, even study, you need to know the roots of what you're studying snd I think the more and more as people develop in surfing and the more and more they improve their skills and their knowledge, never forgetting about the reason why you started.
In general, is important researching the topic of your craft,
TTOS: I take advantage of your answer to ask, why did you start….
For me it was a natural, it was sort of like a natural evolution. I guess us grew up near the ocean in Sydney's Northern beaches on the Northern side of the Harbor bridge and the ocean was nearby and it, everyone in my primary school, which is our first-generation schooling that we go through from age five, through to 12, nearly everyone swam or rode the bodyboard or surfed in my school…. it was natural that I was to slowly follow them.
It was just the environment that I grew up in, this is why I started to surf.I think the connection with a changing variable, as in the waves, I couldn't control it, was always exciting every day, whether it was a different board or a different surf spot or new swell, and it inspired me so much and I never ceased it. I guess I was born into it and I was in touch with my original culture, it still makes me surf today. The surroundings and the boards that I ride and new experiences…..
TTOS: Yeah, definitely. I agree with you, we cannot control the waves…..
Absolutely for instance skateboarding, you get many opportunities over and over again to try the same maneuver. Although it's a lot harsher when you fall, you do get many opportunities for surfing. You may only get that one opportunity per session or month or year or lifetime. You know, that perfect wave the search for that perfect wave and I guess that is deep down in my subconscious, the search for that perfect wave is the reason why I keep going back.
TTOS: Let's go back to surfing, you said that the environment where you grew up was a surf environment and you had the opportunity to surf from an early age. What was your first surfboard?
It was a thruster, a three fins, I started surfing in 1997, the thruster surfboard had been invented, I guess, 18 years before. It wasn't a new invention, but my thruster, it even had written on the bottom “thruster” like if it was a new invention. It was a Hot Buttered Terry Fitzgerald, from Narrabeen and it was eighties style thruster. It was very small, five foot/six, I guess it was a grommet board and I gravitated towards that board in the surf shop, because it was my size and my dad agreed it was thick and flat and it was very good for me to learn the foundations of surfing that I know today
This was not so much airbrushed in the eighties, it was all about logos how many logos and branding you can put on a board. This board must have had maybe four logos on the bottom and three on the deck and big logos, bigger than your head all over the board hop out of logos.
TTOS: when did you decide to start competing aas it normal as well Or you said ..I want to compete…
My first competition was the local beach, which was DY and it had a strong board rider culture in Australia. We have a lot of local beaches that have surf communities and they have their clubs, their local clubs. And that's been going since the early 1960s. You have the shortboard club, the longboard clubs, and they probably even have stand up paddleboard clubs and stuff like that. It was the local short board club and it was a natural evolution, you surf with your friends, you develop a brotherhood and a respect for the older locals. The only way to climb up the hierarchy of respect is to join that club and push yourself. You know, it's a community style event, so it's fun, it's not intense, but you always want to do well. That was the short board club and I gravitated towards longboards not long after and joined the local longboard club. I was always doing the short board and the long board at about 10, 11, 12 years old around that time.
TTOS: Earning respect on the line up….
Every wave, especially Pipeline, it's a necessary evil to have localism it is required for safety and it's also required for performance, I think without locals and without an order of hierarchy, there's no intention for the surfers to prove themselves. The only way they can prove themselves is by their surfing ability and their patience.
I think surfing, as we discussed at the beginning is a lot more than just performance , there's a lot of other things that go into it and surfing is the sport of the Kings, we are an old sport we are an old lifestyle, you know, we are, and hundreds of years old, and we need to respect that lineage, especially in Hawaii. Even though there's people surfing and locals, aren't hundreds of years old, but their culture is, and it's not for us mainlanders to push out performance or our media sensations onto that localism, you know, that's their wave and they deserve to have that. If we can get a small piece of that, fantastic, but we all have our other spots around the world, but we have locals too.
TTOS: Yeah, of course, as long it is surfing with Aloha….
We talked about briefly about the thruster surfboard as innovation, in your opinion, what is the most important modern innovation in surfboard making?
It would have to be the foam surfboard and probably the fins followed.
The fin is possibly the most important invention ever in surfing. In the 1940s and then into the 50s you had a handful of surfers in Hawaii and America experimenting with surfboard design. There was just not many other people who were doing it, but those guys had their own interpretations on what surfing is. Once again, ther cultures were representative of the surfboards, their surroundings. So you had Bob Simmons and you had Tom Blake and you had a handful of other guys pushing surfboard design. Later on you had guys like George Downing, who tuned shape of the surfboard with fins really well to suit certain waves like bigger waves and more sleeker designs and outlines to hug waves. But I would say fin design is number one and getting a surfboard to hold its trim line and being able to start to turn that's what fins were able to do, you're able to speed up and slow down. But then when foam surfboards came in in the late 1950s, that was revolutionary, because that's when hot dogging and tricks and fun in and around the wave face became popular. That opened up a myriad of opportunity for surfers around the world, they could ride, all of a sudden, ride those waves cause they could surf these surboards that were lighter a lot more performance orientated.
TTOS: If we think about like aerial moves, that’s evolution, that is improving quite impressively with surf pools, because you can get like constant wave. So you can, then it becomes, I don't want to be hated by people, but it becomes like skateboarding.
Right, right. Variable there'll be talked about. Exactly.I think it just comes back to that culture because we also for different reasons and you know, we all want to get better a wave pool is certainly has got, it gives yourself multiple opportunities on the same wave and then again, over and over again to perfect certain maneuvers, but there's also that attachment that feeling that slow, you know, that speed, that relationship with the ocean that is huge part of surfing. Same as skateboarding, some people have the style and the flow and others don't.
TTOS: And there are two things in effect to come to my mind, the first one is the Olympics games where a lot of people were pushing for surf pool to make the sport more spectacular the other one is surfing in the sea. Where do you position yourself among these people?
As we said in the Olympics and in sport you need to have the variables contained and wave pools gives you that containment. I think there's too many too much luck in the ocean and to make an Olympic champion I guess, it has to be a consistent playing field, being a surfer a waterman or a waterwoman, you know, there's so many other elements in a 20 minute or half hour that aren't judged. I think for the Olympics, the wave pool was certainly more effective and it would be a shame to see it come down to pool waves and Olympic champion. I think for the Olympics, general surfing titles and world championships should be decided in the ocean with a combination of some wave pools for progression.
TTOS: Let's talk about Australian surf and surfers, in your opinion, what are the three top three defining moments of Australian surf in a recent time?
Step one, Midget Farrely won the 1964 world surfing championships, I know that's out of our little era there, but it was the inaugural World Champion, he was from the Northern beaches of Sydney, which is my area. He influenced Nat Young who went on to win the 1966 world championship. Nat Young was good friend with Bob McTavish and Bob McTavish with a handful of other surfers, went on to design the first boards that went vertical, performance driven short boards, the Hawaiians were doing a similar thing, but these guys were just aiming to go vertical.
Midget Farrely inspired the shortboard revolution and put Australia on the map.
Step two was Bob McTavish and the shortboard and step three was Australia's dominance in power surfing and professional surfing through the seventies and eighties, let's just say, when you're driving a car, you have the foot on the accelerator and our foot was on the accelerator every single year, from 1964 through to 1994, it was solid, we were very well known.
You had Joe Parkinson and Mick Fanning from the gold coast winning world titles, but the energy that was created in this local area in the sixties, seventies and eighties went on to change Australian surfing and worldwide surfing forever!
There are more champions between Palm Beach and Manly, which is a a 20 kilometer stretch of peninsula than any other place in the world. There's more surfboard designs that have been revolutionized in this stretch than anywhere else in the world as well. We had the Duke bring surfing to Northern beaches in the 1900, then we had foam surfboards introduced to the Northern beaches in the late fifties. Then we had the short board brought to us in 1967, Mark Richards who's I guess shaping career began influenced from this area. He was from Newcastle, but he introduced the twin fin, well popularized the twin fin and professional surfing. And then you had the thruster from Simon Anderson from Narrowband. We had these three major surfboard changes in international surfing influence from that competitive period through that 60 seventies and 80.
TTOS: Do you have like a particular style of surfboard,of course longboard, a shaper that you, you would choose among all the ones that you just said….
Bob McTavish really is he's my idol, he's my inspiration and he's my surfboard shaper. I ride almost exclusively Bob's surfboards and his son Ben's boards since 2011, but I've ridden some amazing brands over the years. Some friends have very accomplished shapers, some very well-known shapers longboarders or shortboarders, but the McTavish label and Bob McTavish himself, he is a true designer and anything that I want to discuss, he puts into the surfboard, is just so effective when you have a brain like Bob and Ben McTavish.
TTOS: What is your favorite classic car?
Oh, that's a great question. The older I get, I'm 31, but the older I get, the more sensible I become and you know, less is more, even though I'm getting more and more things, but let's I would say anything that I've, it's not one specific car. It's more like an attachment, you feel an attachment to a car that you've traveled a long way around Australia in, or you've had your best surfs and has taken you on a four wheel drive track, or it's a classic car that you had your first girlfriend with, it's all sorts of things like that, like combined.
My Valiant (Plymouth) station wagon I had as a teenager and I modified with my father and it was fast, it was sleek, could carry surf boards, you can sleep in the back. It was a show car.
That would probably be my dream car, not because it's the best car, but because it has the best memories associated with it.
I like American cars and VW, we do lot restore, lots of Volkswagens and yeah, I have lots of a few Volkswagens myself and I certainly have an attachment to german cars, but the American cars as well, because so associated with surfing Woody wagons, you know, I would love a 1940 Woody wagon.
TTOS: What are your projects for 2021?
I'm a car restorer, a professional long boarder and a surf consultant, I combine all three, basically classic cars and classic surfing is how you sum it up. If we can travel, I'll be finishing the world longboard tour. We get our points rolled over from 2020, I finished in the ninth place, so I will start the world tour in California, hopefully in September and yeah, kickoff where we left in Noosa in 2020. I work most days with my father, we have a team of five guys in Brookvale Sydney where we would do the car restorations, that keeps me pretty busy, but I also do a lot of surf coaching and consulting. So I have a couple of surfers. I work with a weekly at the moment it's long distance, so we're looking at over zoom and footage and downloading footage and analyzing it with them. I also do some consulting for their contracts, their managers, their sponsors, and dealing with basically preserving surf culture, you know, giving these surfers opportunities or helping them realize their potential and teaching them along the way, giving them the history of the culture and the technique that I feel like they need to develop into the surfer that they want to be.
The athlete side is part of it, health and wellbeing is certainly part of it. I think mental stability and awareness and being, I guess, aware of your position in the world, having perspectives is very important as a surfer, because if you're feeling stressed or if you're feeling overwhelmed, surfing is a relaxing lifestyle for you, but you're not going to progress. You're just going to say surfing is that relaxing out there, but if you really want to push your surfing and if you really want to, you know, develop, technically you have to be in a good mindset. We talk a lot about that and clearing the mind and, you know, that's where I'm there to help out.
TTOS: Let's finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind.
The best surfboard that you have ridden
McTavish involvement model,
TTOS: your favorite shaper outside Australia.
TTOS: Personal question, favorite song….
Blue Suede Shoes, I've just been listening to that this last couple of days and over Christmas…. Elvis… the king of rock and roll
TTOS: Favorite surf spot…
TTOS: Favorite surfer in Australia all time
TTOS: Last question, we want to know your best relationship advice….
Find someone who has a passion, whether it's surfing or something else, because surfing will absorb every single little part of you and that person either needs to join you or have their own passion. Don't drive each other mad.