AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW STEPHEN BUCK
Santa Barbara, CA, December 2013
Interview by Ken McKnight
Those with a passing knowledge of Andrew Stephen Buck and his mat surfing abilities knows him as a straight line power merchant, hell-bent on finding the fastest and deepest line on a wave. A dedicated student of the Greenough way of riding the magic towel, Andrew Buck seems to fit comfortably into the genre of a mat surfer who is constantly striving for more experience, yet understands the idiosyncratic ways of the mat. Here’s someone who “Gets it.” And of course, it doesn’t hurt that he surfs in the land of California points.
He has a caffeinated work ethic and never misses a swell. He’s always busy whether teaching high school, longboarding, studying, exploring the coast or riding his quiver of mats. He even befriends old people and opens doors for women.
But what is the mild mannered AS Buck really thinking when he heads up the path, along the point, watching the lines pour in? Is he thinking of the history of the region? Are his thoughts about some of the legends that have, and still are, frequenting the lineups? Or is he giggling quietly about getting ready to ride his mat at some type of surfing warp speed in long lined up point waves?
Listen to what he has to say, as Here and Now talked with him recently:
UKMS - Andrew, What’s happening? Where are you living? More importantly, How have the waves been up your way and how often are you getting in the water?
ASB - I live in Carpinteria, a small beach town just south of Santa Barbara. 2013 has been a less than stellar year for surf, but I have certainly been able to get my waves here and there. And, when there are waves, the waves around me are often dreamy point breaks. Funny, the best run of waves of 2013, was oddly in late May and early June; odd considering winter tends to be our surf season here. It has been a sadly slow start to the Fall/Winter season.
UKMS – I believe Rincon is your go to spot. There are some great videos of you on the Internet. Do you have any problems catching waves there? How does the local crew share the love with a mat rider?
ASB - I manage to find waves, yes, but like any very competitive wave lineup, it often takes time to earn a spot in the lineup. I have always believed the key to getting waves is showing respect to those who deserve respect and a place in the lineup, surfing with awareness, and making the most of the wave. When surfing a point, a big part of “making the most of the wave” is length of ride and speed. I find people notice, and not in a good way, those surfers who catch a wave, fall in the first few feet of it, then paddle back out around others, and soon after, go again. If you do this on a mat, you might find a pack of “friends” join you for a ride.
UKMS – Aren’t you a schoolteacher? What grades and subjects do you teach? Where did you go to University to get your degree?
ASB - I am actually a teacher within the Ojai Unified School District. I teach high school history. This year I am teaching World History, US Government, and AP European History. I grew up back East and did my undergrad at Gettysburg College, where I majored in Anthropology and Sociology, having also spent a semester in London studying African Music and Chinese Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies. I was a wrestler through college, which meant the ocean and I were not often together prior to moving out West. I first landed in the SB area in 2000 and in 2001/2002 I did my graduate studies at UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz School of Education.
UKMS – What is it that you love about riding a surf mat over any other surf vehicle? Or do you?
ASB - It is just fun. It’s hard not to smile when you get a gem on any board, but especially on a surf mat. It is just such a seemingly simple piece of equipment and for some reason it just creates smiles.
UKMS – When did you turn to the Mat-side?
ASB - I don’t remember exactly. Rode a mat for the first time around 2005 or so, started riding them more seriously around 2007 I think.
UKMS - Who introduced you to them?
ASB - My friends and then roommates did. Nick Bobroff and Jason MacMurray. They are both fellow Neumatic enthusiasts.
UKMS – How hard was it for you to ride a mat initially? Did you get the “Magic” right out of the gate or was there a steep learning curve?
ASB - I don’t really remember that well. I seem to remember first riding a blue and red cheapie mat behind the old house I rented with friends in Carpinteria and having a semi natural first few waves. But not like today. I think mats are easy to ride if you have someone helping you who knows what to do. Without such aid, they are tough because I think some people wanna boogie a mat, and they, in my opinion, don’t ride well when ridden like a boogie. We didn’t have a mentor, but we figured it out. I guess having a wave like Rincon can help a bit. Err, more than a bit.
Two years ago, Jason and myself were able to teach my older brother how to slide a mat with ease in a single session out at Sewer Peak in Santa Cruz. My brother has always been a straight face, serious, almost stern looking fellow, but he was ear to ear that session. I had a mat made for him by Dale [Solomonson] a little before then. The mat was named “KITT”, after the talking car from “Knight Rider”, Dale even applied orange circles to the front of the mat to mimic “KITT’s” light in the show. That is my all time favorite mat. Yes, I rode it before sending it to my brother. I wonder if he knows how close he came to never seeing it?
Last Summer my brother and I rode mats down at the inlet in Ocean City when I was back east seeing family and again had an epic session. Later that trip we got good waves at Atlantic Beach in Ocean City, which is a crowded spot next to one of the island’s surf beaches during peak tourist beach time, with a nice little swell in the water. We kept picking off fun little runner, after fun little runner. As we were leaving, the lifeguards, the tourists, the beachgoers all gave us a kind of confused “what the hell are they doing” look. So, I do believe that the learning curve can be drastically shortened when you have someone steering you.
UKMS – Where did you learn your technique? Was there an Obi-Wan mentor or just trial and error?
ASB - I never had a mentor, but Jason, Nick, and I would ride our “Pool toys” (that is Jason’s name for his mat in general and a Neumatic Contrail Dale made him, the development of the name is a funny story), together and just sort of dialogue about what was working and what not. I suppose in a way we would always try to one up each other during such sessions. Plus, surfing where we surf with so much competition for waves, if you don’t get your craft wired, you won’t get waves. It is that simple. In the end, however, the bulk of what I have learned have come from watching waves and more than anything watching any and all Greenough footage I can find, while also the footage of Mark Thomson and Paul Gross.
UKMS – How has mat surfing changed your ocean life, or has it?
ASB - A mat can be a blast on days when nearly all other surf equipment is useless. Like the south wind days up here. Or just days that it’s got some size but is junky.
UKMS - I’ve found that since we last rode mats together (at Rincon), their designs have subtlety changed, at least for me. How about you? What’s different and what’s the same?
ASB - I am riding what I can find. I love Neumatics and up until my two recent mats with Graeme (Webster), they are all I have ridden - all that have worked well for me.
UKMS - Are you a solo session mat rider or are there other mat surfers in your immediate area? Who are some of the others, if there are any?
ASB - I often ride solo, but that is because I like to hit the beach on my own time and basis. If I come alone I leave when I want. I suppose that sounds selfish. There are a growing number of people riding mats locally that I see and spend time with.
Evan Elder, a seriously talented Ventura surfer on all equipment, mats, logs, fish, quads, thrusters, etc. Evan also teaches where I teach. He specializes on working with severely disabled and autistic students. Evan tells me he gets wet with JP Taylor (he was the videographer behind the video that can be found on Youtube that shows me riding “Tugboat”), a fellow Ventura area mat rider and standout local surfer. I have yet to ride with JP, but hope to soon. Rumor is he specializes in big thumping beach break.
Jason MacMurray, one of my very good friends, a former roommate, and just a likeminded fellow. He lives north now, but whenever we meet up, we ride pool toys and have a blast. Jason’s skills are up there with anyone I know riding a mat.
Nick Bobroff is another local matter.
Chet Smith, a local grom, can be found sliding on his mat. As can Landon Smith, another good friend of mine, who is also a talented musician and someone I respect in all his surfing facets. Guy just surfs really well.
Meg Hooker is new to matting, but on it locally.
Ryan Moore rides a mat, but I’ve yet to jam with him. He works a lot these days, he and his wife operate a local coffee shop, the Lucky Llama.
Scott Beckley, another Ventura standout surfer, has also joined the ranks. Had a couple of good sessions with him.
Aaron Foster, another Ventura guy, has been riding mats as often as anyone the past 5 months, steadily becoming a ripper on it.
Up the coast, Dirk Brandts is sliding away, I see him when he comes down to the points down my way.
UKMS – What is your go-to mat currently? What’s in your quiver? How often to you go to other mats to try them?
ASB - I have 6 Neumatics, most of second hand purchase, of various levels of disrepair and soon to be disrepair and two G-Mats. The past few sessions have been on a G-Mat Graeme made me called “Slippery Dick”. Prior to this pretty much every time I’ve ridden a mat it has been on a Dale creation.
UKMS – How did you originally get started with Dale Solomonson and his mats?
ASB - I called him and ordered one. My first mat from him, the ASB1, I sold to Evan Elder. My second, “Tugboat”, popped in 2011 and has been repaired, but never ridden again, some day. If Dale ever gets up and running again, I have already placed two more orders for mats with him. If I don’t see them, I am hopeful the money I gave for these goes to help one hell of a talented man live better. I suppose others would feel robbed? But I happily gave the money knowing I’d likely never see the product. I wanted to help someone who has given so much to me, even if he never knew that.
UKMS - Have you ridden any of the older type canvas mats?
ASB - Just my punchy mat as a kid.
UKMS - How are your inflation rates these days? What is normal and comfortable to you and how often do you adjust inflations?
ASB - Very low air. Significantly under a 90-degree fold. I think part of this is riding point breaks on lower tides, which happens often in my area during the winter. The wave is so quick and the rider needs to so instantly project and get going. You cannot easily do that on an inflated mat where a rider is almost hanging off of the back and pulling oneself up as they get into the wave. That method usually sees the wave running away before the rider is even aware of what is happening. Riding that way, using super low air, the mat sits tightly under you. You still have to be able to redirect the air to the inside rail and roll a bottom turn off your side to project out onto the face of the wave and start jamming. Once done, you are set.
In a way, I feel like surfing such a hallowed wave, on primo tides, and often during the shortest days of the year if one does not learn to make sections, regardless of whether a log, thruster, twinny, etc, consistently his or her wave count will be near nil. For me, and the other guys up this way, we have to do the same on a mat. My buddy remarked the other day that when you paddle out a mat, regardless of how well one might surf on his mat; every session begins with having to prove to the doubters you can make the bag of air run and work. I had to agree.
UKMS - What fins are you using and why? Have you tried a lot of different fins?
ASB - I have been using Viper long blades for a while now. Played around with a pair of BZ’s when I first went prone, then a pair of Duckfeet - rubbish. Really dig the Vipers.
UKMS - Do you lose your mat much?
ASB - No, not really.
UKMS - Do you ever swim out with a limp-towel mat cause the paddle out is too austere? Or are you the kind of mat surfer who just takes the hit until you make it past the lineup?
ASB - No. Always inflate first. I have a pretty good technique for getting out in tricky conditions. Usually I roll the front outer edges under me and together as I roll forward, which usually directs the bulk of the waves energy onto my back, pushing me straight down, allowing me to pop back up and continue out without getting pushed under and towards shore.
UKMS - How has the mat world changed for you over the last five years with the push of Social Networking? Do you find it beneficial or too trendy?
ASB - I have a Face book, I have an Instagram, but I don’t use either to promote myself, surfing, or matting. So, directly, not at all. Have I been featured in social media stuff on a surfboard or a mat? Yeah. It is and was weird when I see myself featured like that. I remember one of the first times on a mat, I had a friend who posted on my Face book a message that had a link in it and read something like “Did you see this?” It was a mat shot of me on the JDUB blog. It was pretty cool to be on there, but also weird. That shot was insightful. When I saw it I kept finding myself looking at my inside elbow and cringing. The arm position is totally counter-intuitive to how you want your arm when riding a mat. That picture made me totally readjust how I matted. [Ed See the positioning of the inside arm in the shot below: elbow tucked in and palm flat]. A year or so before, my friend had a photo spread in the Surfers Journal, which included a log shot of me at Rincon. Now, that was really crazy for me. Growing up so disconnected from the California “surf scene” and moving into such a great area in the history of surfing and innovation, to find myself amongst the images of a SJ article, was quite wild. I don’t blog or maintain a website on surfing, myself, or anything else though.
UKMS - Current mat buzz... Thoughts?
ASB - If there is a God, I am hopeful Dale will get back into a position to where he can make mats again and find himself in better fortune. I have so much respect for Dale and his commitment to constantly improving his designs and materials.
I am also excited about what Graeme is doing.
I have been hearing a ton of positive comments from friends of mine who ride Paul Gross’s mats, especially about his new Lotus model. Those riding Mark’s Krypts also seem happy, but I would say, I would like to see grip put on Krypt’s though. The friends I know riding them have had hard times with the slipperiness of them.
On a side note, I would love to see a surf mat builder send a mat to my friend Janna Irons’ mom Patti. She lives in Kauai. From all accounts, Patti, who earned the nickname “Patti Papaya” back in the 1960s and 1970s while riding a mat at Sunset Beach, dominated the North Shore in that era. She did the cover art for “Innermost Limits”, as well as the bow art on “The Morning Light”, as seen in Alby Falzon’s “Crystal Voyager”. Apparently so dominant was Patti’s prone skills that in the early days of boogie boards a company sent her a freebie to test pilot, they too knew of her prowess. Legend has it that she rode the product one time and when leaving the beach that day after her session ended , she consciously left the board at the beach.
UKMS – Graeme Webster mentioned you have a friendship with Derek Hynd and an intro into finless surfing. Do you think Derek has gleaned anything from his time around mats that applies to that particular and innovative surfing application? Have you discussed mats with him?
ASB - I’d say mat riders can learn a lot from Derek, not Derek from them. I am sure Derek has learned from mats, he is a good friend with Warren Pfeiffer. When I first met Derek and began to watch him surf, I was already playing around a little with learning to do controlled side slides on a mat. Learning to use my inside fin, when on a highline with a pitching section forming ahead of me, to gently trace in the water and slide my line sideways, pushing my line from straight down the line, to down the line yet out in the flats, almost sideways, yet at near full speed. Derek is a master of side-sliding full speed controlled surfing. He told me, watching the way Formula 1 (F1) drivers slid thru cornering and were able to maintain their speed, always influenced him.
UKMS – Did you grow up surfing, knee boarding, Boogs. Etc. and where did you ride your first wave? Where was it?
ASB - I grew up in the Philadelphia area, a nice suburb of the city, Wayne, Pennsylvania, but my parent’s had/have a second home in Ocean City, NJ. We, my brothers and sisters and I (5 brothers and 3 sisters to be exact) always spent our summers at the beach, usually from the day school ended to the day before the next year began. Ironically, I actually had a blow up Hawaiian Punch raft as a kid. (Have a grainy picture of that from old 8mm film). I used to float in the water on it; Seaspray Road was our local Ocean City beach. When I got older I rode a boogie board, but it was one of my older brothers old one. Think it was a Morey, the Waikiki model.
This brother, Mike, has a summer birthday and got the summer birthday gifts, I am a winter birthday, and never got beach oriented presents. Anyway, Mike and I are very close nowadays, likely a result of our love of surfing and the ocean. As a kid, he and I were less close, but while I never told him I was always following him around, if not physically, in my mind.
When he was 12 or so, he landed the cover of a local beach magazine doing a drop knee on his Mach 10. Wanting to boogie board with him, but having to sneak to the same beach he’d go to alone. Surfing was the same. My mom bought Mike a new Eberly surfboard for his 15th birthday I think, and, knowing how much I wanted a board too she bought me a used T and C that had buckled for like $25. I had first stood on a board that same summer; a friend pushed me into a wave at Park Place Beach in Ocean City on his Rusty thruster. I actually stood on my first wave ever, but I had been standing up on boogie boards already, occasionally at least. My first wave, however, I stood as a regular foot, then when I got a board for some reason became a goofy foot, so it took a bit to get it figured out again.
UKMS - You have some history with Longboarding. Do you spend as much time on them as the mat? What do you get from each that you don't get from the other? How do they influence one another?
ASB - I’d say I log a lot more than I mat. But sometimes the opposite is true. I have also spent some time on smaller boards, but I am definitely most capable on my logs and mats. I really like old 1960s boards. I have 3 1967 Rick Noseriders, all 9’6, an older 1967 Yater Spoon, two old Nuuhiwa Noseriders, and newer logs, most shaped by Gene Cooper or Wayne Rich, two class acts.
I have been somewhat heavily involved over the past 8 or 9 years within the Coalition of Surfing Clubs, previously as the contest Team Captain for the Santa Barbara Surf Club, and over the past 3 years with the Hope Ranch Surf Club, one of the oldest in the local area. Contest surfing has its fun moments. The Log Jam, a vintage contest hosted by the Big Stick Surfing Association up in Santa Cruz, is a favorite of mine for sure. My all time high light was when I won the Malibu Surfing Association "Classic" in 2007.
UKMS - I understand you spent Time in the UK. Are you much of a football (soccer) fan?
ASB - I am a huge, huge football fan. Been a loyal Queens Park Rangers fan since 1994 or so. When they were relegated in 1996 I started following Chelsea. For the past 7 years, I have been going to Europe at least once a year for matches and pub time. A good friend lives in North London. Last year’s trip we met up with Derek in London and he joined us for football matches and fun. I met Derek thru surfing. He comes to Santa Barbara regularly and is good friends with my friends Travers Adler, a local mindblower, and Branden and Valerie Aroyan.
I don’t know if Derek would remember it, but the first time I really meet him he gave me both an ultimate compliment and a huge motivator, which was telling me how well I rode my mat, suggesting some time I should seek a trip to Australia to mat with his good friend, and mat guru, Warren Pfeiffer. It was so empowering to have someone who is so universally respected within surfing for his style and abilities and contributions provide me such feedback. Surfing though connected Derek and I much less than football. We both love football. He is a diehard Everton fan.
My buddy Matt Weisser, the London resident, got Derek ticket’s last April to see Everton play Tottenham at White Hart Lane (aka “Three Point Lane”). Derek had told us the last time he saw Everton play in person he was 6 or so and on his dad’s shoulders watching Everton dismantle the Australian national team by a score of 9-nil. During my time in the UK on this trip we attended several games, hit some pubs, attended more games talked a lot of football, and only did I remember our common surf bond when walking away from Craven Cottage one afternoon along the river and stopping to watch Derek mind surf some ripples shifting over the rocks near the bank of the Thames. I instantly caught the little micro nugget he was sliding, Matt, the non-surfer in the trio, just kind of looked at us in a state of confusion. Surfers.
At the end of the week, I went home, Derek, however, stayed on most of the month and continued to soak up football in the UK. Football is an amazing thing. Brings people together. So does surfing, and so does riding different types of equipment like mats.
UKMS - You have been lucky to travel around in mat friendly places. Tell me a little about your travels.
ASB - I have done a few trips though, none that recently though. I have surfed in Chile, Peru,Mexico, Costa Rica, Portugal, and Fiji. I don't do that much surf travel to be honest.Â I cherish the waves I get locally. I am pretty lucky to live and surf where I do. The summers are tough though. I don't surf a lot in the summer.
UKMS - Do you find it difficult to tell others that don’t mat what this bag of air is all about and why it is so much fun?
ASB - I think people who watch a mat being ridden well can easily understand that it is a load of fun, what they find less easy to get is just how fast they go. I try to explain that with low air it can be shaped to the water, a physics approach. If only I taught science, perhaps I’d better explain it.
UKMS - Where do you see yourself in the next two years with your mat surfing?
ASB - I don’t imagine much will change. Continue to ride my boards and mats. I hope to continue having mats that work for me and my style and preferences. Being so honed to Dale’s creations, with the high amount of personalized dimensions and light weight, and more, riding the heavier mats has always felt a bit off to me. I know they work great. I have seen riders rip on them, just always been a bit off for me.
Even after just a brief amount of time on Graeme’s G-Mats, I have to say my eyes have been opened. So far I have sampled two mats crafted by Graeme’s limey hands and both have been great. His open ear to feedback and willingness to alter design specs and whatnot is really exciting as well.
UKMS – Maybe take us through your dream mat wave?
ASB - I’d say I have already had some dream like waves on mats, the local points tend to deliver. But, Lennox Head, man, it looks amazing. That waves looks to just possess a near perfect natural speed and slope.
UKMS - And if you had a crystal ball what would the Future of mat riding look like?
ASB - I’d say not unlike it is today. I learned more about riding a surf mat watching the old footage of George Greenough and looking at the subtle foot drags, arm positioning, etc of the masters, Warren, PG, Mark THomson, etc. Materials and design may change and evolve, but technique seems to be classically rooted in the past. I like that!
UKMS - Andrew thank you so much for taking the time to share your mat surfing life with us.