SoCal, May 2013

Interview by Ken McKnight

photo: Danny Anderson

The OC (Orange County) in Southern California is currently a hot bed of mat talent. With miles of daily rideable waves along this stretch of coastline, and a close proximity to many of the great reefs and points on offer during a swell, it is no wonder more and more talented mat riders are coming to the forefront.

One of the best and most identifiable young riders would have to be hard charging, Matt Pierce. Known in the mat circle as a fearless barrel rider, this young mat surfer stalks the So Cal lineups always on the lookout for something with a challenge.  From puffed up Wedge to the pristine points surrounding Malibu, Matt seems to be on a mission to take his mat riding to the most extreme level possible of speed and maneuverability. He is always aware of the swell and on the lookout for some edgy ledgy slab or tempting lineup. Pierce knows all the hidden gems and seeks waves of merit and consequence. He has no problem in a crowd and at 6 foot 6 1/2 inches tall, poses a looming figure as he navigates the lineup. He has also been taken under the soulful wing of mat master “Mattitude” as a sort of mentor. It is no wonder Matt has gotten so good so quickly. Our own Pranaglider, (no slouch for recognizing great mat talent) said recently:

photo: Ken Samuels

“Matt Pierce! Nice kid, rider of body boards before he discovered the Tao of the Mat, still dabbles in assorted homemade prone craft. Mat Wedge rider, tube monger with a penchant for obscure rarely breaking slabs and a fisherman of notable skill.  Perhaps the tallest mat rider in existence.”

UK Mat Surfers caught up with Matt Pierce recently between swells, his new passion of midnight runs to Malibu and thumping Wedge to find out a little more about him.

UKMS - Matt, What’s going on?  How’s work?

Matt - Been good. Lots of little jobs to do at my Dad’s auto body and paint shop.

UKMS - How was the surf this week up your way?

photo: Ian Zamora

Matt - There has been some good waves here but it’s been windy by the time I get off work.  Drove up to Malibu for a midnight session and ended up scoring head-high plus waves with only a handful of surfers out...

The Bu was so fun. Finally got a proper Bu wave. Felt like a standing wave on the drop. Made it around the corner and another wall looms...Had to haul ass down the line.  James and Tremor got some really nice rides too... On one wave Tremor and I were rail to rail on a nice 4-foot wave. Both our mats were locked on the same energy bubble. We were both laughing the whole way and I could just see the glow-stick speed-blur in the corner of my eye. We almost made it to the beach but got shut down on the very last section. 

UKMS - How many times have you Matted Malibu at night?

photo: Josh Brantner

Matt – A few times. It was hard to find a good take off spot. There was very little moonlight. 

UKMS - Do you mat anywhere else at night?

Matt - Huntington pier mostly.  Newport Pier once and Seal Beach Pier a couple times. Rode the LA mat meet spot once too on a full moon.

UMKS - What was mat riding like this past winter and now spring?

Matt - Its been a slow season but I cant say I had any bad sessions…Recently been getting out a lot more. Just starting to find the high gears in my new mats.

UKMS - I’m told you’re quite the fisherman?

photo: Anon (please contact us if you are the photographer)

Matt – Yes. I mostly catch and release but it’s nice to put something on the table once in awhile. I caught a nice bass off my surf mat once.. Inspired by the Greenough stories of hand line fishing off mats in Santa Barbara and Australia.

UKMS - Where do fish mostly and for what type of fish?

Matt - I fish the beaches mostly. I find the best surf spots are usually the best fishing spots. We catch a lot of perch, halibut, bass and croaker.

UKMS - What spots are you looking forward to riding this summer?

photo: Chad Stickney

Matt - I would like to get down to Baja and ride some of the reef points for sure.  I hear Swamis can be good. Hopefully we have a mat meet there soon. 

UKMS - How long have you been riding mats?

Matt - 8 years now I believe. Counting the 1st year on cheapo market mats..

UKMS - What is it that you love about riding a surf mat?

Matt - It’s the most comfortable ride…. and the fastest. And it takes a level of concentration that makes me wonder if your tapping into some of that unused brain power. ???

UKMS - Where do you live and surf mostly? 

Matt - I live in Garden Grove, Orange County …  I mostly surf Huntington Beach or some of the wedgey type waves to the south.

photo: Jacob Hanneman

UKMS - How old are you?

Matt - 26

UKMS - Where did you go to school?

Matt - Garden Grove High School

UKMS - When did you first start surfing/boogie boarding?

Matt - I Started body boarding when I was 15 then knee boarding a couple years later..

UKMS - Where have you traveled to ride mats? 

Matt - I had a pool toy mat in Puerto Vallarta that rode some big waves at Punta Burros and Sayulita one trip….   Rode my 4GF XL in Cabo San Lucas… A nice left reef wave, kind of soft for the boogie but heavy for the mat..

UKMS - How about the James “Matitude” Sowell boat sessions? Any crazy stories? 

Matt - It’s always an adventure when we go out on his military Zodiacs…. Going over 40mph in a partially deflated boat is fun but definitely make you nervous. When we run over swells the boat acts like a mat and conforms over the hump instead of plowing or bogging like you would expect

UKMS - Has James helped you with your mat surfing?

photo: Matitude by Ken McKnight

Matt - I have to wonder where I would be without Jamo. He got me on my first nylon mat and made sure I didn’t over-inflate it… He would remind me to keep my chin low to the deck and keep my elbows up and off it. He figured out the tricky stuff that makes mat riding difficult…  I feel damn lucky to have a Greenough-esque Guru living right down the street from me.

UKMS - For me he was instrumental in giving me a lot of good advice when I was first riding mats in the New Era? The only problem with James is riding on the same wave he kept whacking me with his fins?

Matt - He is just trying to motivate you to take the high line. Ha!

UKMS - Are you a solo session mat rider or are there other mat surfers in your immediate area that consistently mat with?

Matt - I’ll go solo if I have to... I ride with Josh Brantner a lot. He rides mats about half the time… James Sowell and Chad Stickney are about the only others. My brother Alex is getting into it too..

UKMS - What about The Wedge? It has always been a bit of a thrill ride in surf history.

photo: Pigdogphoto

Matt - Every time you ride a wave there you’re rolling the dice… People get paralyzed there every summer. The first time I rode it I got pitched into the sand on my tailbone… Had to go to the hospital and I didn’t get out of bed for a week and walked funny for a month… Thanks Wedge! … I usually just get a handful of rides and get out. Fishing is good on the other side of the jetty.

UKMS - The bodysurfers, then the boogs, then the stand up guys and now mats. What is it about mat riding at the Wedge? The thrill?

Matt - The mat actually catches the side-wave really easy. It’s such a powerful wave, getting up to speed is no problem. It absorbs the weird lumps and bumps and backwashes that can stop hardboard dead in its tracks.  Not sure if I’ll ever ride the truly big days but most of the time it’s a really good mat-wave. Where else can you get Pipeline-esque barrel views on a surf mat?

UKMS - What inspires you to mat?

photo: Josh Brantner

Matt - Keeping the surfing history alive while exploring the seemingly limitless performance.. Its like if you had the fastest car on the streets but there were a bunch of new buttons and switches to figure out… Wouldn’t you want to drive it everyday?

UKMS - How has mat surfing changed your ocean life?

Matt - It’s mellowed me out a lot. Broke down my ego. Less time spent thinking about that surfer that burned you. More time enjoying the songs of the seagulls and the swells on the horizon…

UKMS - Where do you see yourself in the next two years with your mat surfing?

Matt - I think I will be going faster with my new longer mats.. Before it took sizable waves to get my flippers out of the water to cut down drag.  Probably get into some bigger surf as well now that I have solid grip to keep the mat and myself connected.

photo: Ian Zamora

UKMS - What is your go-to mat currently?

Matt - 4GF Omni

UKMS - What’s in your quiver?

Matt – All of my mats are 4GFs: One an older XL with thin black fabric and 2 new extra-long blue-streak mats… the Omni and a 5GF (big wave model)

UKMS - How often do you go to other mats to try them? 

Matt - Quite a bit and its puzzling how 2 mats that look the same will feel so different. Tiny changes can throw a mat off. Mat builders are true craftsmen.

UKMS - What is normal and comfortable to you and how often do you adjust inflations?

Matt - 180 for me has been pretty magic….  You only need enough air, so that when you squeeze the mat it hardens the rail… If your under-inflated you cant build a solid rail to bottom turn and will slide out… And if you’re over inflated your missing out on the mats unique alive feel and probably some speed…

UKMS - What fins are you using and why those particular models?

photo: Ian Zamora

Matt - Tech fins… Been using the same pair for 5 years…They have the extra--wide foot-pocket which I need.. Comfort is more important to me then power. You don’t need huge fins if you have good wave-catching technique..

UKMS - Have you tried a lot of different fins?

Matt - A handful of brands, Da-fins were nice and Churchill’s too but I’m finding they need tuning with the newer plastic formula..

UKMS - What is your fantasy mat wave?

Matt - A long right reef-point with a side-wave-wedgey takeoff into a barrel that tapers into a sand bottom point for 200 yards… Punta del mi Suenos.

UKMS - Any memorable sessions and/or experiences you’d like to share and where were they? California?

photo: Ken Samuels

photo: Ken Samuels

Matt - The LA Mat meet and Cottons Mat meet were some of the best sessions ever… You should really make it to one sometime Ken! [ED: We all should!]

UKMS - Anywhere else?

Matt - Laguna at night during red tide… The phosphorescence when the wave would break was unreal! … It was about 5-foot offshore shore break. The wave would throw a slab barrel and inside it was blinding… bright as day!

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?

Matt - Yes.  The magic of the mat is truly inconceivable to someone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand… A surf mat riding at low-inflation feels alive. The rider feels the surface texture of the wave through the thin fabric deck…Rail shape constantly changing to the curve of the wave… It might be 24” wide to skim over flat parts of the wave.. But squeeze the rail and it turns into a 19” wide barrel-rider! And this is where it gets really weird..  These inflatable entities are masters of telekinesis… They will read your mind and jump into high gears when you need it! Crazy but true!

UKMS - What’s next for Matt Pierce? 

Matt - Don’t know, Maybe Something random. A Texas Tanker-Wave Mat-Meet?

UKMS - Make it happen Matt! Thanks for your time.