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Matt Archbold Speaks

Discussing rail surfing, raw power, and the beauty of unpolished style.

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The ink on the back of Archy’s neck famously reads, “Built For Speed.” Apropos for a man who, at 48 years old, shows little sign of slowing down. Back in San Clemente after years of self-imposed exile at Off The Wall, he still surfs full throttle everyday. That’s not to say he hasn’t evolved. He’s happily married with mortgage and a young daughter in first grade—like a lot of other 48-year-old men. But one thing that stands out about Archy, that’s always stood out, is his pure dedication to unbridled rail surfing.


Since you came up as a kid at Trestles—what’s changed?

I don’t know what it is, but you go out at Lowers and there are a hundred little groms out there. I guess it’s the home school. It’s not that cool. They’re ripping and stuff, but it’s hard to get a wave. They’ve definitely got a lot of energy. I guess I used to do the same thing when I was a kid, and in that sense not much has changed, but I think it just gets more and more crowded every year. And with the electric bikes, everybody’s going down there…whewwww!

Your generation was more punk rock whereas today surfing has become a family affair.

When I was growing up my mom was at work, my dad was at work, and I don’t think they ever saw me surf until I was way older. But now you see the whole family down there. Dad’s filming every single session. These kids got coaches and mentors. They’re so pampered. We didn’t have any of that stuff. In a sense, it had more soul because you just figured it out yourself. Everybody had their own style. Now all the kids just watch each other and it’s all the same.

Do you think there’s a lack of style in surfing today?

Sometimes people have their own style and then someone else says, “Oh, you gotta fix this.” And that’s kind of taking away from their style. You know what I mean? Look at MR’s style. They called him the Wounded Gull. He wouldn’t have been allowed to develop like that today. Or Rabbit’s style. They surfed different. And that’s what I’m trying to say—everybody needs to have their own style. They need to be themselves. If something is awkward it’s going to stick out, and people might be like, “Wow, that’s pretty cool, man.” That’s one thing I see in surfing these days—everyone is trying to focus on just doing the same kind of thing. They don’t venture out and be themselves. That’s what I’m always trying to do. I let people influence my surfing, but I’ve tried to retain my own style.

I don’t think there’s much difference between who you are in the water versus who you are on land. It’s your attitude. It’s where you grow up. It’s who you are.

When you, and Christian [Fletcher], and Dino [Andino] were all coming up it was like a revolution versus today where it’s so much more commercial and homogenized. As Herbie says, “Radical people do radical shit.”

I live by that. I don’t think there’s much difference of who you are in the water versus who you are on land. It’s your attitude. It’s where you grow up. It’s who you are. Herbie’s right.

Is that idea of being radical something for the history books, or do you think there are any kids picking up on that defiant, counterculture aspect of surfing?

There are a lot of good up-and-coming kids that I’ve noticed lately. Like I said, a lot of them are just all trying to do the same things, but there are a few doing some real turns and actually laying it on rail. Just going down the line and telegraphing airs, that has to change. It needs to get back to rail surfing—fast and carvey. Doing a cutback, like a tight roundhouse cutback, that’s part of surfing, you know, and there are kids that can’t do that today. You have to know how to do a roundhouse cutback, how to get barreled, a bottom turn. Just having a good bottom turn that sets you up for the lip is so important and so overlooked today. These guys are just racing out in front of it, trying to hit the lip and do some air with no power. It’s just so boring. So boring.

What do you want to see?

I want to see power surfing. When I was growing up that’s what I was looking up to—just pure power surfing. Speed and style, I just love that. You can do whatever you want to do on the wave, not what someone else wants you to do. That’s why I’m still surfing today.

Is that what keeps you in the water so much?

What else are you going to do, just sit around? I’ve been surfing just about every day, at least once a day. I’ve even been surfing Cottons. Jeez, I can’t even remember the last time I surfed there. It was way back when I was a kid. I don’t know why—one day I just went down there again and started going more often. And the other day I went down and surfed Lowers and then my wife and I walked all the way back home together, just cruising and enjoying it. Not rushing…like I used to.