Interview by Hugh Wyllie. Article by coastalwatch.com
Thirty years since first mowing for Herbie Fletcher – (think Astrodeck, Wave Warriors, Nathan, Christian) – Matt Biolos still holds an edge in the surfboard game.
Much like his early mentor, Biolos took to surfing on the fringes of surfing’s anti-establishment, shaping boards far shorter, wider and beefier than the 90’s needles slung by his Momentum gen peers. Part retro, part space pod, all high performance, Matt’s sleds took lead role in his …Lost surf tapes – some of the rawest surf edits of all time – and inadvertently shot Biolos and his rebel surf team to global appeal as the popularity of …Lost exploded into the new millennium… as if by accident. But was there method to the madness? One look at the range of …Lost’s hybrids, rockets, fishes and step-downs concedes a resounding ‘yes’, based on a simple punk principle: ‘fun first’ as Matt explains.
Today the fun slides on under the feet of reigning World Champ Tyler Wright, three-time World Champ Carissa Moore, Taj Burrow and Kolohe Andino to name an elite few, yet the question remains, how does one of surfing’s biggest manufacturers stay true to his hardcore roots? We sat down with the man himself to find out…
CW: So Matt, you shape your first surfboard and call it ‘The Ratz Ass’. Why the name?
MB: I was just a smart assed punk. I really didn’t grow up in the surfing scene of brands and sponsored surfers. I grew up going to punk shows and even fronted my own shitty band. None of my friends were sponsored surfers. We didn’t rip or give a shit. We just wanted to have fun. So I came up with ‘Ratz Ass’ – as in I don’t give a… Once I realized I could turn it into a job and make a living, I went a little less ridiculous and decided to use the first part of the name from my high school punk band ‘Mayhem Ordnance’.
Is this meaning still relevant for you now?
Uhhhh, Well, not so much. I mean it’s hard to stay ‘anti-everything’ as you move on in life. I do like to think that I still carry some of my edge though. It’s hard when you have a wife and 4 kids and lots of employees and people depending on you. You almost have to give a ratz ass in order to survive. I’m still a grouchy punk though.
What tunes do you blast in the shaping bay? Does it depend on the type of board your making?
Back when I used to shape by hand, I always played hard, loud, radical music like punk, grunge and some metal when using the planer. When fine sanding I would settle down to some classic stuff, something like the Stones or Dylan. So yeah, the soundtracks to those Lost videos from the mid 90’s.. all the way to Ward Stories, 5’5” Redux and Here today/Gone to Cabo, pretty much tell my music alliances.
Aside from the surfboards, my biggest contribution to those videos were the soundtracks. My favourites, for surf parts were always hardcore bands like Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains. I loved the early 80s hardcore scene. I also really loved 90’s grunge like Janes Addiction, Frank Black and then Nirvana and Sound garden when that all happened. I struggled to get into the whole 90’s pop punk scene (like in all the Taylor Steele vids) so I wanted to expose the surfers to all the stuff I thought was real ‘punk’ when we went on our roll making videos. Then the whole Sublime thing happened. We would hang with them a lot, making cool soundtracks and using their music. Those were good times that ended really bad – for Brad.
How did shaping for guys like Cory, Andy and Wardo influence your skills as a craftsman in those early years?
They were everything! I mean, after Strider and a couple boards here ‘n there for the Fletcher brothers, Ward and Cory were the first guys. They were the ‘guinea pigs’. They lived on my couch and would ride any piece of shit I made them. They were young and wild and not picky at all. It was easy. They really put me on the map and made it possible for me to create a global brand. Then Shea (Corys older brother, who spent more than a decade on the CT) came around and started getting boards. He was the first articulate guy with world class skill, that I worked with. He helped me so much. Shea was the guy who said, “Hey, if you’re gonna shape for guys like us, you need to work on your surfing.” I started focusing on my own surfing because of him. Shea doesn’t get much credit, but he was a major guy in my career.
Shane Beschen was the first to win a WCT (in ’98) on my boards. He was the guy who pushed me the hardest and really took the gloves off and made me step up. I went to tour events with him and learned the whole world of competitive pro surfing. They all had good runs on the WCT and everything after that in my career sprung from those four guys.
‘The 90’s fish revival’. What inspired it?
What were those first reactions like to the ‘round nose fish’ design? In any ‘genre’, there is always more than one story and multiple things happening simultaneously, for a revolution or a movement to take place. From my perspective, Chris Ward inspired me. He saw Curren riding a Tommy Peterson ‘Fireball’ at Log Cabins. I think it was the Winter of 93-94. He called me and said “Curren’s on a Fish and ripping. The thing is tiny. Can you make me one?” I had NO IDEA what he meant by ‘fish’. I had no idea that Tom was actually on a pointy nosed thruster. I assumed he meant something like a twin fin with a swallow tail. So I went and studied a bunch of old wall hanger twin fins at a local surf shop (BC Surf) here in San Clemente. Went in and shaped a 5’5” 19 1/4” stubby little swallow tail with a nose sort of like a late 70’s MR. It had concave under the front foot and flat into the nose, then vee starting from the front of the fins and progressing to a double concaved deep vee out of the tail. I made some twin fins and glassed them on. Wardo took it back to Hawaii and then Cory ‘had to have one,’ and then the Rip Curl videos of Tom on the Fireball and also a ‘LIS’ Fish, in NY, came out.
We had already made a few more fishes for the boys by the next spring and accumulated some clips. When we were editing What’s Really Goin’ On we met up with Hal Jepson. He was selling VHS copies of his old films out of his trunk. We bought a bunch and ended up splicing together his footage from the 1972 World champs (in San Diego) where Larry Blair and David Newayva (SP) were ripping on ‘LIS’ type fishes, together with our clips of Ward, Cory and Casey Curtis on our ‘Round Nose Fish’. At the same time, Al Merrick was already onto it, building their ‘Twin Finner’. Casey had one… I rode it and it worked well. What’s Really Goin’ On was the first surf movie of the vhs era to have a fish specific segment, and the boys just kept riding them. We ended up with so much footage that we ended up making the 5’5” film a year or two later. From there it just went like wild fire.
In the current market, could you ever see the shortboard dying out for good?
Not as long as the best surfers are riding them in competition. Competition will always drive sales to a certain degree. The bottom line is, if your young and fit, or even older but fit and have some solid skills, the best surfing is still being done on a HPSB. The thing with the market is, by the time guys tend to have disposable money, they are no longer young and fit. So the guys spending the most money are the ones working 40-50 hours per week, and don’t have the time or fitness or even the worry to remain at the precise level of surfing.
What’s your secret to keeping ahead of design trends?
You can’t always be ahead of design trends. Sometimes you can be the guy driving the trends. Sometimes you’re too early and over shoot a trend that people weren’t ready for… only to see it happen a couple of years later and then sometimes you have to acknowledge when others have spearheaded something fresh, that the surfers want, put your own spin on it, and slip stream along. To be one of the few who do drive trends, you have to be fully into what your doing and remain creative. I try to do my best to push the added baggage of running a business out of my head and hope my business partner and my top employees take on the back end, and I can focus on design and direction.
Then and now… As a global manufacturer, how do you maintain your original brand ethos? Is there compromise to find balance?
On the marketing side – our brand ethos was always punk and wild behavior. I still surround myself with the type of guys who keep it old school, because that’s who I want to work with.
Look at Mason Ho. He is single handedly keeping the OG alive. It’s that same approach as our original …Lost ‘fun first’ style. And it’s going strong, over 20 years after our first video came out. I would also like to think that our message is going out in a unique way to this day. Things like the various “Ape-Man” edits and video webisodes we created to launch the Carbon-Wrap boards uphold our …Lost ethos. Funny, sarcastic, witty and different, that’s what we’re about. As far as manufacturing and lifestyle go, you’ve got to keep your feet on the ground! I try my best to travel and visit most of the surfing world market each year. We have grass roots, authentic manufacturing set up in ground zero locations, made by legit shapers and glassers in most major zones. Places like the Gold Coast, Basque Country in Europe, Gisborne in NZ, Sau Paulo and Durban. We also build boards in Peru, Argentina, Costa Rica and Tahiti and we have a partnership at the Sugar Mill factory on the North Shore of Oahu.
Our main operation remains here in San Clemente. I literally live a 5 minute walk from my factory and am there every day I am in town. So, by continuing to surf consistently, travel the world and be immersed in the lifestyle, you stay valid, creative and progressive.
What’s the ultimate three board quiver from your current range?
For the everyday surfer, I would say the new ‘Puddle Fish’ in Carbon-Wrap to keep that foam under the stomach nice n’ high. Mine is a 5’10” x 22” x 2.88” at 40 litres.
Then I’d go for a ‘V3-Rocket’ or even a trusty ‘V3-Round it’ in chest high to overhead mine’s a 6’1” x 21” x 2.88” at 40 litres.
For solid double overhead waves, I use a big guy variation of my ‘Whiplash Step-Up’. It’s basically the same bottom as the pros ride, but with a lot more volume throughout. 6’6” x 20.50 x 2.88” at 41litres with the thickness carried everywhere I can get it, but still somewhat forgiving. I am always playing around with older and newer models, but these are really safe and proven bets.
What’s next from Lost?
Oh man. We are always working hard on new stuff. I just finished up with getting all our new models ready to go. We launched the V3-Stealth, The RNF-Redux and the Mason Ho VooDoo Child in the last couple months. The Puddle Fish is dropping soon, and all the work that goes into that one is done. The Pipe masters just ended. Kolohe got 3rd, and finished the year 4th in the world. Tyler won the women’s World Title and we are really stoked that one of our WQS warriors, Joan Duru, has qualified for the tour next year.
Mason had a huge year reminding everyone what surfing is all about, and overall a lot of our team had a great year. Now everyone deserves to chill a bit. Enjoy the holiday. Right now is the first day of winter here. Meaning I have about 6 weeks to just tread water at work. To not push it too hard, and focus on some good snowboarding, spend time in the mountains with my wife and kids, decompress from the surf biz, recharge and maybe some get good clean days of surf.
The WSL is in break mode, and I like to do the same each winter…. At least from the stress of making contest boards for everyone. Once it gets to, late January, its time to start working on boards for the WCT and WQS again. Then it’s off to Oz, for the Quiky pro and away we go!