On a late summer morning in 2010, I eased up to the driveway of a tidy, stucco-hued home in San Clemente, California. The yard, the cars out front, the air, it was all just so. I double-checked the directions I had scribbled down to confirm that I was in fact in the right place. Then, walking to the front door, I caught a glimpse of the first Pleasantville betrayal: inside the garage was a legion of surfboards, like a row of snarled shark’s teeth. Some were fresh white, some were yellowed to perfection, but they all bore the …Lost logo.
Matt Biolos opened the door and was as gruff as I had hoped he’d be. Tall and thick, sharp with wit and wearing black, he was an intimidating and arresting figure all the same. I was there to do his Shaper of the Year interview for Surfing Magazine and he was ready to talk. Over two hours, we discussed the early days with Christian, Shane, Wardo, Cory, and Randall. The middle days, with clothing lines, corporatization and energy drinks. And finally, the nowadays, cluttered with Chinese competition, “alternative” construction, Chilli and Mark Richards collaborations, and the lovely home we now sat in, fully stocked with name brand foodstuffs and friendly family. A triumphant result of a singular passion and an incredibly sharp eye and steady hand. A good guy with a good life, I came to conclude.
What we didn’t talk about enough, I now realize, was Biolos’ seemingly undisputed reign over summer. Think about it: Back in the ’90s, when surfers were blindly following Kelly into the potato chip abyss, Biolos was thinking fatter, shorter, wider. The first blockbuster small-wave product to come out of Biolos’ toy factory was the Round Nose Fish—a surfboard that played a huge role in igniting the fish revolution. Then the Rocket came in the mid 2000s, again bringing a new realm of fun to everyday surf. And there were so many other funky, small wave models in-between.
With another summer upon us, I decided to reconnect with Biolos and ask him how he felt about being a kind of king of average. Naturally, he scoffed at the question, deferring much of his success to fellow shapers and the not-so-average talents of his current riders, namely Kolohe Andino, Carissa Moore and Taj Burrow. But there’s no getting around it: this guy makes fun out of foam and function out of flatness like few others. And there’s nothing average about that.
“I’m just a toy maker,” he had told me in 2010. “If your toy makes things more frustrating…then it’s not a well made toy.”
I think we can all agree with that.
Since you led the fish resurgence in the late ’90s, surfers have always looked to your latest board lines come summer. Would you consider yourself still a leading innovator in small wave surfboards?
MATT BIOLOS: That’s a pretty loaded question and is probably best answered by someone other than myself, but I do have a passion for making small waves more fun and am constantly playing with and tweaking new ideas because: 1) there are more small (or weak) waves than good waves; and 2) it’s less crowded in small surf. And if you can combine smaller crowds with better board performance it makes it easier to consistently have a good time.
But you’re also shaping for a pretty amazing pack of World Tour surfers these days. Explain how your work with them influences your overall production line philosophy.
Well, traditionally our most popular models have been inspired from, or spawned from, work with the team. This spans from the original Round Nose Fish, which was birthed by a request from 15-year-old Chris Ward to make him a “fish”; to Shane Beschen bringing me the first rudimentary version of the Rocket; to Kolohe (Andino) (and to some degree [his father] Dino) who the Scorcher, Sub Scorcher, Sub Driver and Mini Driver were all first designed around.
Who have been your all-time favorite pros to work with then?
It’s no secret that I came up in this world on the backs of Chris Ward and Cory Lopez. Without those two — and Shea (Lopez), who had no small part in it all — I would probably not have gained any more notoriety than that of hundreds of other talented shapers out there. Shane Beschen was instrumental over a couple of years by forcing me to become more exacting and learn how to take feedback, both the good and the dry, harsh reality of the bad. Kolohe is my all-time favorite, and what we have done over the last few years with him and Dino is the most rewarding of my career. I honestly feel that he is influencing surfboard design as much as anyone right now.
And since doing boards for Kolohe, as well as Taj, Carissa and Coco, have you noticed a trend in customer orders reflecting these surfers’ board types?
Kolohe, of course. Like I said above, a good portion of our line and sales volume is, and has been for some time, driven by the boards I design with the Andino’s. Coco is awesome, but in truth Carissa is the first girl I have ever worked with whose personal boards have cued interest from male surfers. Ian Gentil and Cory Lopez, Mason Ho and others all consider her CMPro “file” one of their favorites. The Taj relationship is newly public, and since his win at Snapper Rocks we have had a lot of queries from other pros, retailers and everyday surfers wanting “whatever you’re making Taj.”