My first encounter with Australian pro longboarder and surf history enthusiast Matt Chojnacki on the North Shore occurred in the muddy puddle of a nearly-flooded Chun’s parking lot. Matt was seated in the back of what I can only assume was a rental car, given its uninspired modernity and given Matt’s love for restoring beautiful, classic automobiles. The car was stuffed to the gills with surfboards, and Matt sat in front of them, speaking calmly into a camera about a topic I could only imagine had to be related to surf history.
His filmer, Ben, chatted back and forth to Matt as I unsheathed my battered, ’70s-inspired surfboard. Immediately, Matt eyed the fin. “That’s a cool board you got there.” I told him Joel Tudor shaped it, and he perked up.
“The fin’s a bit worn down there,” he told me, and explained something about rake and drag I won’t even try to paraphrase. I was getting personal design advice from the Wax Head himself! Frothing, I asked what his choice of fins would be. “You could try a larger fin. That one’s a flex fin, it’s meant for hulls and whatnot.” Lo and behold, he pulled a longboard fin from the depths of the car, and the conversation sprawled from board design to talking story.
Matt revealed he was working on a surf movie, but they’d been skunked for swell during their time on Oahu. “The purpose for this trip was to document my surfing pilgrimage, not a dedicated longboarding trip but riding all styles of boards in all wave types from two to 20 feet. I was prepared to surf some big waves, packing heavy water equipment courtesy of Bob and Ben McTavish and the team… I’ve never been so prepared. But as it turns out, the time post-Eddie has been so small and windy.”
“I am staying with fellow surf historian and North Shore resident John Wade, his generosity extended to use of his treasure trove of unique hybrids and vintage boards,” Matt went on, elaborating that “riding vintage logs and transitional single fins was not what I anticipated when I boarded the airplane for Hawaii, especially after the bombing Eddie event, but it just goes to show that when you have a good quiver-there’s never a dull day in surfing.”
And Oahu has plenty to offer to the culture-hungry surfer besides big waves. Later that day, I swam out with Ben and shot a few pictures of Matt performing some deep fade turns and ultra-stylish drop-knee turns in the fading light of Chun’s Reef.
I surf Chun’s somewhat frequently, and Hawai’i, already known for being a stylish area, was witnessing something spectacular as Matt drew long lines down the smooth faces of each wave. His surfing mimicked his conversational style: smooth, controlled with subtle power. There was no hotdogging going on that day, but plenty of beautiful cross-stepping as his hands stayed by his sides and the rail engaged through the transitions.
Matt was testing out a 1966 Barry Kanaiaupuni model manufactured by Californian label RICK for the Chun’s session, explaining that “this board was made for BK’s trademark powerful style with a lot of Phil Edwards inspired elegance. Phil influenced everyone, (all the Australians included) with style, glide, positioning, and poise.”
Looking at the board and admiring its features, Matt told me that “at the same time this hit the market in Los Angeles, the boards coming out of Brookvale, Sydney had knifier rails, the wide point pushed back and rolled bottoms really opening up movement and power with the Greenough-style fins in our fast head-high and under hollow point-break waves.”
“The Australian style Involvement boards that I am so used to typically don’t work well in Hawaiian style waves, which require more slender outlines with the wide point forward, so it’s been an eye-opening experience to have this diverse quiver of boards to ride on the North Shore, and ironically, the conditions have been perfect to test out all these styles of boards.”
The board exploration continued the next day, as Matt had an inkling that Pinballs would be fun, and sure enough, with barely anyone else out, the waves were beckoning and beautiful. “What a backdrop,” Matt remarked as he effortlessly knee-paddled past the point on a yellow gun he used as a glider. “Almost looks like a studio.”
He was right, of course: this was the statement of someone who has spent countless hours studying not only current-day Waimea, but its history, those who have achieved legend status there, every great swell from the past. The session was truly something from a dream, but it wasn’t over yet.
Matt’s love for surf history extends far beyond waves, and his collection of rare boards is almost unbelievable. To see some of it for myself, I followed him into John Wade’s garage. John is a phenomenal surfer and writer, also heavily involved in surf history and board restorations.
In the dry, clean air, standing next to an old little green sports car, Matt elaborated on his newfound knowledge. “It’s been so fun to delve into John’s archives, and we have such a similar passion in surfboard design and history. He has so many Australian and California-style boards, the Californian boards actually influenced the Australian ones in the early ’60s. He’s got the evolution from the Phil Edwards era in California, to our Aussie-involvement era, which is what I cut my teeth on as a longboarder, so it’s nice to ride the originals. It’s inspired me. It’s been a surfing pilgrimage for me, but not in the way I imagined.”
Matt brought out a shorter Nat Young board, an original from 1973. “Nat Young grew up in the same area I did, in Collaroy, the northern beaches of Sydney, Brookvale was our industrial surf city, that was like our South Bay of Sydney. We had the Brookvale Six: Barry Bennet, Gordon Woods, Scott Dillon, McDonough, Bill Wallace, and Keyo surfboards all within a couple blocks, which is where I live now. Nat’s ‘66 world-title winning surfboard ‘Magic sam’ was made there, and to this day I can really feel the history coming through my own surfing. Most of my own vintage collection was made by the Brookvale Six, with a few of them by Bob McTavish. Bob was influential with the vee-bottom, but prior to that was influential in putting roll in the boards and really defining Australian power surfing”
In between showing me the boards, he added, “it looks like I’ll be bringing home the BK for my archives and leaving the rhino chaser with John for another swell.” I asked Matt if he was ever coming back. “Oh, I’ll be back for big waves. The quiver I brought was a modernized quiver based on traditional design.”
I had to ask. “Did you bring any three fins?”
“I did bring a thruster midlength, but I didn’t bring any single fins. This was the first trip I’ve ever taken where I didn’t have a single fin anywhere in the world, and I felt naked without one.”
He moved from board to board, explaining each weight and concave with the refinement usually reserved for expensive art galleries. In a way, with the colorful boards sprawled across the pristine, vibrant grass, the lawn had transformed into one.
“When you put enough time into a specific art or in a specific pastime, you get to a point where you need to evolve. I’ve spent so much time focusing on head-high longboard waves because that’s generally what I get in Sydney, but coming off an amazing couple of years in COVID with La Nina back-to-back seasons, we had Hawaiian style waves in Sydney. I was still riding logs, and I won the Noosa festival of surfing two years in a row, so I felt accomplished with my longboarding and the next step was to surf what was in front of me, which happened to be double to triple overhead waves, which is why I’ve come here on this pilgrimage. It’s nothing new, this is the most travelled-to destination ever. It’s the proving grounds.”
I asked him how the proving grounds had been going, given the conditions. “I don’t have anything to prove. Just myself channeling those glory days I saw in the vintage surf films growing up, and to feel what it was like to come here to challenge yourself. In the end, I didn’t challenge myself in big waves, but I did in boards without leg ropes at Sunset, and surfing a big board at Pinballs, or a single fin at Pipe, and just riding nostalgic boards.”
Knowing he’d have a story or two in his back pocket, I asked Matt for one final highlight. His response came without second thought. “Riding my log at pipe with Jock Sutherland, trading waves while he was switch-foot. I never thought that would happen. I never thought I’d come here to surf Pipe on a log!”
Keeping people guessing seems to be a theme, and the future has quite a lot in store for Matt Chojnacki. “For the next trip… Well, we’re coming into Australia’s prime season. As we talk, there’s a cyclone: Kirra and Noosa are pumping right now. And I’ll fit in a Puerto trip, go to Sayulita for Mexi Log Fest…. I’m just going to do my longboard thing, take some barrel boards wherever I go. I’m not a one-dimensional surfer, I’m constantly evolving and feeling my own passion changing and diversifying, which keeps me interested.”
Matt’s interests in classic and collectible boards, I found out, runs far deeper than an interest in glassing designs, and as he walked back towards the house, where a pile of boards lay forlorn on the porch, he casually dropped a deep piece of advice to think on.
“With young surfers these days, with social media and all those pressures, it can be easy to think that you need everything, and you don’t have it, but at the end of the day, you are who you are it’s about who you are and what you have in front of you. For me, that’s old boards: showing the next generation where surfing comes from. If you can tap into surf history and who you are and make your own path, that’s something worth pursuing.”