Tracks - - Buzz - BY LUKE KENNEDY

It's fi­nals day of the 2013 US Open at Hunt­ing­ton Beach: tens of thou­sands of Cal­i­for­ni­ans swarm the pier and trans­form the beach into a sway­ing mass of colour and flesh, mak­ing the whole set­ting a feel like a scene from surf­ing's ver­sion of Glad­i­a­tor. As Kolohe Andino and Brazil­ian Alejo Mu­niz pad­dle out for the fi­nal, Lost shaper Matt Bi­o­lis watches on from the com­fort of the com­peti­tor's area like a Ro­man chan­cel­lor. For once he feels a lit­tle re­laxed as to­day he has the de­signed the wave weapons for both surfers. Carissa Moore has al­ready claimed vic­tory in the women's event us­ing one of Matt's fi­bre­glass blades and it would seem there is now lit­tle left to do but wit­ness events un­fold and revel in the guar­an­teed glory. It's true that the odds were al­ways in his favour though.

Such is Bi­o­lis's pop­u­lar­ity at events held in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia that he had taken or­ders from over 20 of the top pros in the lead up to the con­test. Prior to the event Matt Biolos had never even met Alejo Mu­niz. He was just an or­der form at the end of an email, an­other high-rank­ing pro, suc­cumb­ing to the peer pres­sure to ride a Mayhem in Californian con­tests. Kolohe on the other hand is one of Biolos's favourite sons. Kolohe's dad, Dino, and Biolos go way back. Dino was one of the first guys to win con­tests on Matt's boards and Matt even goes so far as to call him a co-de­signer. If this were For­mula One, Kolohe would be be­hind the wheel of a Fer­rari and Matt 'Mayhem' Biolos would be the car's en­gi­neer – a tight-knit team with Dino de­liv­er­ing the mo­ti­va­tional speech in the pits. Alejo by com­par­i­son is a ver­i­ta­ble stranger, whose ap­pear­ance on a Mayhem makes Matt feel more like a mer­ce­nary than a team player.

Out in the wa­ter the Brazil­ian Mu­niz shuts out the parochial crowd who are bay­ing for his blood; Kolohe is a Californian golden child and they want to see him whip some South Amer­i­can ass. Spurred on by the an­i­mos­ity and trans­ported by the Mayhem, which feels like a magic car­pet be­neath his feet, Alejo flies out of the blocks and 'Brother' Andino can't chase down the 8.46 he needs for vic­tory. Matt Biolos tem­po­rar­ily basks in his dou­ble podium fin­ish but it's not long be­fore the in­ner con­flict emerges. It doesn't help that Kolohe's team­mate, Nat Young, is scream­ing in his ear, "Why'd you shape Alejo that fuck­ing board?" al­most as if Matt had per­formed some act of trea­son.

"Oh fuck, the wrong guy won," Matt be­gins to think, re­flect­ing on his long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with Kolohe and Dino. Sure the ku­dos and the bank ac­count have been served well by mak­ing a lot of boards for the pros in the event, but to Matt it sud­denly all feels like potluck, a crap­shoot. The pro­lific shaper, whose stat sheet of oc­ca­sional and full-time rid­ers reads like a who's who of pro­fes­sional surf­ing (Taj Bur­row, Ju­lian Wil­son, Mick Fan­ning, Nat Young, Chris Ward, Tyler Wright, Chris David­son, Ma­son Ho, Carissa Moore and many more) finds him­self at the cross­roads and be­gins to won­der if per­haps there is not some­thing more hon­ourable and chival­rous in say­ing no …

“Chris­tian would be like ‘do any­thing that’s go­ing­toma­keev­ery­one an­gryabout­my­boards …iwant­naked­priests burn­ing on a Cross’.”

Matt Biolos grew up in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia but surf­ing wasn't his first love. His fam­ily home in re­spectable Up­land was right by the provoca­tively named 'Pipe­line' skate park, which was a favourite amongst many of the world's best cop­ing grinders when skate cul­ture boomed in the '80s. At a time when surf­ing was push­ing a flu­oro-ide­al­ism with brands like Echo Beach, skate cul­ture still had the scent of re­bel­lion, re­mem­bers Matt. "You could tell that there were mar­ket­ing people be­hind the surf­ing brands. You could tell that it was fed to you and de­signed. I liked the raw­ness of skate cul­ture and punk rock." Punk rock was Matt's other teenage ob­ses­sion. Af­ter the Bri­tish scene im­ploded with bands like The Clash and the The Sex Pis­tols break­ing up, a dis­tinctly Californian punk scene was spawned in the early '80s. "That was the most in­flu­en­tial thing to me. I was in ju­nior high from '81-'87, which was the peak of Cal­i­for­nia hard core (mu­sic). I think they in­flu­enced me more than surfers … ev­ery­one was air-brush­ing beau­ti­ful neon pan­els on their boards and I was draw­ing skulls from Cor­ro­sion of Con­form­ity al­bum cov­ers." In the same way a teenage grom might have named his favourite surfers, Matt runs through a list of bands that de­fined his ado­les­cence. "D.I., So­cial Dis­tor­tion, Mi­nor Threat, Bad Brains…"

Cu­ri­ously, it was punk's self-suf­fi­cient credo that served as a cat­a­lyst for Matt's in­ter­est in shap­ing. "It was all about do­ing ev­ery­thing yourself. De­sign your own record cover, record your own mu­sic, put on your shows, make your own fly­ers… Do ev­ery­thing yourself from start to fin­ish. Matt saw an ob­vi­ous link be­tween punk's D.I.Y ap­proach and the surf­board in­dus­try. "I loved surf­boards be­cause they were hand­made," he en­thuses.

Armed with the first hunk of foam he'd ever given form to, 17-year-old Biolos rocked up to Herby Fletcher's San Cle­mente shap­ing bay to have it glassed and found his call­ing. "I saw that place and in­stantly I thought, 'this is what I want to do'."

Fletcher's shap­ing bay was a heady scene at the time. It was base camp for both Matt Arch­bold and Chris­tian Fletcher who were the anti-hero as­tro­nauts at the fore­front of surf­ing's space race. Biolos was ini­tially em­ployed to do art­work on the boards. While Archie wanted his wave-slay­ers cov­ered in clas­sic Amer­i­cana – ea­gles, Star Span­gled Ban­ner, In­dian Heads and Steve Tyler – Chris­tian Fletcher saw Biolos' po­ten­tial to make the fi­bre­glass can­vas into some­thing a lit­tle more provoca­tive. "Chris­tian would be like, 'Do any­thing that's go­ing to make ev­ery­one an­gry about my boards … I want naked priests burn­ing on a cross'."

Al­though Matt wasn't ini­tially em­ployed as a shaper it was the kind of en­vi­ron­ment in which learn­ing oc­curred by os­mo­sis. "Dino Andino was there, the McNaulty fam­ily, the Paskowitz's and of course Herby. This whole com­mu­nity of re­ally cre­ative people. And I was the out­sider with this kind of dirty, lit­tle punk rock, hard-core kind of thing." Matt was han­dling boards from all around the world, in­clud­ing those of Nev Hy­man. "I re­mem­ber them be­ing re­ally re­fined and beau­ti­ful," re­calls Matt.

Over a decade later, Nev of course would go on to de­velop Firewire and sign Taj to ride his in­no­va­tive de­sign for sev­eral years, only to have Biolos, the one-time punk kid from the Fletcher fac­tory, poach his prized team rider.

When Biolos started mak­ing boards his first real hit of ex­po­sure came when Strider Wasilewski took a quiver of his boards to Hawaii in the early '90s and scored a cou­ple of mag spreads at big Pipe, how­ever the emer­gence of Lost as a top-flight brand was re­ally hitched to the me­te­oric rise of Chris Ward. "We dis­cov­ered Chris Ward at 14 years old, surf­ing down at the pier (Ocean­side Pier, San Cle­mente) and


my busi­ness part­ner said, 'this kid's the one'. He's go­ing to put us on the map. He started hang­ing out at our house and I started mak­ing boards for him. As soon as we got Chris on our pro­gram, Corey and Shea Lopez wanted to live on our couch all sum­mer be­cause they wanted to be next to him. They're like 'this kid's the fu­ture. We want to ex­plode with him'." Matt still sounds a lit­tle awestruck when he talks about what it was like to wit­ness Wardo as a teenage prodigy. "He was 14 and surf­ing 8-10 foot Log Cab­ins and then we'd take him to Puerto Es­con­dido and it was just un­canny."

Rid­ing Biolos's boards, Ward be­came both an aerial vir­tu­oso and a Back­door Pipe specialist. With his trade­mark mis­an­thropic scowl and unique, slightly un­ortho­dox at­tack, he also de­vel­oped a cult fol­low­ing amongst surfers look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive guru when much of pro surf­ing was mak­ing a quick-march to­wards the main­stream. Wardo went big in ev­ery di­rec­tion of his life and through the mid '90s he helped the Lost la­bel be­come a kind of in­signia for dis­af­fected youth. Even af­ter a ca­reer of rolled rental cars, court ap­pear­ances, drunken vo­latil­ity and WCT fail­ure, Ward's enig­matic cult sta­tus has en­dured and Biolos has been there with him for the en­tire ride. When asked if he's got any good Wardo sto­ries, Biolos replies coyly, "Ev­ery­one's got one Wardo story but I've got one for ev­ery­body."

Once Wardo blew up there was a queue of rip­pers who be­came hap­pily 'Lost'. A glance at the Lost web­site's of­fi­cial team rider list in­di­cates that in ad­di­tion to the front-line crew like Kolohe, Wardo, the Ho's and Carissa there's a litany of lesser known Californian pros rock­ing May­hems. In­ter­est from top-flight, in­ter­na­tional surfers with a pen­chant for pick­ing and choos­ing dif­fer­ent shapers came about largely be­cause of the in­clu­sion of Tres­tles on the CT and WQS cir­cuit. Tres­tles has al­ways been Biolos's ma­jor test­ing ground and by 2011 there was a ma­jor swing to­wards May­hems when the tour rolled into San Cle­mente for the Hur­ley Pro. That year over a quar­ter of the top 34 chased up Matt for a board and DHD devo­tee, Mick Fan­ning, fa­mously rode a creased Kolohe Andino Mayhem to the quar­ter-fi­nals. Mick was never go­ing to sac­ri­fice a 15-year re­la­tion­ship with Dar­ren Han­d­ley but the brief li­ai­son in­spired Matt to ex­press a cer­tain pro­fes­sional envy in re­gards to Mick's de­sign knowl­edge. "I al­ways tell Dar­ren Han­d­ley that he's a cheater be­cause Mick Fan­ning is by far and away the best. Mick's in­cred­i­ble. He's so ar­tic­u­late about boards. You don't even un­der­stand what you have there. He is the ul­ti­mate pro­fes­sional that I've had the hon­our of work­ing with. It's an un­fair ad­van­tage to have that guy." At the time of writ­ing one of Mick's In­sta­gram posts in­di­cated he had just re­ceived a new batch of May­hems in the lead up to Bells. It seems that the world cham­pion has ev­ery in­ten­tion of con­tin­u­ing an af­fair with Matt Biolos while dat­ing Dar­ren Han­d­ley.

Al­though Matt read­ily ad­mits that shapers are also com­plicit in the cre­ation of a cul­ture that al­lows pro surfers to chop and change boards, he feels that the surfers are the ones who are re­ally driv­ing it. "It's kind of like all the surfers are work­ing us against each other. One surfer will get boards from like six or seven shapers." The cur­rent scene ob­vi­ously cre­ates a cer­tain in­ner con­flict for Biolos; part of him def­i­nitely han­kers for the kind of ca­ma­raderie and con­vic­tion of pur­pose that a For­mula One team might ex­pe­ri­ence – a sit­u­a­tion where there is un­ques­tioned loy­alty to one shaper.

Al­though Mick may be two-tim­ing, Matt sug­gests that he and Dar­ren Han­d­ley are good friends and that he is more in­clined to iden­tify with shapers from Aus­tralia. "Dar­ren and I have a great re­la­tion­ship … Ja­son Stevens and I are not chums or any­thing but I think there's a mu­tual re­spect … I aligned my­self with all the young Aus­tralian shapers in the 2000s. I feel like there's a lot more go­ing on here at a high level than in Cal­i­for­nia, but like the surfers there's a com­pet­i­tive­ness to it for sure."

Matt re­turns to the car-rac­ing anal­ogy to il­lus­trate the scene. "The tour has be­come like a For­mula One Se­ries with­out the driver loy­alty, but in­stead of Fer­rari, McClaren, Wil­liams and Red Bull you've got DHD, JS, Chan­nel Is­lands and Mayhem." He ham­mers home the point by draw­ing at­ten­tion to the fact that in 2012 and 2013 only one WCT vic­tory on the men's tour was se­cured on a board other than the four brands ref­er­enced above. (John John Florence won the Bil­l­abong Rio Pro in 2012 rid­ing a board made by his long-stand­ing shaper, John Pyzel.) That's 19 out of 20 re­sults at the elite level, split be­tween four shapers. It's a fairly sig­nif­i­cant statistic when you con­sider how many shapers there are around the world.

If the men's tour re­mains a cut-throat scene with loy­alty a fre­quent last-place fin­isher in the bat­tle for defin­ing val­ues, Matt was much hap­pier with the way he han­dled a com­pli­cated sce­nario on the girls tour. Tyler Wright and Carissa Moore spent most of 2013 locked in a mon­u­men­tal bat­tle for the ti­tle. In Brazil Tyler whipped out a Mayhem, won the event, and shot to the lead in the ti­tle race. Matt had ran­domly made Tyler the board eight months ear­lier but never heard any­thing back. Carissa on the other hand was an of­fi­cial Mayhem team rider who had been work­ing closely with Matt for three years. When Tyler's man­ager ap­proached Matt to make some more boards af­ter her suc­cess in Brazil, Matt was faced with an eth­i­cal dilemma. "Do I make boards for both of these girls and watch them bat­tle it out? Or do I want to be like a team player or a mar­tyr al­most?"

Matt called up Carissa and let her know that he was one hun­dred per­cent com­mit­ted to her quest for a sec­ond world ti­tle. "We're go­ing to win or lose this to­gether," he as­sured her. The sec­ond call to Tyler's man­ager was a lit­tle tougher… "I think Tyler is great and I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate some­body win­ning on my board but I re­ally don't want to do this mid sea­son. Why don't you guys come back and talk to me at the end of the sea­son?"

Matt didn't make any boards for Tyler and Carissa went on to win the world ti­tle. How­ever, when the sea­son ended Tyler was straight on the phone to Matt, adamant that she wanted to work with him. Un­der the aus­pices of a more for­mal ar­range­ment, Matt was happy to work with Tyler. Tyler stayed at Matt's house with his fam- ily, went surf­ing and snow board­ing with him and worked on a quiver of boards. Af­ter en­joy­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of mak­ing boards in a nur­tur­ing rather than op­por­tunis­tic en­vi­ron­ment, Matt was left ask­ing him­self an­other big ques­tion. "Do I have the balls to do this with the guys … to only work with guys who are all in?"

If Matt must par­take in a Game of Thrones-like bat­tle with his con­tem­po­raries, he seeks coun­sel and friend­ship from an un­likely shap­ing source – Mark Richards. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the punk-in­spired Californian and the states­man-like MR seems an un­likely one but Matt can't speak highly enough of the four-time world cham­pion. Prior to the in­ter­view Matt had just re­turned from a snow­board­ing trip with MR at Mam­moth Moun­tain in Cal­i­for­nia. He has fea­tured MR and his boards in his cult-fol­lowed Lost movies (most no­tably Chris Ward's mind-blow­ing sec­tion from 5'5"Re­dux, rid­ing an MR sin­gle fin) and ac­knowl­edges him as a ma­jor in­flu­ence for the shorter, wider, thicker mod­els he has had so much suc­cess with amongst ev­ery­day surfers and the pub­lic. "I re­mem­ber see­ing Mark Richards boards that were all old and dusty hang­ing in shops and think­ing, 'Well that looks in­ter­est­ing'. Why is no­body mak­ing those any more?"

It was thunderbolts of in­spi­ra­tion like this that helped Matt de­velop the other side of his busi­ness. While he may be the dar­ling shaper of surf­ing's elite, his other real suc­cess has been in mak­ing fun boards that helped aver­age Jimmy and Jenny take their per­for­mance to new lev­els. Look around a lineup al­most any­where in the world and you are likely to see some­one rockin' a Lost model.

As Matt ex­plains, "The work I do with high level ath­letes is very dif­fi­cult and hard on the ego. You have to be very hum­ble and take a lot of hits and roll with the punches. There's re­ally only half a dozen guys work­ing with these surfers and any­one who's in that game knows that it's not easy. I love work­ing with the top level ath­letes and it's re­ally hard and it's chal­leng­ing and it's re­ally re­ward­ing of course … par­tic­u­larly when some­one wins a con­test or puts on a show on one of your boards. How­ever I split my time be­tween the work I do with the high level ath­letes and the work I do with me and all my friends at Tres­tles, and the boards that we want to ride and the way that we want to have fun with al­ter­na­tive equip­ment that's

shorter or wider or has dif­fer­ent bot­tom curves. And I think that's driven my busi­ness and my brand as much as the work we've done with the ath­letes … I come from more of a real­is­tic back­ground. I was never one of the best surfers in town and I never had a body where I was a ripper and I was just good at ev­ery­thing and I've al­ways un­der­stood that most people don't op­er­ate at that level."

Biolos's suc­cess with shapes which are de­signed to deliver pun­ters more fun than they've ever had on a board gives him an added level of se­cu­rity in the mar­ket place, and means he is less de­pen­dent on volatile elite per­form­ers. "In the end you want to see guys win con­tests on your boards, but I think what sep­a­rates us and keeps my busi­ness on an even keel is that it's not based around whether I have five guys rid­ing my boards in the con­test. I could walk away from it or I could have a cold spell. We have a great foun­da­tion and we make fun cre­ative boards and we do a lot of things."

While Biolos would love to see one of the men win a world ti­tle on his boards, he isn't hung up on the am­bi­tion. "It's some­thing I'd like to see hap­pen be­fore I burn out on this whole thing, but it's not some­thing that I need. At some point I'm go­ing to fig­ure out a way to dis­ap­pear to the moun­tains and chop wood and fish."

For now the most pop­u­lar shaper in surf­ing is in­tent on pre­serv­ing the in­tegrity of his brand, and while the punk kid who showed up at Herby Fletcher's shap­ing bay al­most 30 years ago may have mel­lowed a lit­tle, he stresses that his core val­ues re­main the same. "I don't need to be called a punk. I'm a 45-year-old fam­ily man. But the ethics are still, 'do it yourself', re­main in­de­pen­dent and be cre­ative. You gotta stay vi­tal."


Chris Ward was the wun­derkind who helped put Lost boards and Biolos's ca­reer on a ver­ti­cal tra­jec­tory. ||




Taj Bur­row re­ly­ing on a Mayhem to help with his quest for a world ti­tle. ||

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