AN INTERVIEW WITH IAN WRAITH
Kernow, UK, October 2013
Interview by Ken McKnight
The characters in the mat world are a heady group. Some have big egos, some are hobbit like and others are just plain goofy. Mat riders! What a unique group of individuals. One stand out personality would have to be Ian ‘Piskian' Wraith of the UK; a stand-alone mat rider with quick reflexes and natural ocean intuitiveness.
I asked him what his nickname means and he matter-of-factly replied, “Cause I take the Pis!” But as any proper Cornishman will tell you, Piskian comes from Piskies', small mythical creatures native to Cornwall.
And Wraith, a 15th century Scottish word, is a ghostlike apparition, or a visible spirit.
The perfect definition of a super fast mat rider maybe!
Okay then, let’s get at it!
A quintessential Python-esque-like individual, this Wraith character comes with a wicked, often cutting sense of humor. In action mode his abilities hanging on the side of a mountain, flying fast on a bike in a canyon or in the water on his mat shouts louder than his answers to my questions!
Aloof, Matter of Fact and often elusive, Ian is also known to be a hugely generous and loyal mate to his matting brethren. You won’t find him flaunting himself over the Internet, or blowing his proverbial horn. Instead he lets his actions dictate any words I might try to add. He rides a mat and really well.
His contributions are legendary, and as the following selection illustrates:
So, Ian where do you yourself in the future?
“I’d like to open a mat ashram in So Cal, and we’ll be your acolytes. All I need s a cool buzz, some tasty waves and I’m fine.”
Getting him to talk about himself was very difficult and he often answered in riddles. Maybe this is why we are so intrigued by him. The boy can flat out fly on a mat. His abilities to bring the bag of air to speed are uncanny. He surfs all sizes of waves in any conditions. He is well traveled, keenly astute of the environment and a loving husband and father. When you ask him straightforward questions like I have, you get the strangest answers.
“Some people have found horse's hooves in burgers. What's special about that? I see camel toes in Primark leggings everyday.”
“I found my workmate hanging from the ceiling. Attached to him was a note saying, "I just couldn't take the critisism any more". I quickly cut him down, got him conscious, and said, "That's not how you spell 'criticism'."
He was always highly strung.”
It’s like he is fucking with me on purpose. Or so it seemed.
An interesting and enigmatic figure, Ian Wraith is a real talent and epitomizes the whole point of matting. He revels in riding waves in anonymity and doesn’t seek the limelight at all. He has been to the edge, hung around, checked it out and stepped back. He rides a mat for all it is worth.
So Ian, how would you explain to a new mat rider how to ride the darn thing?
“Don’t worry or think too much about it, mate. It’ll evolve of itself as you ride more & more. And let out a Primal Scream!”
Here and Now, Ian Wraith, a reluctant poster boy for Matting...
UKMS - Did you grow up surfing, knee boarding, Boogs. Etc. what was your first wave ridden on and where?
Ian - I grew up belly boarding, on wooden boards and polystyrene "SQUEAKIES" in 70s and early '80s wetsuit-less, of course. Progressed to body boarding, but got tired of lugging stuff around on long camping trips to obscure places.
UKMS - When did you turn to the Mat-Side?
Ian - First rode 5 foot LI-LO’s in Japan after buying them up cheap in Cornish cheapy shops. They were a blast from the beginning, fast, alive and intuitive. I wasn't totally crap at it, so carried on.
UKMS - Why? What got your interest?
Ian - Repression of egotism, competition and self-consciousness, and living in the moment. Right on.
UKMS - Who introduced you to it?
Ian - Know it’s not fashionable to have idols or heroes, but I got my pointers for riding waves from, perversely, snowboarders and cycling, mainly the smoothness and "grace under pressure", as old Ernest put it, especially their ability to exploit terrain to gain momentum. Being lucky enough to ride with the pros at the first Arctic Challenge when I was working in Lofotens in 2000,and riding with Stephen Roche and later on, the Azzuri, in cycle races...
Ha! Serendipity. Thinking about influences on my climbing led me to matting.
UKMS - How hard was it for you to ride a mat initially?
Ian - Most importantly, they (mats) defied any attempts to overpower them with brute strength. They opened my eyes to exploring waves rather than using a platform in order to show off.
UKMS - What is it about mat surfing that you really like? Did you get the “Magic” right out of the gate?
Ian - Mats are ideal for me as corrective behavioral therapy. I've lived and worked in Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Confucianism countries, but found contentment lying on Taoist transport.
UKMS - Living in the UK where do you surf mostly?
Ian - I surf anywhere depending on prevailing surf conditions; no local spot; whenever there's swell, as early as possible.
UKMS - I’m told you have matted in some very different locales, Japan, Norway, and Mediterranean Sea. How cool are those spots? Any great, perfect waves you’d care to discuss? Did you get to explore the coastlines of each area and where?
Ian - Abroad, I've ridden most of Europe, including Iceland, Russia, Japan, USA, Hawaii, Tonga, NZ, Oz and so on. Norway in Lofotens was great, chilly but cranking, Italy was unexpected but rad, Kauai warm and welcoming.
UKMS - How many different types of mats have you ridden?
Ian - I've ridden all kinds of mats, I never cared about mat builds, just go on anything I can get my hands on! I have a 4GF standard blue streak, which is very maneuverable in colder-than-normal UK waters. I also have RadRum, one of Graeme's [G-Mat] creations, which is a very pliable 70/70 denier square cornered mat that flies, glides and turns on a sixpence. Then there's a Neumatic Advanced 200/200,which I use occasionally, normally taken on trips as it's super-durable. I rode it most recently on the Isles of Scilly on a very sketchy semi-exposed granite reef. My pregnant wife slept on it in the tent! It glides really well, best on marginal weak waves as intended. Also I have one of Paul's latest 4GF Blue streaks, that really loves climbing and exploring the wave face. It is somewhere in between the others performance-wise.
So four. My canvas strip decked screw valve 4GF Standard gave up the ghost recently after a long and hardworking career-I really abused it, waxed it, grouted it, shoe-gooed it, the canvas strips contracting with extended saltwater and UV exposure brought the rocker up so far I could drop in later than any body board right under the lip. Amazingly robust, Paul's mats....
UKMS - Do your wife and daughter ride mats? Do they think your crazy for mat surfing?
Ian - My wife and daughter are waiting for warmer conditions! They rip regardless. Kana is an expert snowboarder and diver, so she understands my madness.
UKMS - Do you find it hard to explain to people that don’t mat about mat surfing?
Ian - I don't bother mentioning it to anyone else. Surfers have no idea-it is a different world, so why bother?
UKMS - What types of inflations do you use that are most comfortable?
Ian - I don't think about inflation much. Just as low as it goes in all sizes and shapes.
UKMS - Do you dream mat surfing?
Ian - Surfing’s really a means to an end for me. I use it as a way to get away from grasping idiots, and enjoy nature and my meager part in it.
UKMS - Tell me a little about the UKMS mat meets? Do you guys share mats out in the water? How important are the meets to your individual mat learning techniques.
Ian - UKMS mat meets are a laugh, a get-together, and affirmation of how happy we are following our fancy. I don't really compare myself to others, whatever works. The other UK matters are mostly the same build so they tend to swap mats around and try to think it all makes a difference,
UKMS - What would you like to see happen in mat design in the near future?
Ian - First and foremost, I'd love to see the current open-minded collaboration between mat makers continuing. That's what driving the quality and popularity of mats forward. Not operating in a vacuum, plenty of breathing space (hoho!)
I tend to get dismissed as facetious or naive when I even attempt to broach mat theory, so I'll just get on with the practical bit!
Next, it would be great if all the mat riders could get together somehow, and compare mats in party waves! It's a bit tedious to just read all the opinions on paper or the net. Perhaps a Canaries or Azores meet?!
Things seem to be evolving pretty nicely otherwise. Mats have improved dramatically in all areas since I started riding them.
One aspect which needs addressing though-a better form of deck grip; not so constrictive as Vulkem, or as slippery as the deck patches or canvas. Perhaps removable Velcro strips of varying materials according to wave shape, size, and heaviness?!
I really don't know much about dimensions and how they affect things-never really bothered myself about it whilst there are others to take care and worry about that aspect of matting! Was the same when I was bike racing. My Dad despaired! As long as it goes fast!
UKMS – Finally, what’s next? Anywhere you would really like to ride a mat?
Ian - I'd like to ride the Outer Hebrides, such as Barra; perhaps more Mediterranean spots such as Cyprus, and Japanese islands I haven’t yet explored surf wise. Anywhere I can cycle, mat surf and camp comfortably with my family.
Hot springs a must!
UKMS – Great stuff. Ian, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.