AN INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT REEDER
SoCal, March 2014
Interview by Ken McKnight
If ever was a “Here and Now” mat riding subject, it would have to be San Diegan, Scott Reeder and his inspirational story.
A committed lifestyle ocean lover, Reeder’s mat riding/surfing credentials and history is solid. He is well known in these parts for his water abilities. Especially because of his critically acclaimed performances around the reefs and beaches of Pt Loma.
He rides a mat about as well as anyone I know. And, surfs all types of wave riding vehicles with equal aplomb.
He is a tongue-in-cheek philosopher, keen observer of the Human condition, newspaper writer, father, husband and now, a cancer survivor of epic proportions.
Recently back in the water, Reeder’s continuing rehab is heavy. His family unit is super strong and together they have many supportive friends. Scott is the most positive guy around, whether in the water, talking story with the crew or spending time in the garden he cultivates at home.
He affectionately refers to his beautiful wife, Pam as “Woman” or lovingly as “Worm.” He calls his 8 year old, The Boy. And of all things, Scott’s nickname is Festus PorkMeyer!
Pam Reeder is an Emergency Room nurse at a local San Diego hospital. Eight year Old, Maz Ian Reeder, is a smart, bright-eyed kid who plays innocently in the shore break while his dad mat surfs just outside on the reef.
It started in late 2012 and by the fall of 2013 Scott was diagnosed with Thymic Carcinoid Cancer. He had a large tumor, 16 cm, surrounding his heart and his left Bronchi. And it had to come out, or else.
Scott came to me in a profound way and one that I couldn’t get out of my head. Surfing a very localized Southern California reef recently, there were four of us in the water. It was mid winter, a rising head high swell, long hollow right-handers and my new mat was on high alert. The four of us shared waves quietly amongst ourselves and each of us knew the un-crowded lineup was a magic thing. After one solid set, a guy who was ripping on a long gun, and wearing a hat, paddles up to me suddenly. I was expecting to be on the defense.
“I have a mat,” he says. And in my typical response I muttered, “Why aren’t you riding it today?” He looks me in the eye and with a big smile says, “I’m Scott and I just got back in the water after Open Heart Surgery.”
I was speechless (and for me that is no easy feat). I had to know more about this guy.
Here and Now is Scott Reeder...
UKMS - Where is home now and how often are you in the water?
Scott - Home is San Diego, the San Carlos neighborhood. I usually call it “Huge Truck” or “At Least Three Microclimates Inland.” We’re about as far east as you can get within the city limits. We live so far inland that we have to drive at least five minutes just to get to La Mesa or Santee on our way to the beach! We have followed a pattern of moving farther east every few years; I refer to this pattern as “downward mobility.”
We love our quiet little community, though. There’s a mountain, a lake and Mission Trails. We walk our 8-year-old son to school every day. When I was hospitalized in late August, my wife spent long days in my room. When she’d get home in the evening, spent, she’d notice that our veggie planters had been watered and that milk had mysteriously appeared in the fridge. Then she’d find a note from neighbors saying they’d walked the dog and would be happy to watch our son the next day, if necessary. Amazing!
The previous stop in our inland migration was Normal Heights. What a misnomer. Some quirky folks around there. When we were moving in, a guy stumbling down the alley asked if he could borrow our hand truck. Why not? We didn’t see him for the rest of the day. That evening, while walking to the store, my wife spotted him a few blocks away running a corner sale with items he’d dollied from driveways and yards around the neighborhood. Refrigerators, desks, etc. Among the stuff for sale was our hand truck. Normal Heights is the kind of place where you’ll see your neighbor vacuuming his artificial-turf lawn.
I guess it got a little too funky when we heard our then-5-year-old casually refer to the ever-present police helicopter as a “ghetto bird.” So we packed up and took flight: east.
Even from out here I try to surf four a week, health permitting. It’s a good 20- to 25-minute haul to most of the places I go, but I’ve streamlined the operation. I don’t drive around from spot to spot. I study the buoys and tides, pick a spot and stick to it. And I’m not the only one on this program.
I’ve caught several guys at the top of the pecking order living out here. One of them calls our neighborhood “Western Arizona.” A dedicated mat rider, the guy with the Born to Lose blog, lives nearby.
UKMS – Tell us about your medical condition? How sensitive was your operation to being in the water today?
Scott - Oh man, Ken. I might need a few extra inches here. Basically I have an ultra-rare form of an already rare cancer caused by an ultra-rare mutation of an already rare gene (multiple endocrine neoplasia I, or MEN1). What? One in about 5,000,000 people have thymic carcinoid, a neuro-endocrine cancer, but it’s a hell of a lot more common in my family; my late half-brother had it, too.
While my brother’s metastasis was pretty advanced by the time they caught it, my disease appears to be mostly confined to two primary tumors: the one generated in the thymus and a small one in the pancreas. The tumor in my chest was huge: at least 6 by 6 inches, crushing my left bronchi to a slit, pushing up against my lung on one side and restricting my right ventricle on the other, and wrapping around the aorta and the great vessels.
As a result, I had a heart murmur and was in the early stages of heart failure. I was, in the words of one oncologist, in “bad shape.”
Luckily these are slow-growing tumors. According to our specialist, the big one had been growing for more than 10 years before diagnosis. And most of that time I was symptom-free.
In the fall of 2012, my wife, an ER nurse, got pneumonia. About a month later, I came down with similar symptoms. We figured it was the same thing or some other hospital-grade illness. A doctor shrugged it off as a respiratory infection and scoffed when I suggested he do a chest X-ray: “You’re a healthy guy!”
After a good five weeks, the constant cough and laryngitis relented a little.
Figuring the third antibiotic must have done the trick, I tried to surf a head-high day. Bad idea. I got pitched on my first wave and started wheezing underwater. Scary! So I took another month off, recovering somewhat, then surfed the whole winter and spring, nearly drowning every time the waves got over shoulder high.
“Wow. The early 40s are a lot harder than I expected,” I thought at the time. “Middle age sucks.” I’d have breath-holding contests with my son and only last 10 or 15 seconds. By summer, I was getting shorter and shorter of breath, eventually wheezing every night. My wife begged me to go back to the doctor.
The day before my appointment, I surfed Blacks for four hours: two on a short board, followed by two on the mat. Going up the trail, I had to stop at least 15 times to catch my breath. The next day, right before my appointment, I went cross-country surfing on my glider. I lost it once and could barely make the swim in, let alone trudge back up to my truck. Still, I figured I’d walk out of the doctor’s office with, at worst, an asthma diagnosis and maybe an inhaler. This time they didn’t hesitate to do the chest X-ray. When the nurse practitioner, who’s usually really gruff, laid her hand on my shoulder and called me “Dear,” I knew I was in trouble.
I was hospitalized for a week. In addition to the mass in my chest, I had a pericardial effusion, or excessive fluid in the heart sac. You’re supposed to have about a teaspoon; I had 1,500 milliliters, or three pints. When I told the doctors I had surfed the last couple days, their eyes bugged out.
They pretty much told me I should be dead. They even held a little hospital conference on the guy who went surfing with the massive pericardial effusion and tumor. So this is all borrowed time.
Though I nearly surfed myself to death, gorging on waves the way our Beagle would probably eat herself to death with an open supply of doggy treats, the doctors also acknowledged that surf fitness is probably what kept me alive.
I had some trouble with the version of “alive” that emerged that week in the hospital. The thoracic surgeon told us the tumor was “inoperable” and “not the one you want.” Checkmate, basically. The prognosis sounded grim: I’d probably get to see my son finish grade school, but high school?
“We’ll see,” was all the oncologist would say. And it sounded like much of the remaining time would be spent in sickness.
I pretty much said goodbye to surfing. Friends brought me a stack of Surfer’s Paths and Surfer’s Journals, but I couldn’t even open them. Too painful. No more sunsets from the water? Laid-out bottom turns on glassy waves? Point-break sidewinders? Ridiculous speed runs on the mat? Shit. I never even got to check out the north coast of New South Wales.
The prospect of death clarifies your priorities. People are obviously much more important than waves. As much as I knew I’d miss surfing, the thought of having to leave my family behind was a billion times worse. When my wife asked if I wanted a picture of our son for my room, I had to say no. I couldn’t even think of him without losing it. I couldn’t bear the prospect of not being able to see him grow up. And not being able to grow old with my wife.
That first full day home from the hospital my time seemed so limited. Nearly three years into a major landscape overhaul at our place, I felt this urgency to finish the project that day. The rest of the hardscaping, the planting, everything. So I tried. And of course I didn’t want to miss walking my son to and from school, because how many more times would I get to do that? Well, the temperature topped out over 100, and I didn’t bother to drink any water or rest. That evening I got the worst headache of my life, accompanied by dry heaves. My head was splitting. “If this is how it’s going to be from here on out, there’s no way I’m going to make it,” I thought. So on my second night home, we had to rush back to the hospital, this time to the ER. Morphine didn’t even touch the pain. They shot me up with the strong stuff before diagnosing me with severe dehydration (and being an idiot). The new limits were quickly established.
Then I did 10 weeks on a harsh chemotherapy regimen, knowing it probably wouldn’t have much effect on this kind of tumor. And it didn’t. That was a tough time with a lot of nausea and not a lot of hope. I’d watched my brother suffer through conventional chemo and radiation, all the while losing ground in his battle.
I’d lost my voice again that night at the ER; I could barely rasp out a word. And my complexion had gone a greenish hue from the chemo sickness. I must have come off like the walking dead. Ordinarily grumpy pals, people with whom our relationship is built on heckling, were suddenly incredibly sweet, hugging and stuff. Old friends requested a (final?) visit, and soon.
Things changed when we finally got to see a renowned specialist at Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills. With a rare cancer, you really need a specialist. While acknowledging that I was “a mess,” by the end of that first visit he was using words we’d long ago purged from our vocabularies: “surgery,” “remission,” “30 more years.” What a different prognosis.
He referred us to a surgeon, who said he might be able to pull the tumor out. Surfing became a rallying cry for both of them. They made it a priority to “get (me) back in the water.”
A lot of things had to come together for the surgery to happen, including a major battle with our HMO, but somehow they did. Thank God. Just before Christmas, I had open-heart surgery at Cedars. The surgeon removed 95 percent of the tumor.
UKMS – How long were you out of the water? How long since you have gone back in the water?
Scott - I was out for more than six months, the longest I’ve gone since I started surfing in 1986. In 2000, we moved to the Vail area for a year, but midway through that adventure I snuck in a body surf at Rincon and a board surf in Cayucos to avoid completely drying out.
I was planning to surf a little after discontinuing chemo, but I started coughing up blood. Which the doctors didn’t like. So from then until surgery the focus became survival.
In the weeks immediately following surgery, I honestly couldn’t imagine ever being able to surf again. Those first couple of steps hurt so much that I tried to float across the ground to dampen the impact on my sternum, ribs and especially where the four drainage tubes had been inserted. I may have actually been floating, considering all the painkillers.
I pretty much had to relearn the basics: how to walk, talk, eat, pee, think, and breathe. My lung apparently collapsed after the surgery, making basic breathing a real challenge during early recovery. My first night out of the hospital, away from their oxygen tanks, I panicked when I leaned back in bed and couldn’t draw a breath. My wife had to talk me down. I slept upright for the next two months.
But things gradually got easier. By the third or fourth day, I was able to walk laps around the recovery floor. On day six, happy with my progress, the surgeon let me out early for good behavior. It was Christmas Eve, and I got to spend it with family at my brother-in-law’s place in Burbank. A true Christmas miracle!
Once out of the hospital, I followed the surgeon’s orders to the letter. I’d lost my voice again during the surgery, so to exercise my vocal chords he urged me to sing Christmas carols. We went to a Mass the next morning at an upscale parish in Burbank. They had a string ensemble and a trained opera singer who sounded amazing. I croaked out the Christmas classics right along with her, sounding a lot like Froggy from “The Little Rascals” and raising some eyebrows.
After we got home, I walked a ton and started swimming at the YMCA pool. The first couple times I was gasping for breath, having to constantly grab the lane markers midlap. But ever so slowly that became easier, too. When the surgeon learned, at my six-week follow up, that I was walking six to eight hill miles a day and swimming regularly, he ordered me to “go surfing now! Go!”
I so went to the cove in P.B., where I learned to board surf 27 years ago. A sentimental favorite. It was only waist high, but I was really nervous! I didn’t know how my sternum would handle the laying down and paddling. I feared the surgeon may have moved things around too much or accidentally added some goofyfoot parts.
But I did OK. Skip [Frye] was out, and watching him probably helped me get back on the right foot. I took out my glider and mostly knee-paddled. There may have been a few tears on the first couple waves (and during the first few sessions). I couldn’t believe I’d been given another shot. I still can’t! That day I saw you, one of our pals, the super-shredder, was grousing a little about being “out of rhythm” and “not really having a good time.” Even though I was just bumbling around on the 10-footer, I told him it was the best surf day of my life. They all are now!
My ribs were killing me after the first board surf, so out came the mat. Even at my sorest, riding it was comfortable. What a great thing, having that in place, knowing I can still have a fulfilling surf life even without a board. Although I did bust out a short board the other day. Fun!
UKMS - What inspires you to mat?
Scott - The sense of possibility. One day I was hiking in to mat this high-tide oddity when I noticed waves rebounding off the cliff. The backwash would push straight back out until it hit a shallow part of the reef, where the surge would crest. If an incoming wave met with the wash there, the convergence would shoot this weird right sideways and out to sea. So I put on my fins and had really weird surf. On some of ’em I was just hauling — in the wrong direction. Out toward the Coronados. The best waves would end with the side wave bumping up against another incoming wave, launching me off the mat and into the air. I laughed my head off.
Before getting into matting, I wouldn’t have looked twice at that rebound. It’s broadened my vision. It’s good to know that if all of the incoming waves get too crowded and competitive, I’ll just go at the wrong tide and ride the ones going out to sea. I get the same sense of relief on my glider, often riding waves so small or remote that no one else bothers. If everybody else is stalking that prized elephant, I’ll be content going after this three-legged turkey. It’s nice to be so easily amused.
Since my return to the water, I’ve felt an even stronger connection with matting and its immediacy. My family is pretty locked into the present tense these days. I don’t think there’s any other way to live with advanced cancer. Yearning for pre-diagnosis life is really painful. I miss the days when death was still an abstraction. Or when I did meditate on it, if things got a little uncomfortable I had the luxury of kicking the can a little farther down the road. And dwelling on the future, near or distant, is even worse. There are too many scary what-ifs. Now is where it’s at. Matting fits nicely into this picture. When the best things still happen by accident, you’re not chained to past standards. And the future? Matting is probably the least goal-oriented activity in my life. It makes my monk-inspired gardening look like a Young Entrepreneurs Workshop. I love surfboarding, but for me it comes with some baggage. I’m always striving to get better. To be smoother. Matting offers freedom from the burden of schralping.
Hey, kid! Stop splashing the water in anger because you just missed landing that Double-Grab, Triple-Dogbone Visa Card Air Reverse. Get a mat.
UKMS – When did you turn to the Mat-side?
Scott - 2004. We’d bought a little beach cottage in Oceanside, probably the shabbiest place available anywhere west of I-5. It was dingy, smelled like cat pee and had a horizontal fence — collapsed flat in the yard!
So we spent a lot of time fixing the place up, which required staying close to home. At the time I was working a swing shift, 4 pm. to midnight or 1 a.m., which made it hard to get up early enough for the morning offshores or glass. So I fell into this pattern of slouching down to the beach at 9 or 9:30 and getting maybe an hour of waves before the wind switched. I never cared for bumpy surf on a board, so I was looking for an alternative — a way to maximize my surf hours close to home. I’d been interested in mats for years and had read several testimonies on how they ate up the chop. So I committed.
I’d usually surf a short board until the wind came up, then switch over to the mat. Strangely, even though the waves stay pretty clean where I usually surf these days, I still follow that board-to-mat schedule.
UKMS - Who introduced you to mats?
Scott - George Greenough via a couple Surfers’ Journal articles in the late ’90s. Of course I’d heard about the old rafts, but Greenough really sparked my interest. Having spent most of the early and mid-’90s in San Luis Obispo County, I became obsessed with Santa Barbara point surf. Part of it was swell and wind dodging after getting knocked around day after day on the Central Coast I do not like 10-foot closeouts. I hate them. It’d be triple overhead with the wind ripping out of the northwest in Los Osos while El Cap was waist high and glassy. “Ahhh, look at how safe it looks out there,” I’d think. In the winter I probably surfed Santa Barbara more than SLO.
I started really noticing these slightly older guys, often in rag-tag wetsuits, riding single fins or full-figured thrusters with such speed and grace. Many surfed with a minimalist carving style that was real easy on the eyes. Sometimes Curren (Tom) was out. I was already in the process of trying to wash off the ’80s — you know, doing the Huntington Hop in a three-foot-wide stance — and the Rincon stylists seemed to offer a pretty good blueprint on how to go about it.
The more I surfed the points, the more I wanted to know about the local history and how that point-break style originated. More often than not, the lineage seemed to trace back to Greenough, or through him. And once I started sneaking into the Ranch, well, that solidified my connection to the area.
Even after moving back south, to Carlsbad, in ’97, I still surfed all the winter full moons at Rincon. I’d stay at my pal’s in Ventura for three or four days, and we wouldn’t even bother surfing during daylight. I guess I adopted Santa Barbara tradition as a sort of guide, and, as I later learned, mats were an important part of that tradition.
UKMS – How did you get originally get started with Dale Solomonson and his mats?
Scott - A short email query was all it took. He was so generous with his time, sharing stories, photos and lots of tips. I think he got a kick out of me being from the Northwest.
The mat was the strangest parcel I’ve ever received. It arrived in this long, triangular package. Very suspicious looking. I ripped it open and Whoa! It smelled like we’d been running an auto shop out of our living room. I’m surprised the FBI didn’t intercept that package.
Inside the box I found the mat — with the initials SR — a bag for it, a little patch for repairs, a plastic container of special wax for the valve seal, and a homemade pamphlet full of tips for new riders. It was so personal and cottage-y.
When I told surfboarder pals how much I paid for it, they shook their heads and wagged their fingers at me. A short board-only friend dismissed it as “more kook shit.” They are callous people. Looking back, it’s one of the best investments I ever made. Ten years later, the mats still going strong. No dings! Thanks, Dale!
UKMS – Did you grow up surfing, knee boarding, Boogies. Etc. and where did you ride your first wave?
Scott - I grew up in northwest Seattle, Ballard, right on the water. Puget Sound was literally our backyard. And my grandparents lived on the waterfront in Edmonds, a couple houses from the Kingston Ferry dock. So the Sound was never far out of sight, and the air we breathed seemed equal parts nitrogen and saltwater. Of course we spent a lot of time in boats, our most memorable being this little inflatable, a Nuvorania, with way too much motor in the back. Us kids would terrorize the Sound in that thing, and this is in grade school. My dad, who’d spent some time surfing the Malibu area in the ’50s, had told us how after returning from California he’d ridden freighter wakes on his board. So following his lead we’d search out the biggest freighters we could find and work the wake, top to bottom.
My grandparents spent half the year in a house below Diamond Head. So my sister and I’d go over there during Christmas or Easter break and bodysurf every day. Watching the board surfers at the outside reefs, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. We stayed in a plantation-style house with an old single fin on the back porch. I’d just gaze at that thing as the trades cooled us. Ahhh!
The first time I rode a surfboard was December of ’85 at Cardiff. We rented a short board but no wetsuit. Brrr! I think I stood up once or twice. It was a pretty inauspicious beginning. We moved to Southern California six months later when I was 15. Our home base was a mini-ranch at least 45 minutes inland, but my mom worked out of San Diego, in Pacific Beach. So we were down there all the time. She bought me a used 6’4” G&S thruster from Select Surf Shop and set my sister and me up with a lesson. Paddling out in front of me, she ditched her pre-softtop rental board right into my face. Then the “instructor” paddled outside and spent the whole “lesson” catching waves by himself. After that I was on my own.
My mom would drop me off at Tourmaline and I’d surf somewhere between the point and pier all day. A little while after I got my driver’s license, my focus turned to North County, which was closer to our house.
UKMS – Do you ride other surf vehicles as well as mat?
Scott - I’m still on boards probably two-thirds of the time. The ones that see the most action are a 5’10” Stoker V Machine, a 5’11” Pavel quad, a 6’5” Pendoflex step-up, a 7’2” Andreini Vaquero, and a 10’ Mabile glider, all with high miles.
For my first 10 years surfing I rode nothing but “performance” short boards. It wasn’t until some friends let me try their Stubb Vectors that the light really came on. That and Derek Hynd’s section in “Litmus.” Oh, man. That’s when the sickness really took hold. At one point I rotated among 12 boards. I couldn’t try enough of them.
Luckily, a great 5’9”Pavel quad fish slowed the disease. And my current health situation has me as close to a cure as I’ve ever been.
Peter St. Pierre once lamented New Balance’s plans to outsource. I suggested he pick up a six-pack of shoes before they split. His response: “Bulk buy shoes at my age? I don’t even buy green bananas.” I hear you cluckin’, big chicken. Right now just doesn’t feel like the time for me to be buying a bunch of new stuff.
UKMS – You mentioned the Superman Style? Where’d that come from?
Scott - From a spot some of the elders use to call “Superman Beach.” It’s a weird little reform that caps outside then bends into a shelf near the beach. It’s pretty nerve-wracking on a board since by the time the wave speeds up the water’s only 6 inches deep. Board riders often hobble away with bruises, dings and busted fins. And it’s too shallow for bodysurfing. A true mat wave, in my opinion.
You race the funky double- and triple-up sections as far as you can before straightening out and letting the final surge push you past the reef onto dry sand. Then, as tradition dictates, you stick out your arms like Superman while riding up the berm as far as you can before the receding wave drags you back out to sea — backward preferably, with arms still outstretched! Sometimes you get dry docked and have to wait for the next wave to take you back out.
I was out there by myself one morning doing the Superman over and over until a lull stalled the action. I focused my attention on the outer reef, searching for indicator waves. Finally, a weird one popped up — the best wave of the day, with multiple steps in the face and nothing predictable about it. Perfect. As I finished the ride and climbed the berm I noticed a local fin maker, who’s not known for public displays of mirth, sitting no more than 20 feet away, watching. Where’d he come from? I guess he took a break from his post-surf stroll. As the receding wave pulled me back down the bank, I noticed something else: he appeared to be shaking his head in disgust and — get this — smiling. Or at least smirking. Priceless mat moment # 1,000.
UKMS – How hard was it for you to ride a mat initially? Did you get the “Magic” right out of the gate or was there a steep learning curve?
Scott - Only if by “magic” you mean frantically kicking and scratching as I miss wave after wave, finally generating just enough power for a late drop, only to watch the shoulder peel off without me.
The fast peaks of Oceanside were not ideal for learning, but I did get a few glimpses of the potential. All by accident of course.
UKMS – Where did you learn your technique? Was there an Obi-Wan mentor or just trial and error?
Scott - I never even saw another mat rider during my first couple of years, so I was kind of on my own. But I did have Greenough footage. I’ve only seen maybe a dozen different surf movies in my life, but I’ve probably watched certain sections of “The Innermost Limits” 25 times and “Children of the Sun” at least 10 times. And there was a little clip I found online from a movie called “State of S.” As I recall, it was just one wave, a crumbly two-footer, where he’s going so fast climbing and dropping that it looks like the film’s sped up.
Needless to say, my experience those first couple years did not match up with that clip. Mileage WILL vary. In fact, I had no idea I had any technique until maybe two years ago, when an astute fellow matter saw me somehow stay the course on a nice little racer, then evaluated my ride. Apparently, I’d leaned into the wave, dragging a fin in the face to stay in the pocket, then, with a squeeze, built up the rail for the cutback. I wasn’t aware any of that had just happened. So now I’m convinced I actually do have technique — bad technique.
Greenough says it takes 10 years to surf mats near their potential. Well, I think I need another 10. Better go tell the doctors.
UKMS – Have you done much traveling for surf in your career? Where and when? And, have you traveled at all to ride mats?
Scott - I haven’t done that much surf travelling. In high school and immediately after I did a lot of Baja trips, one that lasted two months. Some were purely for surf and some were mission trips with a church group with a side of surfing. Eye-opening stuff.
The bulk of our travels have been along the West Coast, all the way up to the north coast of Washington. I’ve definitely found a few nooks along the way.
I have also surfed Kauai, New Zealand and Ireland.
I’ve taken two mat-only trips. One was to New York, where I stuffed my mat into a backpack for some low-profile exploration around Montauk. I ended up finding some really fun waves. And last summer, we travelled to Ireland, Scotland and England. We didn’t find any surf, though, just setups.
UKMS – Tell me about your relationship with Cher and Steve Pendarvis? How long you’ve known them? Do you ride mats with them at all? Share mat stuff?
Scott - We love them. It makes me smile just reading their names here. I’m constantly inspired by their kindness, their loyalty and their courage to live such creative lives. Cher’s so versatile, with her painting, writing, design work and much more. And Steve? Being around him makes you feel like a kid. He even reminds me a little of my dad, a younger version. Both can build pretty much anything out of anything and end up with art. The difference is that my dad’s projects always have a built-in 'fuck you' to the world — like converting a school bus into the funkiest motor home ever seen, then cutting the swing-out stop sign into a giant middle finger and having the kids pull the big lever; or mounting an anatomically detailed sculpture above the gateway of his Baja compound, then pulling a string to make it “pee” on gaping visitors — while Steve uses his creativity purely for the joy of others.
He made me a surfboard that’s almost too beautiful to ride — and it rides really well. I took it out at a violent Central Coast left and got pin-balled through a rock pile. Luckily, my body and head took most of the impact. But I did lose a chunk of the nose. With shame I brought it back to him for the repair. He used shavings he’d saved from the original shape job to fill out the nose. He called it “DNA”! You just don’t get that sort of experience with an off-the-rack pop out.
I haven’t known them that long, probably five or six years, but for much of that time I surfed with one or the other, or both, just about every day. I’ve probably spent more collective hours with them than a lot of people I’ve known most of my life.
I had just moved back from Humboldt and was chatting with a sweet woman, Lisa, who was surfing one of Steve’s boards. Although I knew of Steve and Cher and their work, logic failed me, as it often does, and I misread the label on Lisa’s board.
“Is that a Panda surfboard?” I asked. “I’ll bet my son would love one of those.”
Lisa patiently explained the origin of the board and later ended up introducing me to Cher. She probably just wanted to point out the goofy Panda guy. For a while I think they called me “Panda Scott.”
Steve and I bonded over mats. I’d never had the time (or courage) to commit to their neck of the woods before, and he may have been a little wary of me at first. New faces aren’t exactly celebrated in that area. But through our mat chats, he probably figured out I was mostly harmless.
He was my motivator. No, my mat-ivator. Up in Humboldt I didn’t mat much. I felt like a shark biscuit. When Steve started showing up with his mat, hooting and hollering as he worked out the nuances, wow, that fired me up. His enthusiasm is unmatched, and I caught it like the flu.
But his influence wasn’t always so direct. One day, I rescued his board for him and just as I handed it off, I tripped on the reef and fell onto the rail of my own board, bruising a rib. Too sore to paddle a regular surfboard for the next couple weeks, I was confined to the mat. Then the winds went screwy, the crowds went elsewhere, and I was able to ride it in longer, down-the-line surf with a little bump. Waves it was meant for. Ever since that time, probably five years ago, I haven’t gone anywhere without the mat. Thanks, Pendo.
We’ve shared some classic mat moments. One of my favorites came at the end of summer a couple years ago. We’d all been riding our mats a ton. Steve was on like his 37th straight day or something. There was a fluky south swell running, and I went way downstream trying to chase down a peak on my Andreini. I didn’t have much luck so I turned around. Off in the distance I spotted two little seal heads at this funky left. I got there just in time to see Steve and Cher grab their last waves. Nice little peelers. Yeah!
So, jazzed, I rushed out there and snagged the first wave to come through, angling left and doing absolutely nothing. In response, the mat took off, clearing section after section. I heard hooting from the beach, and just before riding around the corner and out of sight, I glanced back and saw them waving their arms, jumping up and down. I came in feeling awfully good about that one-wave session.
I’d been over at Steve’s shop the previous night for a board templating session. After he finished, I absentmindedly watched him patch a ding for a friend. I went into this reverie, staring at the fresh resin. It looked so shiny that in my daze, I guess I just had to touch it.
I didn’t even know what I’d done until he snapped, “Damnit, Festus!” I think he was preparing to mix another batch when I said goodbye.
“It was dry anyway,” I told myself as I got into the truck. “I’m not that dumb.” But as I pulled away I realized my pointer finger was lightly stuck to the steering wheel!
So, when I joined Steve and Cher on the beach, I told Steve I had something for him in my backpack. Wanting to show my gratitude for having me over and to atone for any ding-repair indiscretions, I’d packed an extra beer for him. So I leaned my gear against the cliff and we all toasted the session; the warm, beautiful evening; the summer; life. I was getting ready to shift gears — with a trip to Seattle the next morning to help out my brother — and didn’t want to let go of that moment. I was tightly holding onto my glorious wave, too, reliving out loud. I might have even been suggesting some skill was involved when, just then, a bigger wave washed past us, against the cliff, yardsaling all of my gear. My board was banging against the rocks while my clothes drifted down the beach. My earplugs, hat and flip-flops were somehow all floating away in different directions.
Cher helped me round up my stuff, while Steve was imitating me with this little dance, going “Duhh, I’m Festus Porkmeyer.” Then their friend Russ, another made guy, and his wife showed up with these canvas mats, and somehow that just added to the wackiness. Matjority rules!
UKMS – What is it that you love about riding a surf mat over any other surf vehicle? Or do you?
Scott - Oops. I guess I already did this one. But there’s more. The characters I meet. I often have elders stop me to ask about the mat. Just seeing it seems to trigger fond memories for a lot of them. I love to hear their stories about getting started on the old rafts. I never realized how popular they were with the generation before mine.
I also enjoy the incognito aspect, which Paul Gross touched on in his “Inflatable Dreams” piece [Ed: See the Media Section of UKMS]. The ’90s on the Central Coast were still basically the ’70s: lots of localism and secrecy. You were supposed to park in a ditch. Cover all traces. Just showing up some places with a surfboard could lead to all kinds of grief.
Without a surfboard under my arm at the top of the Fullers trail, I probably never would have had Peter Davi — RIP, greatest hassler who ever lived — threaten to “slap that smile right off (my) face”:
“What would you do if I showed up at your little spot?”
“I’d probably just be friendly.”
“ARE YOU SAYING I’M NOT FUCKIN’ FRIENDLY?!!!”
He was a funny guy.
Sometimes I’d park along the road leading west from the Gaviota campground. The only people who parked there were fishermen and surf trespassers. Mass tire flattenings were common, but the vehicles that obviously belonged to fishermen were usually spared. We wanted to make bumper stickers that read “The worst day fishing is better than the best day surfing.” I could have slapped one on my car, stowed the mat in my backpack and brought along a fishing pole just for show.
“Oh, hi, Mr. Ranch guard. I was just hoping to do a little fishing.”
Or on privately owned beaches up in Washington, you might use your mat to gain access. Tell them that, yes, it is a trash bag and you want to clean up “their” beach.
Just don’t be holding a surfboard.
UKMS - How has mat surfing changed your ocean life?
Scott - It was the missing puzzle piece, the perfect complement to my surfboarding and prone paddleboarding. It turned formerly ignored miles of ocean into a watery playground. It has allowed me to surf at all hours of the day and all stages of the tide, at times when I should be working. The mat ruined my career.
UKMS - How do the crowds handle mats in the San Diego lineups?
Scott - I’m not sure. I’ll hike, paddle far away or surf lesser waves — whatever it takes — to avoid competitive crowds. If it’s good and crowded and I don’t have time to get away, I usually wuss out and grab a thruster or something more in my comfort zone. I need to fly my mat flag a little higher, don’t I?
I’ve seen Pendo successfully mat the busy days, getting sets and making them from really deep. But he’s at the top of the food chain — a made guy. If anyone drops in on him and the Old Guard’s out, well … I wouldn’t advise that.
I do like to ride mine at Blacks, which can get pretty busy in a hurry. In that case, I’ll try to find some weird little crease on the inside or something. With a mat you can make so much out of so little.
UKMS - Are mats taken seriously?
Scott - I sure don’t take ’em seriously. Over the years, I haven’t done the serious matter, if there is such a thing, any PR favors. In the water, I almost exclusively refer to mine as a “blow-up doll.” And if I’m not the one initiating a discussion on, say, mounting a plastic duck’s head on the front of the mat or an alpaca’s tail on the back, then I am enthusiastically participating in that conversation. I love to mat-surf this jetty left with a super-territorial shortboard crowd. Next time I go there I will blow up the mat and put on my fins in the beach-side parking lot, then duck-walk over to the heavies and ask for directions to the beach.
UKMS - And if you had a crystal ball what would the Future of mat riding look like?
Scott - Hopefully the ocean will one day be stippled with mat riders. The more the merrier. Greenough said Rincon could easily hold 200 mat riders. Well, I’ve seen 200 board riders out there, and it’s definitely not “holding them.” With seven people taking off on each wave and no one kicking out, it just looks so dangerous. Seven mat riders on a wave? No problem. Mats are soft. And sharing mat waves is fun because it forces you into different parts of the wave, places hiding happy accidents and surprises.
UKMS - Are you a solo session mat rider or are there other mat surfers in your immediate area? Who are some of the others, if there are any?
Scott - I’m usually solo, though I’ll almost always join fellow matters if I see them.
The mat riders I regularly see include Steve and Cher and whoever they’ve loaned their many mats out to; Tom Threinen, when he’s in town; PL’s Mark Miller, the most stylish matter in the world; Ken McKnight, the most handsome baldheaded matter in the universe; Mike What’s His Name, a great surfboard shaper who lives in Normal Heights; and a handful of folks who I just know by face or as “Hey.” Oh, I’ve also mat-surfed locally with Dane Perlee from Washington, a great guy who picked it up quick. It took me two years to get to the level he was at after two waves.
As I look at the list I realize all of them are excellent, well-rounded board surfers and most are accomplished board builders as well.
UKMS – What is your go-to mat currently? What’s in your quiver? How often to you go to other mats to try them?
Scott – For 10 years, I enjoyed the simplicity of having just one mat, the Neumatic. I wrack my brain trying to decide which boards to take to the beach. Then when I get there I do it all over again choosing which one to ride. A single-mat quiver provided a freedom from decision. But, recently, against my better instincts, I started experimenting with other mats. Oh, dear. A mat-pusher friend recently let me try his blue G-Mat, and now I’m on a road I really didn’t want to go down.
Graeme [Webster] is like Heisenberg over there in his lab, making that insidious product. It’s so light it feels like the whole thing is made of air. I surfed the inside, inside section at side-wind Swami’s — where none of the waves were over shoulder high, on a mat! — and Blue Thunder (the mat's personal name) glided through everything.
Even after the wave would dissipate, it’d just keep on going. That was one of my most memorable experiences in really tiny waves. He’s worked out a good system with the grip, too — with strips in just the right places. On my Neumatic, with the full roughed-up-asphalt deck, once you position yourself, you’re not going anywhere (which is often a very good thing). The G-Mat allows a little more wiggle room.
Now I’ve got a Fourth Gear Flyer Square Tail Tracker in my possession. The “owner” says it’s on loan, but what does the law say about possession? After about five surfs on the blue Tracker, I’m totally hooked. Usually I’m able to surf, then kind of forget about waves until my next session. Not lately. I can’t wait to find out what surprises the Tracker has in store — or when I can get another fix of the G-Mat.
While Paul and Graeme may seem like fine, upstanding lads, each is pushing a dangerous, highly addictive blue devil product. And each of ’em has like 10 models! Someone recently told me he liked his 4GF Omni even better than the Tracker. “How could anything be better than the Tracker?” I wondered. Or the blue G-Mat? Looking a little ways down this sketchy road, I can easily foresee funds being poached from our medical reserve account as my stack of G-Mats and 4GFs grows and grows. Someone please intervene! And soon!
UKMS - Have you ridden any of the older type canvas mats?
Scott - Not yet, but I’m certainly game.
UKMS - How are your inflation rates these days? What is normal and comfortable to you and how often do you adjust inflations?
Scott - I usually start off high, then gradually air down during the session. Or if I don’t get a good seal on the valve, it’ll slowly deflate, simplifying the whole process. When the air gets too low, it’s time to get out.
One of the subtle pleasures of matting is kicking out to a somber, silent lineup — you know, a pack of lone wolves — and letting the air hiss out of your mat.
UKMS - What fins are you using and why? Have you tried a lot of different fins?
Scott - Fifteen-year-old Churchills. They’re all I’ve tried. It’s definitely time for an upgrade.
Pendo and I rode a wave together, kicked out in the same place, and started making our way back out. I was kicking at full strength but he pulled away from me like I was standing still. I think he wears Duck Feet. Maybe I’ll try those.
UKMS - Do you lose your mat much?
Scott - Not much. I’m usually able to snag a corner when I go down. After 30 years at the guitar I have a pretty good grip. At lower inflation, sometimes it wraps around my arm — or my neck!
UKMS - Do you ever swim out with a limp-towel mat cause the paddle out is too austere? Or are you the kind of mat surfer who just takes the hit until you make it past the lineup?
Scott - Take the hit! Suffer! Nah, these days I usually opt for a channel. But I really enjoy watching different riders work out their own ways of getting through a broken wave. I love the lack of uniformity among mat riders. I sort of duck-dive, sinking the front as deep as I can, then collapsing onto the back while underwater, trying to create a surge forward. Sometimes it works.
Whatever Mark Miller does, that’s the best way. About a year ago, we were chatting in the water, with him on his mat and me on my 6’5”, when a solid wave swung wide, missing the outside reef and loading up before it clamshelled right in front of us.
Right before it hit, I waved my arms like a drowning man and muttered, “If you see me doing this, just let me go.” At the last second, in a panic, I looked over and saw him casually submerge. After a couple of somersaults underwater with my board I finally I popped up, gasping for air. I’d been washed halfway to shore, but Mark, I noticed, hadn’t lost any ground. He was patiently waiting to resume the conversation, completely nonchalant.. That was one of the most impressive things I saw all winter.
UKMS - How has the mat world changed for you over the last five years with the push of Social Networking? Do you find it beneficial or too trendy?
Scott - I haven’t really noticed a difference, but I’m not very plugged in these days. If I hear about a mat meet, it’s usually a month after it happened.
I just hope matting doesn’t develop a culture of cool. Being cool is so exhausting and creates all sorts of inhibitions. I tried it in junior high and high school. You miss out on so much. The day you’re through being cool is one of the most liberating days of that your life.
We all supposedly go through three stages: one when you care what other people think of you, another when you no longer care what they think, and, finally and most liberating, the one when you realize they weren’t even thinking about you at all.
Nobody’s really thinking about us, are they? Keep matting uncool.
UKMS - Current mat buzz... Thoughts?
Scott - Was there a mat boom while I was ailin’? All I’ve observed is a net gain of maybe five or 10 riders, most of them part-time. Oh, and not as many people seem to ask what I’m doing with that “trash bag.”
UKMS - Do you find it difficult to tell others that don’t mat what this bag of air is all about and why it is so much fun?
Scott - I enjoy it. I was recently trying to describe the ineffable to two lovely editor friends, both really sharp with advanced senses of humor. They let me fumble for a bit before one asked, “So it’s some kind of power raft?”
UKMS - Have you ventured much into the higher gear range as far as speed goes?
Scott - I have had some incredible speed runs. Maybe not Greenough speed, but fast enough. A recent one was on an 18-inch beach break reform on my second day back in the water after surgery. Wow!
They definitely happen more at low inflation, but the end result is not always so, ummm!, predictable. I took it out at as a limp towel on a solid 4-to-5-foot south-wind day at my favorite reef. The waves were at least eight times overhead! On one I went so fast I feared for my safety. And my instincts turned about to be right on. I tried to overadjust/overthink, at speed, and the thing folded in half, sending me skipping across the water dragging the mat by a corner. Then the whitewater caught up and mowed me down. I went through the washing machine all tangled up with a trash bag. There’s nothing else like it in surfing!
I’ve also been hurtling down a bigger wave and somehow suddenly come to a complete stop, again the result of too much meddling on my part.
Full of surprises, aren’t they?
UKMS - Do your wife and son surf and/or ride mats?
Scott - My wife is the world’s most recreational surfer. She does not chase down waves; she waits for them to come to her. She says that it’s “effortless”; I counter that it’s “less effort.” In 15 years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her do a cutback. Steph Gilmore should feel plenty secure with the Women’s World Title Pro Crown.
We use to long board together a lot, often at San Onofre. Dogpatch is her spot. If she spins for a wave, steer clear. Do not poke the bear! Don’t do it! I love surfing with her, but I’m not sure the feeling is mutual. I think I come off like a drill sergeant: “Get this one, Woman!” “Paddle! PADDLE!” “Over here!”
I tried to get her hooked, but it didn’t take. I knew the battle was lost when, at her surfing “peak,” we pulled up at a left point in New Zealand and my beloved goofyfoot just yawned and went back to her book.
She rode my mat a little in Kauai when she was eight months pregnant. You wouldn’t believe the belly rash you can get from the Neumatics.
With my son, it’s been mostly false starts on the mat and boards and lots of resistance. This has been confusing for me. I always figured there was something intrinsically irresistible about surfing. You know, just add water. In fact, I used to treat his resistance as a near crisis: "I can't believe he doesn't want to surf! Do you think he's OK?!!!"
It took some time, but I’ve learned to relax about it. And, of course, cancer has been a major perspective shifter. These days I’m just so happy to spend any time with him, regardless of the activity. He’s such an incredible little guy, so smart and funny. I guess he got his mom’s sense of humor. And he does like karate, especially when it involves beating up on his dad. Maybe I should add an element of combat to our surf outings?
I’m just grateful we don't have to spend our weekends at NSSA contests.
UKMS - Do they think your crazy for mat surfing?
Scott - Aren’t all mat enthusiasts a couple sandwiches short of a picnic? Every one I’ve met has been prone to spontaneous bursts of maniacal laughter — cackling — and let’s just call it “unconventional” behavior.
UKMS - Anywhere you would really like to ride a mat?
Scott - The North Coast of New South Wales. I’ve been wondering about that place for far too long.
Spots with clear water. I love being so close to the surface and peeking over the front of it during a ride.
Northwest Ireland. We love the people, the music, the scenery, the geography, the beer, the pace, the pubs and the sense of the sacred. And there’s surf, too? Mat country. With the wind and extreme tides, you’d probably need some really versatile surf craft to fully experience the place.
I’d also like to get back to northeast England during a swell. I poked around there a bit and have some strong suspicions about certain coves and reefs.
Where else? Ahipara, Nova Scotia, either side of the Strait, a couple Central Coast novelty waves usually too small and fast for surfboarding.
UKMS- What do you do for a living?
Scott - I am a trafficker in words, mostly at newspapers. I’ve worked as a feature writer, reporter, columnist and night editor, among other positions, but my bread and butter has been as a swing-shift copy editor. That was my surf enabler for many years. I just went back to work part-time doing high-volume page layout with a little bit of graphic design work on the side. While I’m grateful to have had all of these jobs, my first (vocational) love is gardening/landscaping. But severe hay fever presented an insurmountable obstacle on my true career path. Achoo!
At this point, the best I can probably do is try to combine all of these interests with a blog. I’ll call it “The Cancerous Gardener: Growing Food, Native Plants and Tumors” or something catchy like that.
UKMS - Do you dream mat surfing?
Scott - Shortly after returning to the water I did have a mat-related dream. In it, I pulled up at the usual area and saw my favorite spot peeling with no one out. Of course I’d forgotten my board and the only wetsuit I had was a child’s size 6. Pendo and occasional mat borrower Matt Paulson were gabbing nearby. I explained my predicament, and one of them said I could use his mat.
So I suited up. Following typical dream logic, the tiny size 6 fit perfectly. When I returned to claim the mat, they were having an intense debate about the installation and maintenance of carpet. No matter how hard I tried, I could not break into the conversation to remind them about the mat. They were just too passionate about the topic.
So, finally, I climbed into the back of Steve’s truck on my own and scoured the bed. No mat. I finally found one in the back of Paulson’s stinky van. Then I got out and rechecked the surf. It looked even better! Reeling!
Just then I heard, “Get up, Dada! It’s time to get ready for school.”
I never got to surf.
UKMS – If you could tell someone about being in the water riding waves on a mat or a board or whatever what would it be?
Scott - Through tons of recent tests and consultations I’ve learned that, genetically speaking, I’ve been dealt a pretty tough hand. Lottery-in-reverse kind of stuff. Learning about the gene mutation and its typical manifestations has shed light on not only the cancer but a long history of seemingly unprovoked attacks by Churchill’s “black dog.”
Every time that dirty beast cycles through, surfing plays a huge part in the recovery. Riding waves has added so much sunshine in my life. To feel physically and mentally well enough to surf, to have the time and means, to be near the ocean — all that’s a miracle. We need to treat it as such.
Of all the people who’ve ever lived, all the life forms, we are among a tiny fraction that gets to do this. We have warm wetsuits, a huge variety of surf craft to choose from, and the ocean’s not so polluted as to keep us out. And with a little patience and effort, it’s still not that hard to track down waves unsullied by competitive crowds. Or if crowds are your thing, well, those are even easier to find! What a miracle that we get to live in these early days of popular surfing. Who knows what surfing will be like 100 years from now. Or 1,000 years. When it comes to life on this big, strange and wonderful earth ball, cancer teaches you that uncertainty is truly the only certainty.
In the meantime, I’m going power rafting.
UKMS - Scott thank you so much for sharing you inspiring story with us.
Follow Scott's ongoing journey via his blog: http://scottreeder.blogspot.com
Ed: Sadly Scott passed away surrounded by loved ones in hospital in June, 2015 after being admitted for further surgery.
Our thoughts are with the hundreds of people who loved Scott, particularly his close family. Rest in Peace.