SoCal, USA, April 2014

By Ken McKnight

The first time I watched a Tim Ciasto mat riding video I was blown away. The quality of the mat riding, music and film production were exceptional. The waves looked fun, offshore/glassy and completely uncrowded. Filming from both land and water the rider knew his stuff and I was captivated. Yet, where was this filmed at and who was the guy riding the mat? I knew I had to find out more.

Photo: Christina Nüske

Ciasto is a super stoked mat rider and filmmaker from Sweden of all places. He has recently made a career lifestyle change that has put him squarely in position to chase his dreams and we are all better off for it. Tim started a film production company, called Visualife (more on this later) to provide video production services as well as graphic designs for web and mobile devices & print media. And he got busy quick: 

“Before I started my business,” Tim explained on a recent trip to California, “ I was working for THE biggest Swedish home furnishing retailer (A.K.A. IKEA).”

Tim’s wife/travel partner, Christina Nuske currently works for IKEA. She often operates the camera while he surfs. 

I was lucky to spend a couple of days recently with Ciasto as he traveled through California on a mat riding/business trip (Christina was on her own business travels in Europe).  Tim is a very svelte’ and fit person and we shared waves together and talked constantly about mats, filming and his homeland of Sweden and the Scandinavian coastline. His mat riding seems a natural and logical extension of his ocean and metaphysical lifestyle. I found his positive nature a breath of fresh air in our mat world. I can tell you this; he knows what he’s doing on a mat and with a camera. Besides that he is a really nice person. 

Here and Now is Tim Ciasto…

Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS - How did you find California? As a surf place and as a mat place?

Tim - The moment I started getting interested in the history of surfing I knew that I had to visit California some day. So far I have only seen some parts of Southern California but it was fantastic to be there and to see some of the places I had only known from pictures, magazines and videos. And off course the weather is… how do you say… awesome.

I really like the combination of warm sunny weather and cold water but I was surprised how chilly the ocean can be. One thing I particularly liked was to mat surf over kelp and to watch the pelicans surfing the waves with the tips of their wings barely touching the water. The people from the mat community that I met are all incredibly nice, generous and welcoming. They showed me their playgrounds and shared their waves with me. I don’t think that this would have happened if I had visited as a regular board surfer.

The surf conditions were not stellar while I was visiting but I still had loads of fun and I could see the wave potential that you have there.  

Video: Tim Ciasto

UKMS - Any fun stories to share?

Tim - When I surfed at Swamis with Scott Reeder we caught a wave together. After about half of the ride I saw another mat rider paddling out. He saw us coming towards him, waved cheerfully and shouted: “Hi Tim!” I surfed past him and high-fived him without knowing who he was. Later I learned that it was Henry Hester and I remembered seeing him on Facebook. Probably he had seen some of the videos that I had posted there; why would he otherwise know who I am? The best part was that I was filming the whole incident. Looking back it still baffles me how amazingly small and unique the mat world is. 

Photo: Ken McKnight

UKMS - Did you ride many different mats while you were here in the States?

Tim - I tried a 70/70 G-Mat Ute called “Blue Thunder” that Graeme [Webster] has made when I surfed at Swamis. I really liked it, especially the grip and that the mat was so light and felt very responsive. When I surfed Rincon with Dirk [Brandts] and Aaron [Foster] I got the chance to try one of Paul’s [Gross]  that he had given to Dirk to test. It was an asymmetrical prototype model that was optimized for right-hander waves. Very nice mat! It would have been interesting to compare it to my regular Standard. It is a lot of fun to test different mats and they all feel different.

How lucky we are that there are all those different mats models we can choose from. But somehow I can’t shake the feeling that it would take me decades to really explore the limits of the mats that I already own.

Tim at NAB  Photo: Dirk Brandts

UKMS - You went to Las Vegas for the NAB (National Association of Broadcaster) Show. Anything there you saw that could benefit the mat world and how we document it?

Tim - I’m always looking for new ways to mount my GoPro. They are great little cameras, but it is extremely difficult to get really smooth and stable video footage while mat riding or swimming in the ocean with them. Electronically motor-stabilized gimbals for cameras are all the rage right now but all the solutions that I have seen so far are not waterproof. However, at NAB I got quite exited to discover waterproof microphones. Wouldn't it be great to capture the real sound of mat surfing?  

Selfies in Las Vegas: (L-R: Terry Williams, Tim, Dirk Brandts and Tom Threinen)  Photo Stitched by: Tom Threinen

UKMS – Are you planning on coming back again to visit and surf?

Tim - Yes, I would love to come back… no, I definitely have to come back to explore and surf the area some more. But most importantly I would love to come back meet with more of your amazingly “awesome” California mat people. I know that you can find great waves all around the world – and many of them are probably less crowded too. But I’m sure that there are very few places where one could find so many adorable, welcoming and generous people who share that same passion for riding waves on a bag of air.

Swedish Sunset Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS – So, Tim,  I’ve watched your videos many times and I’m trippin’ on where you live. Sweden, snow, super friggin’ cold water, isolated coastlines, riding a surf mat. You are one dedicated mat rider. Sounds like you got the surf fever pretty bad! And that’s good. These videos you have produced are great! Really. You seem to have caught the way the mat world is; free, fun and for everyone! Great job.

We need more. Can you tell us a little bit about each one of them?   

Tim – Okay. If you want to see one of my home-spots than you can watch Late Summer Surf . This spot is a 30 minute drive away from my home.

Video: Christina Nüske & Tim Ciasto

Originally I'm from Bavaria in Germany (and probably was never meant to be in the ocean). I was born in a town south of Munich and you can even surf there... kind of... 

Video: Flo Rödler & Tim Ciasto

Tim – The video 7 degrees small beauty

I filmed this in Klitmöller (northern Denmark) in early May last year. It's the North-sea and the water temps at that time were 7 degrees Celsius ;-) This spot is a 5:30 hours drive from where I live in Sweden and is the closest spot where you can get real ground swell.

Video: Christina Nüske & Tim Ciasto

Mat Surfing in Surfing Sweden Photo: Christina Nüske

UKMS – So tell us, where in Sweden is home now and how often are you in the water these days?

Tim - I live in Helsingborg a town located at the southwestern coast where Sweden is closest to Denmark. It’s definitely not a surf hotspot. There are some surf spots about a 30 minutes drive away. The waves that I get served here have all been generated by heavy winds over the Kattegat. It’s a tiny body of water compared to the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic and even the Mediterranean… probably more like a big lake. Strong onshore winds are the norm and there is never something like a groundswell. I don’t get to surf much here but I have had some fantastic sessions. During winter the water temperature drops to 1-3 degrees Celsius and the past two winters the sea froze. Right now it has been weeks, now wait two months since I was in the water. It was rough but beautiful in its own way. The setting sun was already very low, small pink clouds were racing across a clear blue sky… the light was incredible… gold from the sun and the whitewater had an intense ice-blue color. I just loved it to be out in the ocean.

UKMS – The next two were filmed somewhere else?

Tim – Yes, Last Day of 2013 was on the Atlantic coast of southern Spain in Conil de la Frontera. I visit this area frequently (since my parents have a house 2 hours from that spot). 

Video: Christina Nüske and Tim Ciasto

The Sharing the Stoke video was filmed in El Palmar just 10 km further south in January 2013. During the visit I tried to share some mat stoke by giving one of my mats to a friend and going surfing with him.

Video: Christina Nüske

Christina Nüske Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS - If you are the mat rider in the videos who does the filming from the beach? You mentioned Christina.

Tim - Usually my wife is filming or I have some sort of GoPro rig that I take with me. After I started my own small video production company one and a half years ago it became my dream to do create a mat surfing -movie. It would be so much fun to create something that conveys the fun of mat riding and tells a story about the people who choose to visit the ocean on a bag of air. Problem is: There are no other mat-surfers close by. 

UKMS – With your film production company Visualife, you must be very busy!

Tim - I mainly work with corporate video, e.g. internal training videos, event documentations and product launches. Sometimes I’m very busy, but there are peak times and then there are lows.

I always try to stay inspired and working on my own small, fun projects helps a lot and gives me a lot of energy.

UKMS – Why such a dramatic change in your career?

Tim - For almost two decades I worked for IKEA. I had a great time and I learnt a lot. During the last couple of years I realized that I wanted to work more creatively. Then my wife and I took some time off and it became more and more clear for me what I really wanted to do. Two years later I decided to leave my employer and start my own thing. The best things in my life happened when I dared to take a step into the unknown. I really love my job and I feel that I can now contribute and perform on a completely different level. 

Photo: Tim Ciasto

Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS – Tim, you also have another media endeavor.  Can you explain your amazing blog/E-Book, RAUSZEIT?

Tim - Five years ago my wife and I made the bold decision to go on a sabbatical. We had saved some money, bought a camper van (RV) and explored parts of Europe and Morocco. While traveling we decided to write/create a book about our journey. The goal was to document our travels (where we have been, what we have seen and done during the year) as well as the internal journey (our experiences, conclusions and the things that we learned and took with us).

When we returned to Sweden I started to work part-time to finish our book project. Soon it became clear we wanted to call the book “Rauszeit – When every day is not everyday”. We struggled to find a publisher in Germany so we created a blog to market the book and to find some fans that could support us during our endeavor. 

We wrote it in German but it is very visual.

Since we did not find a publisher, but were convinced that the book was worth publishing, we decided to create an iPad app based on the print layout that we originally had envisioned. After investing a lot of time, effort and some money we eventually decided to make it accessible for everyone and to give it away for free. We knew that we had experienced something very special and we wanted to share that with as many people as possible.

There is so much to tell about how the journey, has shaped us (as individuals), our relationship, and our attitude towards life. The essence of what we have learned is probably best captured in the short video What Makes a Good Day?

Video:  Christina Nüske and Tim Ciasto

I would like to give you one example: Halfway into our journey we were in Southern Spain. It was just before Christmas. After weeks of beautiful sunshine and nice temperatures the weather had turned really bad. We had storms and constant rain for nine days in a row. Originally we had planned to leave and make the crossing to Morocco about a week earlier but we kept postponing it. The reason for our hesitation was however not the weather. It was bad, yes, but not so bad that traveling would have been impossible. In truth we were simply afraid to leave something that we knew behind us and to visit a place that we did not know. Two days before Christmas Eve we left for Morocco and I’m glad we did. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our sabbatical and I had the best surf of my life there.

Photo: Tim Ciasto

The “Morocco-Incident” taught me that it is important to take some risks because otherwise I might miss a lot of the things that make life worth living. This knowledge led to my decision to really follow my heart, start my own business and work with something I really love. But it took me two more years to summon the courage and go for it.

The idea behind Rauszeit (the book and the blog) was to share some of the things that we have learned, and if possible to inspire others to be more courageous and follow their dreams.
Probably the blog has long passed it’s “best before date” and since I have started my own business we have not invested a lot of time and energy in it.

Photo: Sergio Bartrina

UKMS – When did you first start riding mats?

Tim - It was in the beginning of 2011. Christina and I had spent the Christmas holidays in Costa Rica. She was surfing on a boogie board and I on a rented longboard. On a handful of days we had howling offshore conditions and I really struggled with the longboard. It felt like riding an airplane wing. One evening I used Christina’s boogie board and had a lot of fun with it. It was just so much nicer to handle and the rides were great too. That just got me thinking and sparked my curiosity.

UKMS - Who introduced you to mats?

After the trip to Costa Rica I remembered the surfmat sequence in the surf-movie Sprout. So I went online, searched for surfmats and found them…  or maybe they found me.

UKMS - What inspires you to mat?

Tim - I think there are a couple of different things that inspire me… For one it’s the challenge to get a good ride with this limp bag of air. Then it’s the intensity and closeness that I feel when I ride a wave. Feeling the force of gravity pulling me down the face of the wave and the resulting acceleration and speed. The view of an unbroken wave on a mat can be breathtaking. When I surf then I think about nothing but the moment I’m in. I believe Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called that "flow" experience.

Photo: Christina Nüske

UKMS – What kind of surf vehicle did you grow up on and where did you ride your first wave?

Tim - I did not grow up surfing. I was born in Bavaria Germany south of Munich. I probably was never meant to be in the ocean.  My family moved to the south of Spain when I was two but we returned to Germany five years later. What I did discover though was that I just loved to be in the water.

I started surfing much later, when I was maybe 32. We went with friends to Denmark and there I tried to surf on a Boogie board. I did not catch a single wave but I was so exited about it that I convicted my brother to join me and try some more prone “surfing” during our next stay in Spain.

At that time my brother and I didn’t consider prone surfing real surfing so we soon ventured into standup surfing. My brother got me to try shortboarding but that phase almost made me give up surfing all together. But then I discovered longboards and after years of trial and error holiday surfing I finally caught the wave that changed everything.

UKMS – Do you still ride other surfboards as well as mats?

Photo: Christina Nüske

Tim - I was really into longboards, classic heavy single fins in particular. I was making good progress for someone who mostly surfs during vacations and I loved it. When I discovered surf mats I rode both, sometimes going out with the board first and then moving to the mat. After a while I started to like the mat better and since I mostly have to travel to get to consistent surf I felt that I had to choose – board or mat? I guess you know the answer.

Photo: Christina Nüske

UKMS – If you could go anywhere to ride waves where would it be?

Iceland has many an empty, mat friendly point. 
Photo: Daniel Crockett

Tim - Iceland, Alaska, Patagonia, and places like that. Actually one of my dreams is to surf while it is snowing. Yeah, head high swell lines and thick snowflakes I would love that. Seriously, I really don’t mind cold-water surfing on a mat. And one positive side effect is that there are fewer crowds too.

One year ago I had the opportunity to go on a boat-trip to the Maldives. The water was so blue, clear and beautiful. The waves were great too, but it was way to hot for my taste – 30 degrees in the air, 30 degrees Celsius in the water. I didn’t get comfortable, had problems with rash and got a nasty infection from wading over the coral reef after loosing my mat. Soon after that I went to Denmark and filmed “7 degrees small beauty “. Despite the cold and weak waves, I had as much fun as in the Maldives.

Maldives Photo: Tim Ciasto

Maldives Sunrise Photo: Tim Ciasto

Photo: Christina Nüske

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?

Tim - Some people say they have never had a bad session on a mat. I really wish I could say that. I’m struggling, I’m challenged and I sometimes have frustrating moments. But there is an enormous amount of Magic too and that’s why I return to the mat again and again.

UKMS – I noticed your style in the videos is really smooth. Where did you learn your technique?

Tim - Wow, thanks for calling that style. Maybe the smoothness comes from the slow motion… I don’t know. Unfortunately there was no mentor; I had to figure it out for myself. At times I was reading literally everything I could find about mat surfing on the Internet. But there were just a few pictures, fewer videos and some descriptions about what one should do (or better not do) when riding a mat.

I’m trying not to force it when riding a mat, just go with the flow and let the mat do its thing… most of the time that works best.

UKMS - How has mat surfing changed your ocean life?

Tim - Mat surfing has made my ocean life much more fun especially in the less then stellar conditions that we usually have in Sweden. I think I have started to see waves where I could not see them before. Have I become a better surfer through mat surfing? I don’t know, but it definitely made more open minded towards other ways of having fun in the water.

That’s a good thing I guess.

Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS – Have you done much traveling for surf in your career? Obviously you have gone to South of France and Portugal, anywhere else and when? And, how much of it has been for mat riding?

Tim - While traveling through Europe and Morocco during our sabbatical we stayed close to the coast most of the time and I surfed wherever the conditions allowed it. I wish I had known surf mats at that time and there are some places I would love to re-visit on a mat, Morocco in particular.

I have been mat surfing in Sweden, Denmark, France, Portugal, Spain and the Maldives, California… ah yes, and in Munich Germany. 

Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS - Does your wife surf and/or ride mats?

Christina Nüske Photo: Tim Ciasto

Tim - My wife surfs when the conditions are really nice – sunshine, 2-3 foot faces, warm weather and fair water water temperatures. During a visit to Spain we rode surfmats together and it was great fun, but so far she likes her boogieboard better.

UKMS – Does she think your crazy for mat surfing?

Tim - No, she doesn’t think I’m crazy but that I’m passionate. And she knows that it satisfies my need to feel significant… if you know what I mean. Mat surfing is special, it’s underground and off the charts different. I like that about it and that makes me feel good somehow.

UKMS – What is it that you love about riding a surf mat over any other surf vehicle? Or do you?

Tim - I think it’s the simplicity of it. I like the idea that the mat is just an air-interface between me and the wave. I love the fact that I can take three surfmats with me and nobody would guess that there are three quite different surf vehicles in my bag. And in the water I love the maneuverability.

Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS - How do the crowds handle mats in your lineups? Are mats taken seriously?

Tim - Some people just stare, some giggle, few are asking questions like: “What is that… can you stand on it… does it have fins?” But most people just ignore me and I actually like that. No one feels threatened by someone on a surf mat. Off course you can also say that people don’t take mats seriously… but what’s serious about surfing anyway?

One of the spots close to my home can get crowded. It’s a right-hand point break with a quite small takeoff zone. I didn’t have fun there anymore on a board but on a surf mat I just go right into the middle and I get my share. That would be much harder on a surfboard. Sweden’s only pro-surfer was there one afternoon while I was riding the mat. He paddled over to me and said: “You’re riding a surf mat… here!? That’s epic!” 

Tim and brother Daniel Ciasto, Maldives
Photo: Dirk Burmeister

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?

Tim - I’ve mostly given that up. My brother recently told me: “Yeah, I believe you that you are having fun on that mattress, but I would like to see you get back on your feet again. You look better standing up.”

He was joining me on the Maldives trip where I brought all my four mats and told the guys that they can try them anytime. But there was no interest.

UKMS - Do you dream mat surfing?

Tim - Yes, and yes. When I sleep I sometimes dream about mat surfing and I definitely daydream about it .

UKMS – Maybe take us through your dream mat wave?

Tim - When I was in Morocco we stayed a couple of weeks in Imsouane, a tiny fishing village with a long right-hander that breaks in a bay over sand bottom. It’s a great for longboards but it would be perfect for mats too. I have seen perfectly breaking, shoulder-high walls there that you can ride for more than a minute. I’m sure you could go really fast on that wave and when I was there it was like a dream. But friends told me that the sandbars have shifted and that the wave is not that good anymore…

Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS - And if you had a crystal ball what would the Future of mat riding look like?

Tim - As the lineups are getting more and more crowded it might become inevitable that people start to share the same wave. I guess that’s what is happening today already at some spots but it is not working on surfboards. If people would be riding mats and share and have fun on party waves… that could work and it would be a nice thing to see.

Not so crowded SW France Photo: Tim Ciasto

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?

Tim - In Sweden I don’t know other mat surfers. I assume that Paul Gross from 4th Gear Flyer has sold some mats to other people here but I have never seen anyone on a mat. I don’t like crowds and if possible I try to find a niche for my mat and me. The mat allows me to surf where others wont go. Sometimes though it would be nice to surf with other mat surfers.

UKMS – What is in your quiver at home?

Tim - I have a Vespa, a Tracker Round tail, an Omni and a Standard all mats are from 4th Gear Flyer.

The Omni is the mat I use 80% of the time. If the waves are really small and weak than I opt for the Vespa and if they are really good with energy and speed I pick the Standard. 

Photo: Tim Ciasto

UKMS - What is normal and comfortable for you in regards to mat inflation and how often do you adjust?

Tim - In the beginning I inflated my mats so that I could bend them 90 degrees, but last year I learned to use less inflation. I’m now somewhere between 135 and 180 degrees. This seemed impossible in the beginning but now it works for me.

UKMS - What fins are you using and why? Have you tried a lot of different fins?

Tim - Oh my, fins… they are what I don’t like about mat surfing because none of them has it all: Comfort, ease of use, power and good looks ;-)

I stared with Flipps because I thought they were the most comfortable option but I found the straps very impractical and the blades felt weak in the water. Then I bought a pair of Vipers V7, Da Fins and the Vipers MS model. My favorite fins right now are the Vipers V7 but I wish they would have the same drain vent as the MS model. I also like Da Fins a lot but their drain vent sucks too. 

Photo Tim Ciasto

UKMS - Do you lose your mat much?

Tim - I sometimes lose my mat. On the Maldives I lost my mat a handful of times and I had to retrieve it from the coral reef. That was no fun!

During my last session in Sweden it was so stormy that if I had let go of my mat it would have been gone for good. Next day the muscles in my hands were super sore because of constantly death gripping my mat. 

Photo: Tim Ciasto

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?

Tim - I swam out with a limp-towel in Sweden once but normally I just take it on the head. If I would surf bigger wave more frequently than I would build some sort of waist/shoulder bag for my mat so that I can have my hands free when swimming.

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?

Photo: Christina Nüske

Tim - Of course I can see the benefits and I would not give this interview if it were not due to some sort of Social Networking. It would be very difficult for me to connect with other mat surfers and that’s a cool thing…

However, during the Sabbatical that I did with my wife it took us weeks to slow down and we experienced how good it was for us to be offline, to be present in the moment and really feel what’s going on right now. I don’t get that online with any form of Social Networking.

But after our return I embraced things like smartphones and tablets and the possibility to stay constantly online. Now I sometimes feel like an addict and that scares me.

UKMS - Current mat buzz... Thoughts?

Tim - Well, it seems like there’s something going on. There is definitely more mat surfing content on the Internet today, e.g. blogs, Facebook and videos. But I’m not sure where we are going with this. I’m not sure if I would like mat surfing becoming super popular. But I think it is nice to show people that it is an alternative way to surf. Show them the fun and then let them decide if they want give it a try. The fact that there is still a learning curve and that you will never look cool on a surfmat will act as a natural filter I believe.

UKMS - Anywhere you would really like to ride a mat?

Photo: Tim Ciasto

Tim - One of the places I would like to visit soon is Cornwall, Scotland and maybe Ireland. I also would like to visit the Lofoten again. They are a group of islands in northern Norway above the Arctic Circle. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to with really breathtaking scenery. It would be super cool to go on a surf trip only with mat surfers. Iceland anyone? I volunteer to document the trip on video.

Then there is this Ferry wave in Rostock Germany. When the Ferry from Denmark arrives you get surfable waves for a couple of minutes. If you miss them you simply wait for the next ferry in two hours. Sounds odd but I would really like to try it on a mat. In the spirit of “Surf is where you find it!”

UKMS - We can't wait to see it! Thanks Tim.

Photo: Tim Ciasto