AN INTERVIEW WITH WARREN PFEIFFER

Maclean, NSW, Australia, March 2015

Interview by Ken McKnight

I was first introduced to Australian mat aficionado, Warren Pfeiffer, in late 2007 by Dale Solomonson. Dale put me in touch with Warren via the internet to talk all things Mats. I had become intrigued by photos I’d seen of Pfeiffer riding his mat in really good Australian waves and I wanted to introduce myself and talk mats. I was hoping to pick his brain on how he rode mats so well on this magic carpet.

I found Warren to more than cordial to a complete stranger. He was insightful and a source of inspiration. I have followed and respected his mat riding from then until now.

Photo: Ellana Pfeiffer

A lot of waves have been ridden since my first encounter with Mr. Pfeiffer, both on his end and mine. Since then Warren has had some great adventures with some solid publicity to document it for posterity.

There were the amazing segments in the film, Musica Surfica, where Warren got to travel to King Island with a group of artistic, lifestyle cult classics including Derek Hynd. Warren woke up the stand up surfing world with his brilliant mat riding techniques.

And then there was out-take footage from the follow up movie, The Reef, that started showing up on the internet of some amazing waves in Western Australia on the intense waves of Gnaraloo. These sequences are pretty much the bench mark for riding bigger, heavier waves on a surf mat. Amazing stuff indeed!

Warren Pfeiffer is as solid a mat rider as anyone on our watery planet today. Shy, hard core to a fault and fiercely loyal to his ocean roots Pfeiffer has literally cut his teeth in the Australian world of big sharks, solitary confinement on the New South Wales coast of Australia and of course, everything mat. At 6’ 2’’ he cuts quite a swath, whether he is riding some lonely reef point, riding his bizarre bicycles or explaining inflation rates to other mat riders. There seems to be no end to his inquisitive nature or unassuming character.

Here is a brief discussion I had with him this past Aussie Summer and Fall. Here and Now is Warren Pfeiffer.

Photo: Clara Bilski

UKMS – Graeme Webster has a project underway with a 200/70 G-Mat Ute called the Phileas, which has been sent around the world for various riders to have a go on, draw on and document their adventures. Does this interest you? Have you heard about it?

Warren – Yes, I have heard about it and I would always be keen to try any mats. No matter what style they are?

UKMS - Why do you ride a mat, what do you get out of it? You’ve been surfing for over 40 years?

Warren – No, I’ve been surfing for well over fifty years now actually. I ride the mat because, well, it just goes so fast and that’s what it is about, the Speed of it! Every time I go out I come back with a smile on my face! What more can you say!

Photo: Lewis Hayward

I ride a mat because it is what I like best. I have tried kneeboard’s, even stood up for a while. I was pretty good on the kneeboard in the day and tried Spoons as well but too much like hard wood. The mat is just so comfortable and easy. I just love going out on it. Ever Since we got the first nylon mats, the 4th Gear Flyers around 1984, I’ve been hooked.

UKMS - What do you look for in a surf mat?

Warren - Well, nothing in particular. I like to try any different sort of mat and lately, I guess, I have found the thinnest material suits my riding style and I get that extra feel, that tactile response from the thinner mats. It just gives you a better feel overall. And it is all about the “Feel” of it for me. Probably, on any given day,, the thinner material mats might be 2% faster and sometimes you can feel it, while other times it will give you that extra little burst of speed.

UKMS - What constitutes a good mat vs. a GREAT mat? Can you tell us about any of your GREAT mats?

Warren - I really just want to try out any sort of mat I can. I’m interested to see how any of them go. That’s the thing, as people who have ridden them a bit know those small changes in dimensions can make a really different feeling mat. But you know, it always comes back to personal preference and what you really want out of the wave and the mat. I mean, I really don’t like cutting back sometimes. I just like those burning speed runs and on a wave that is not even breaking if possible, just on the green swell, just skimming along and actually accelerating on the swell. It is that sensation of skimming across a wave that is not even breaking, to me that’s what it is all about. 

Around here we don’t get tubes that much and I don’t think I’m even that good at riding tubing waves anyway.

Photo: Clara Bilski

UKMS - Do you study mats, say, like on the Internet? Do watch videos or review still photos of others riding mats?

Warren - Yeah! I watch anything I can get on mats over the internet. I look there at least every couple days to see if there is anything new on what other people are doing.

UKMS - Can you noticeably tell the difference between mat outlines, lengths, widths, pontoons, etc.?

Warren - Yeah, well, I should be able to after the amount of time I’ve been riding them.  Yes, I can tell really small differences, normally more so in the width and the thickness and length.

I still like longer mats. I guess that is probably because I’m taller. Sometimes I think it was better when I had those first 4th Gear Flyers, with the real thin material of coarse 70/70 and I didn’t have to make any decisions. I just grabbed that one mat, and out I went and rode it. And it went just fine. But then after saying that it’s nice to try different mats, it does get to your head at times whether the things really going better or not; But that’s just how it is.

Photo: Shannon Campbell

UKMS – Do you think lighter is better in a mat? Or, shorter maybe, longer, narrower? Does it depend on conditions, inflations, tides or maybe crowds?

Warren - Depends on conditions, as you asked in the question. Crowds don’t come into it, I just don’t like them. I’m lucky where I live, I mostly surf by myself. Inflation, of course it changes at times. What I normally do when I go out, I have the mat harder and I gradually let air out. Yet, sometimes I get lazy and I should put some back in the mat, because it was going better before. But then again, it doesn't really matter on the mat.

It’s the sensation of being in the water and that to me is where the thinner mat enhances the experience. I’m just preparing myself for the time when I get older. Where I might be struggling to crawl down to the beach and get in the water. I might even have to just catch the white water or go straight to the beach and ride up on the sand. But I‘ll still be having fun and still be in the water!

Photo: Clara Bilski

UKMS – What are you riding right now?

Warren - Lately, I’ve got three G-Mats from Graeme [Webster] which  all go a bit differently. I actually do like them all. I find that they all have a bit of range that I’m looking for. Because when the surf gets big around here it usually is shithouse anyway. Most people call the surf small or big but let’s call it medium to small surf. All these mats go well in that range. The longer mat gives me a bit more glide, and in any of the mats I’ve gotten off on I go for the longer mat. I’d rather be able to get over those fat sections. The spot I ride tends to get fat and as I’m taller I need the extra length.

Photo: Warren Pfeiffer

Photo: Warren Pfeiffer

UKMS - What’s in your full mat quiver?

Warren - 4th Gear Flyers, I still have some Dale mats [Neumatic] that are still going and I have the G-Mats.

I have become more familiar with my 200/70 Ute, G-Mat 60, named Max and what comes to mind is something dale said:

“It’s Like jet propelled body surfing.” 

I have that feeling with this mat, of a melding with it being effortless.  I feel that on this mat I have easily 10% more speed and acceleration at times which equals a very big smile! 

If I had to choose only one mat to own then this would be the one. Max works so well at super low inflation.

Another milestone in my mat evolution!

That's what's great about mats. Everyday there seems to be a new but similar on- going evolution and subtle discovery.

An acknowledgment of change.

 

G-Mat 60 Photo: Graeme Webster

UKMS - How often to you go to other mats to try them?

Warren - Fairly regularly because I surf nearly every day. It’s nice to have that bit of a change sometimes. Just cause the mat can go a bit differently one day to the next. Still it comes down to the waves. We are always dependent on what the waves are doing.

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

Warren - There is no kind of normal! As I said as I paddle out I usually have it kind of hard, and as a habit I’ve got use to, I keep letting air out till it kind of feels right. But, you can go past the point and of course you have to add some air back in. It is just trial and error and that is the fun of it. I don’t get too hung up on it. Other pundits of the mat just go out and ride it. I always check mine a bit first to know where I started out because if it is not right you have to have a reference point.

Photo: Warren Pfeiffer

UKMS - How about speed? How do you approach and define say the 3rd and 4th gear mentality?

Warren - Don’t know about speed. That is in the eye of the beholder really. Sometimes I’ve been out there and feel like I’ve had a terrible go out and I’m surfing like a kook and it doesn’t feel like I’m going that fast at all. But then someone will make a comment, now and then, and actually you have been riding fairly fast.

It’s just those other times when you get those hyper bursts of speed that come from nowhere, and which is one thing that keeps me riding the mat. After all this time that’s how it is. That is also a disadvantage of surfing every day, you get a bit use to it.

UKMS - How fast do you think you have gone, realistically? Have you seen top end speed yet in your career?

Warren - I’m hoping to always go as fast as I can on any given wave. Yet, that changes all the time with what you have to go out in. That’s the great thing about the mat; you can get a really good feeling and sensation of speed on a really small wave.

It’s been said to me and I like to repeat it, “It is always overhead on a mat.” How good is that!

Photo: Lewis Hayward

UKMS - What fins are you using currently and why?

Warren - Luckily, Dr. Deets sent us, some ten years ago now, to George [Greenough] actually and Boyd Kelner, a few pairs of fins and I got a pair to try and ever since then I’ve been really happy. I’ve played around with them a bit but now the green and brown ones, with my wimpy little leg muscles. I don’t have to modify them, which is good. I like them for the power they give. You don’t have to kick your guts out with them. You just have to adjust your technique.

Sometimes they give me cramps but that doesn’t happen that often, maybe when you have a few days off. They are really comfortable on the feet, and when I go back to the Duck Feet, which is still a fairly big fin, it feels like I have bare feet. Besides, I’d rather have that extra oomph on the take-off, which the UDT's give.

UKMS - Have you tried a lot of different fins?

Warren - Yeah, just about everything in existence. Still like the UDT’s and Ducks best.

UKMS - You told me you had a lot of admiration for Greg Deets? Tell us about that.

Warren - Deets, he is definitely a hero body surfer, solid mat rider and that stuff of him at the Wedge and those other spots is just crazy! We have to thank him for finding the fin molds in some chicken shed in Mexico or something like that. He just went the distance to get the stuff manufactured so we have them today. And he just played with the fins, the rubber and brought the fins to where they are now, and a full size UDT, for someone like me can use and enjoy them, which is fantastic!

Photo: Shannon Campbell

UKMS - You live in an area in NSW that is prime for water activities?

Warren - Yes, like Angourie. I go up to Byron Bay regularly and I’m lucky to do that. Still there are just too many people around, but where I am I get to go out a lot by myself, which has it’s good and bad points of course!

UKMS - Do you do ride anything else like Regular surfboards, Kneeboards, Standup Paddle boards?

As far as watersports go, surfboards, no. Stand Up paddle boards? You can stick them up your arse as far as I’m concerned. Too dangerous in the water and most of the people riding them have the skill level of a Gnat! Kneeboards? I haven’t gone out on one for a while but I still like them. I just ride mats. Easy, fun, comfy you name it and it goes faster. Why bother mucking around with the rest of them?

Photo: Clara Bilski

UKMS - You’re obviously physically fit.

Warren - No, I wouldn’t say that. But I am grateful to be able to be out there and surf everyday!

UKMS - Can you, or do you, want big waves to ride or are you out for the Zen like waves?  As Miki Dora once said, “I’m a four foot and under guy?”

Warren - Do I want to ride big nasty waves? No! Most of the time around here, when it gets big, it’s not very good. The mat doesn’t really need big surf to excel. I still have that thing where I want to go surf somewhere more walled up and longer.

Going back to the fitness thing, it is tiring in big surf and you only seem to get a few waves sometimes. It’s often not worth the effort. I’m not interested in beating my chest and telling everybody how big a wave I’ve ridden. I don’t see the point in it. Especially if it is something life-threatening, this is more likely when you get older.

I guess most of the time around here, I’m a 2 foot and under guy cause when it is too small for all the chest beaters on their short boards that want waves they can get going on, the mat is just right. Plus, they need the Cinderella conditions, offshore and all that shit, smooth and glassy. And we don’t get it all that much around here. It’s always a bit windy. So, if it is not that great of conditions, when it is small it reduces the crowd by 95%. So that is fantastic!

UKMS - You’ve actually been riding mats exclusively since the 80’s. What do you think of the new era in mats and riders, say in the last ten years?

Warren - Yeah! Since 85’ basically. I haven’t really been on a board since around then. I’m quite happy to stay on what I’m on!  The New Era? Well I don’t really think I have that much to say. Everyone has their own individual styles, some you like and some you don’t. Some are efficient, others not so and they shouldn’t be riding like that. Who am I to say what it is? I base my mat riding on looking at George [Greenough]. As far as I’m concerned, at 73 years old he is still the pinnacle of mat riding.

Photo: Clara Bilski

UKMS - WHAT are your thoughts on the future of mats and mat surfing? What would you like to see and why?

Warren - I see little improvement in the near future. It comes back to your personal preferences, style and the waves you are riding as to what the mats and future will be. What I’d really like to see is not too many people out in the water!

UKMS - Where do you see yourself in the next two years with your mat surfing?

Warren - Just getting out there still is all I want to do and with a few friends. Trying some new mats.

Photo: Clara Bilski

UKMS - Do you care that others might be interested in how you look at riding waves on a mat or your personal opinion?

Warren - Not really. It’s only my personal preference and who am I to dictate. As long as we are out there and not in anyone’s way and having a nice time! That’s it.

UKMS - Are you in contact with other mat riders?

Warren - Yeah! I see the guys up at Byron, there are quite a few up there. 7 or 8 mat guys. It’s nice to have others to chat with instead of say the one other mat rider down here. My two daughters go out sometimes here and so it is fun riding waves with them and I can drop in on them, of course I don’t normally try to do that sort of stuff.

Pfeiffer girls - Eliza (L) and Ellana (R)

I talk to a few guys in America, Pete [D'Ewart] and you, Ken, and I talk with Graeme [Webster] in the U.K. I use to have long talks with Dale but not now.

UKMS - Do you surf the same spot day in and day out or do you seek out other waves to push yourself on?

Warren - I surf the same spots mostly and I sometimes look at other waves. But I usually end up back at my favorite spot. I always look at the wind and tide and surf a couple hours.

UKMS - Is California on your radar as a place you’d like to come to and mat? Anywhere else you really want to ride your mat?

Warren - I’d like to but the crowds are, well, big. Maybe one day I’d get to surf with all you guys. I would like to go up and surf with Pete in the Pacific North West and have a surf safari with no sharks and people. That would be great!

That trip I took to Western Australia was fantastic. Not too many people but big sharks!

I’d like to go back to King Island, or some other parts of New Zealand, places a bit colder. The lines are open on all that stuff. The great thing is Im really content with my life. When I think about going to other places and meeting the people and having new experiences, well, I’m happy here.

UKMS – Maybe take us through your dream mat wave? Without divulging too much about where it is?

Warren -  I probably haven’t had my dream mat wave yet. It would most likely be some walled up point wave, with not too many people out, and a really good length of ride with some sections that are really challenging. When you can feel the thing just kissing the water and barely and it’s 'floaty' and hovering at speed.

I don’t know where the dream wave is. Maybe it’s just better to remain a dream..

UKMS – Thanks Warren for your time and see you in the water.

Photo: Clara Bilski


Post-Script:
Many thanks to Mick Sowry, Director of Musica Surfica and The Reef.  
Check out the ongoing Reef Project at: https://www.aco.com.au/whats_on/event_detail/thereef
See Mick's other work with Great Ocean Quarterly: http://www.greatocean.com.au/