The Mayhem of Matt Biolos

It’s been roughly 30 years since Matt Biolos first shaped a surfboard under the name Mayhem. He’s no longer the tough young gun in the business, but his brand, …Lost, has maintained an outsider attitude while smattered all over surf magazine covers and WSL winner podiums, with riders like the Kolohe Andino, Mason, Coco and Michael Ho, 3x World Champ Carissa Moore, Tyler Wright, Taj Burrow, and many more, ripping on his designs.

Biolos got his start in hydrodynamics while working on boats in high school. He then transitioned into surfboard design by working for Herbie Fletcher, which eventually lead him to experiment with his own surfboard label. He credits Herbie as a catalyst in his career, as well as a few other radical figures such as Jim Fuller and Randy Sleigh. While at Herbie’s in the late ‘80s, he shared shaping rooms with Xanadu, Mike Hynson, and Reno Abellira, all of whom influenced his board making. Later in his career, Simon Anderson, Mark Richards, and Timmy Patterson also became close influencers, as well as the high-performance-focused Australians of the early 2000s, shapers like Darren Handley, Chilli, and JS.

Biolos has a punk rock philosophy to the subculture of surfing that’s embedded in the ...Lost name that has stood the test of time. Pilgrim Surf + Supply collaborated on a special limited run of boards with Biolos (check them out here), owner Chris Gentile interviews him here.

Chris Gentile: What drew you to shaping initially?

Matt Biolos: I had a moderate interest in surfing among other things around the ocean, like sailing and fishing and working on boats. I was always good with my hands. I saw a friend building a surfboard and while I was watching him do it I thought I could do it better, so I shaped one. Then I watched him struggle to glass his, and I was like, you know what? I like this board I think I want to get it finished professionally. I literally went to the Yellow Pages and found a glass shop in San Juan Capistrano. I drove there and asked them to glass my board. I saw the factory and it was like, this is so much cooler than working on a shipyard. I asked them for a job and that was it.

CG: You obviously have a penchant for craftsmanship, but how has the computer changed things for you? You seem to embrace the CNC machine alongside the craft, how does that work for you? How does that enter your process, using a computer?

MB: Well, I’m a designer. I’ve got nothing to prove if I shaped by hand with planers all through the ‘90s and in a dozen countries around the world. I built production boards with six shapers and when our brand first started taking off, we were all shaping by hand. I’d pack a duffel bag of tools and go around the world. I won hand shaping contests and I won Icons of Foam the first time I ever did it. I can hand shape with the best of them. I’m just not caught up in the romance, ya know? I found a better tool to design my exact detailed designs -- also, to be able to replicate it for the customers who want my designs made and replicated well. Someone said this thing recently that was really cool, it was like, if you write a story on a typewriter or you write it on a Mac Book Pro is it still the same story? If you write Moby Dick in a journal or you type it on a Mac, it’s still Moby Dick.

[Matt Biolos]

CG: What is your design process? How do you come up with a new shape?

MB: Usually it’s inspired in the surf. Basically the new models tend to be somewhat spin offs of something I’m riding that I want something more out of, or a surfer or a team rider who does as well. About half of my designs come from me and my surfing experience, and half of them come from high level, "Pro Surfer", demands... like athletes or team riders or friends sometimes. But yeah, usually it starts in the water and then I go home and I’ll open up the file of a board that I’m riding and I will think, I want the board to be like this and if it’s a little tweak or a minor thing, it’s basically an update, but if it’s a radical change then there’s a possibility that it’s a new board model.

Say you take the Puddle Jumper and you make a thousand of them. Then it’s well, I want something I can get a little more out of, so I make it a round tail and I put a little more rocker just through the middle and now it’s a different model, it’s not just a round tail thrown on it, so we call it the Puddle Jumper Round. I didn’t even make a new logo for it, it’s just Puddle Jumper Round. But then if you make a radical difference -- I’ve actually been playing around with making it narrower and flattening the rocker and putting a square tail on it, cutting different kinds of swallows out of it, trying to make a real, real horizontal down the line, a lateral surface speed fish out of my Puddle Jumper. I’m more looking for a traditional down the line, speedy fish glide. I’ve been surfing Sano with my kids recently and I push them into waves, so I maybe grab a longboard and fly down the line and not worry so much about being vertical or in the pocket because there’s not much pocket at Sano. If this thing comes to fruition it will have a whole new name. I’ll design it on the computer, cut it, go into the shaping room, shape it with a notepad next to me and write down notes as I’m shaping go back to the machine, change the files with those notes. Then I’ll go back in the shaping room, shape it and hopefully make less notes. If it doesn’t have any bumps and doesn’t have any weird curves, and it’s what I want, then I glass it and I go ride it. Then maybe I’ll do another round or two of changes. If it all keeps working forward positively then I could end up with a model.

[5'6" Lost + Pilgrim Puddle Jumper available here.]

CG: What materials do you think have the most promise outside of typical polyester construction?

MB: Right now we are working on a few different fronts. Primarily we’ve been working with stringerless EPS with our carbon wrap boards, we’re getting a lot of good feedback and fun out of those, got a few years of work put into it. At least on the lower size range of surfing, you know, wave size and power, there’s a lot going on there. I think in the end EPS isn’t the answer to everything but it’s really impressive what you can make for smaller waves with EPS. Epoxy, carbon fiber, and alternatives to wood stringers. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of work on it now. The things that Lib Tech is doing is shockingly impressive. It’s still not the most high performance thing, it’s still a molded product so it’s really hard to make customs. But the fact that they are making them domestically, the price, the process he’s come up with, the eco-mindedness -- there’s no sandpaper, there’s no solvents, their factory is built using wind power and solar power. It opens the doors for us trying different things. I’d like to see waterproof foams. We’ve dabbled into extruded foams for decades, and we’ve had success with them but taking extruded foams to a retail market, they’re a little volatile, it’s a little nerve wracking. So there’s a little hindrance there. But waterproof foams are interesting, and working in a medium where you able to customize, and also being able to make a board really quick. We’re kind of looking at all things.

CG: If you are designing a board outside of a PU blank, do you take into account into your design knowing that the properties are different? Does that influence do anything to the design of the board?

MB: With the lighter boards you can use a little less volume, especially out on the rails, so you can permeate the water easily. In general I shape most of my boards the same based with the same materials, I try to keep certain things static and change only certain things. To really compare apples to apples you have to really keep the shape the same. The one example is with Lib Tech, we know the limitations of customization and we know the market and the kind of guy who is open to that kind of board. They want value for their money, they are eco-minded, and that guy tends not to be the teenage ripper or the hipster. The guy who says "I want a board I can bang around and have it not get hurt, value for money, and allow me to surf well in typical conditions." Maybe something a little more conservative, that’s the guy. So all the Lib Tech boards we do tend to be a more conservatively dimensioned, we’re not going to go out and make HP Whiplashes or a Mason Ho high performance shortboards with Lib Tech. Our first choice is always going for the higher volume, easier board that will work for a conservative guy who’s looking for different things out of his surfboard, rather than a kid who wants an ultra light single layer glass job or a pro model or a guy who’s really an artisanal appreciator who wants a special stringer and gloss and tints and all the fancy stuff. So there’s different factions.

CG: There’s something for everybody in what you offer, in terms of materials and shapes. What do you feel like has been one of the most significant things that you’ve discovered and applied as a board designer and shaper? What do you feel in uniquely yours as a discovery?

MB: That’s pretty heavy phrasing. I know that I’ve been doing this long enough to kind of been on the front side of quite a few trends, but I don’t really feel like I’ve discovered anything truly new, you know? I was definitely early in the game of going back and exploring alternative, shorter, wider, flatter boards versus high performance needle noses in the early and mid ‘90s. You know, like the RNF. We get credit for that. We were also bringing radical hand drawn art back onto the surfboards during a time of fancy airbrushes and technical sprays. I had pretty radical test pilots at a young age with the Fletcher brothers, and they allowed me to do crazy radical art on surfboards. It was the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the status quo was technical taped off neon sprays and fades and airbrushes and before that it would’ve been like hand airbrushed style, Bill Stewart, very elaborate looking, like a Yes cover or something like that. So we kind of ushered in that vibe. I don’t think I’ve brought anything to the table that’s overly impactful, I’m not Simon Anderson, I’m not Mark Richards, I’m not Reno Abellira or Dick Brewer for that matter but I have an eye for talent and I’ve been able to stay ahead of trends and maybe set a few myself.

["Mayhem" Herbie Fletcher board]

[Team ...Lost, 1991]

[Mayhem band flyer]

CG: ...Lost is not just a surfboard company, it’s its own subculture. When I discovered ....Lost, it was this alternative thing to the mainstream surf world and things we were seeing that were banal and too organized and about sports. My crew was about punk rock and we skated and it was instantly something that we identified with. You worked early on with Herbie right? Early on in your career shaping?

MB: Yeah.

CG: And that’s how you got connected with Nathan and Christian?

MB: I started working for Herbie Fletcher surf shop when I was 17 right out of high school, I was working in the factory there. I now own the shop and it’s now called Catalyst. I’ve been involved with that store for nearly every day for 30 years. We still build a lot of our surfboards there in the back at the factory. It’s on Coast Hwy, 100 yards from a surf spot, and ocean view. It’s been the longest running, most consistent thing in my life.

As far as being a more against the grain brand and mindset, when you’re young it’s pretty easy be that guy and live that life. As you get older and you become less and less personally that guy, but you still keep the snotty attitude and you’re still attracted to those kinds of people and that kind of mindset and putting out that message. Even a few of our latest film projects, which kind of turned into a web series, like Ward Stories and License To Chill, it’s definitely against the grain and more loose. They definitely counterbalance the work we do with the pro tour athletes. As you get older you moderate yourself, like what are you rebelling against? Maybe not everything ‘cause I have four kids, but we still like to celebrate the buffoonery and highlight the uniqueness and the radical. We definitely don’t want to be the banal.

CG: Mason seems like such a perfect match for the brand. How has it been working with Mason?

MB: I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t work with Mason, he’s great. He’s a lot of fun. He’s kind of what surfing really is. He’s what all the companies are trying to pervade -- the story they are trying to make up and tell… and ultimately, he lives it, he’s the most real deal in surfing today. It’s so in his blood. He truly is what everyone else tries to be.

[Michael and Mason Ho]

CG: When you are making a model with a pro, what’s that relationship like? How do you take the feedback you get and translate it back into your boards?

MB: That’s the magic. Working with hot shots, you have to take away your ego and work with theirs and decipher what they’re saying and try and make sense of it. Make sure you understand what they’re describing in a board and what they want and make sure you don’t confuse it with the wrong thing. It’s a challenge. It’s not easy, you have thousands of miles between you and them a lot of the time and other people involved, whether it’s the guy cutting your board or who’s glassing it or sanding it, and making sure it’s done on time. They -- and I -- are studying their surfing and watching replays and hoping to get it right. I think a huge part of it is knowing how to jive and flow their personalities and attitudes and egos. With some guys it works and some guys it doesn’t. I’ve learned not to try and force work or design relationships. It’s better just to count your losses and be friends and work with people who are really enjoying it and have quicker results. They’ll come to you. We have not released that many pro models over the years, but usually the surfer inspires it. Although, I reached out to Mason Ho and said ‘Hey, let’s do a model finally.’ We made a few different things and he tried a few boards and he told me which one he liked the best. Then we made a couple more. We’re getting close to it now. We are going to call it The Voodoo Child.

The Baby Buggy model was Taj Burrow saying that he’s so sick of radical narrow and thin snappy, flicky boards and wanting something he could play on and glide. So I made him a couple and he said, ‘This one’s amazing, let’s make it a model’ and that was the Baby Buggy. A twist on the fact that his wife was pregnant with their first kid, and he would be pushing around a pram pretty soon. A year ago, Kolohe was getting stagnant and we were looking at different rockers and we were also looking at some different surfers on tour -- and some were looking looser in the tail and some were looking trackier and harder to turn. We made a few boards and he had an amazing heat against Kelly Slater in this small, difficult Hossegor beach break. He then went on to Portugal and had some huge scores and won some big heats. Afterwards he was like, "This board is amazing." I had written a little note in the foam on it. It said, "rocket in curvy pockets" -- so we decided to make that a model. The Pocket Rocket. It all occurred pretty naturally.

CG: Who are some surfers you are watching that you think are looking promising?

MB: Bubbling under the surface, oh my god, there’s so many. I think in my world, on the ‘QS level, there’s this kid Michael Rodriguez, he’s wild and wacky and does huge airs, huge turns and gets so much speed. He’s a little rough around the edges, a little over the top, but he’s fun to watch surf. He’s definitely more exciting than 95% of those top 96 on the ‘QS. And going home to SC, there’s young Griffin Colapinto who’s turning 18 today. He’s just a beautiful surfer, we’ve been working with Griffin since he was about 11 or 12. That J-Bay edit he just dropped all over the internet is a wake up call. It’s a little like when Joel Parko went and won J-Bay when he was 18, it was reminiscent of that.  Just really mature, textbook, beautiful surfing. He’s been winning a lot of events. He won Cabo. He won the Volcom at Lowers. He starting to get some notoriety now, some global notice. He’s really a pure San Clemente-groomed-at-Trestles talent. On the grom side, I’d say the most impressive groms I know right now are Eli Hanneman and Noah Hill, both from Maui and are just small wave geniuses. Radical and talented.

CG: About these boards you made for us -- the concept we came up with was to create a minimal aesthetic while keeping it fun, by drawing attention to the craft and craftsmanship. How does this fit into the realm of things you do? Who is this surfboard for in your mind?

MB: This surfboard is for a guy who appreciates good looks as well as performance. These are beautifully built boards with some style. They want to look good and have a really cool handmade piece of equipment that’s unique and doesn’t look like all the other boards at all the other surf shops along the coast. They are really well thought out, and the tapered stringer gives it a little stiffer entry in the front half of the board, it’s more firm, it paddles fast. There’s a little spring and flex in the tail, a little forgiveness under the back foot.

They’re slight spins on some of our performance proven designs, and they’re glassed up by who I think is consistently the best surfboard glasser in the world today. The whole world has guys glassing crazy fancy boards now, but what Paul Lefevre (The Son of Cobra) from France, is doing putting it on a production level, he’s doing it day in and day out. He’s not sitting in a hobby shop making one or two beautiful surfboards. He has it down to a production science. They’re glassed beautifully. 

[Paul Lefevre 'The Son of Cobra' glassing ...Lost + Pilgrim collaboration boards. Photos by Grady B.]

We took the time to change the laps, so the laps are smaller in the nose where the stringer is wider. Then we made the laps bigger in the tail where the stringer is thinner to balance the flex out. It’s not just aesthetic, it’s for performance. The stringer gets pretty wide, 12” up front in the nose,  so what we did was we tapered down the laps. We made the laps shorter on top and bottom to retain some flex, because the C-shape of the lap is like a dollar bill when it’s folded, it tends to get stiffer, so the shorter the C is of the lap, the more flex it allows. In the tail, the stringer turns almost nothing so we kept the lap standard there. It looks bitchin’ and it works with the flex and performance.

The logos are incredibly unique, they’re designed by your crew there so it adds a whole other look. Maybe it’s for the guy who’s always been interested in ...Lost as a performance board but never really connected with our look, our aesthetic, or our branding. This gives them an option. I think it’s the guy looking for a point of difference. He doesn’t want to look like the guy with the standard ...Lost logo big emblazoned on his white board that he buys at a typical surf shop. It’s a part of the market that I’ve always appreciated.

Visit the ...Lost website here

[Photos by Grady B.]

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