"I should have stayed in school," Matt Archbold says bluntly from the couch in my office. "You just don't know what you're missing when you're a kid." His confession comes on the heels of Matt and I visiting some of his old haunts in Newport and San Clemente. For the past two days we've been catching up on old friends, old stories, the wives and kids. I should probably mention here that the two of us have known each other since we were 10. But this interview is my first good look under Matt's hood in more than a decade. "Don't get me wrong," he adds, "I had great times with all those guys—my heroes—but I was missing out on my childhood, which is why I'd always try to make up for it whenever I got home. That's probably why I ended up with two DUIs by the time I was 18."
When, at the age of 21, Archbold was busted for his third drunk-driving charge, he officially became surfing's biggest cautionary tale. Any lingering thoughts of him bridging the gap between Tom Curren and the inevitable rise of Kelly Slater were toast, as he was headed for a prison. Archbold is well aware of the fact that among surfing pundits when any discussion turns to the pitfalls of early fame he's often used as Exhibit A. While he's certainly not the only surfer to fall from grace, Archbold somehow keeps getting off the floor and back in the water, which keeps his story relevant.. It really is a miracle he's alive considering the depths he's sunk to since his early troubles, which, sadly, are just the lemon next to the pie.
"When will this article come out, anyway?" He asks.
"Late April," I tell him. "Right around the time your movie does."
"By then it'll be three years."
There hasn't been much to cheer about in Archbold's surfing career of late, yet he feels more blessed today than he has in quite some time. He and his third wife, Audrey, have managed to stick together through eight tumultuous years. They've only been married for the past three, which have been completely needle-free. Prior to that, it was not uncommon for Archbold to be barricaded in hotel rooms filled with junkies and whores for weeks on end. That's just a smidgen of how much further down he went before hitting bottom.
Today, much of Archbold's future involves making sense of his past. He's still owning up to it, vying to push his way past the guilt and pain that he's inadvertently piled on top of himself while trying to emerge from the hole he dug toward hell. Yet wrapping his head around what's transpired over the past two decades requires a level of idleness and reflection that Archbold has never been capable of—reflection just isn't his thing. Movement is. Constant movement. Explosive movement. Graceful movement. His movements alone are what inspired his legions of fans, none more than Andy Irons, who long ago committed every turn of every Archbold video segment to memory. "I idolized his whole approach," said Andy. "I just loved that you couldn't ever take your eyes off of him." But Archbold's perpetual movement is also what, at times, exhausted everything he had: friends, family, resources, even corners of his soul. Some say it's the price one pays for being ahead of his time.
To his credit, Archbold has never blamed anybody but himself for his issues. "I was the guy who did all those things. It's just a selfish thing." Today, he has a little better idea of where his selfishness came from.