Matt Warshaw Is The Talk Of The Town

Surfing's favorite historian profiled in The New Yorker

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Better than a bust

When you think “surf” and “The New Yorker,” if you ever do that at all, you probably think: Bill Finnegan. But our celebrated scholar of surf, Matt Warshaw, has now elbowed his way into the East Coast intelligentsia, as he was profiled in the October 3rd issue’s Talk Of The Town section, where he received an enviable animated makeover and was interviewed for his role as an Oxford English Dictionary consultant – a group that, according to the article by Nick Paumgarten, “provides an extra layer of expert scrutiny in such areas of arcana as falconry and wine.” After reading the piece, we reached out to Warshaw and asked what he had to say about his latest recognition.

What from your cubist caricature did they nail?

My 27-inch waist. The steely look in my eye, despite the cataracts. All I can think of here is that the guy must have pulled up a 15-year-old Google Image of me, because the hair is so plush and wonderful. God bless the internet.

The New Yorker. Anything left to be desired?

I was elected to the Mira Costa High School Hall of Fame a few years ago, and got this wallet-size brass card with my name on it that gets my into any MICO High event free till the day I die, not counting playoffs. Did not think that could ever be topped, but here we are! No, I don't expect to do better than this.

Where does surfing rank among the arcana of falconry and wine?

It’s different for each of us. Wine, surfing, falconry, in that order — but that's just me.

You wrote that, at times, you feel like "a musician who can't read music" in terms of your writing. Is that something that bothers you?

That quote, and the bit about me not really knowing the difference between nouns and verbs—I wasn't trying to be humble or even confessional. Many of my favorite songwriters can't read music. I've got a good ear, and I'm an excellent mimic, and that gets me by.

The piece is filed under "Dept. of Lingo." It's almost like the language of surfing puts outsiders under as heavy of a spell as does surfing itself.

Surfers used to be, and kind of still are, sort of like these strange human-esque animals in the zoo. We are temporarily fascinating. People want to look at us, and maybe laugh a little, and want to know more about us. Clap their hands and be delighted. Lingo is part of that for sure. Look at us, all tan and bare-chested with the dried salt-water making our hair perfect, using these jazzy words and expressions. I get the attraction.

What's the most recent word for the O.E.D. that's led you down the rabbit hole?

Anything that wasn't keyworded in my database, I was fucked. I'd end up paging through old issues of SURFER hoping to stumble onto the relevant word or phrase. Rabbit holes, I love them, I usually jump in with both feet. This was different. I lost so many hours looking up early citations for things like "board sock" or "frontside." Really boring stuff. I was force-marched into those rabbit holes.

Below is the caption contest for the issue you're in. Give us your best shot.

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Every week I stare at the New Yorker caption contest, and every week I draw a blank.