OK, sure, longboarding has been around since the beginning of time, more or less. But every once in a while, a logger comes along and makes it look like something completely new, fresh and almost improvised. Andy Nieblas is one such logger, which is why he was at the top of a short list of interview candidates for our interview issue this year. We wanted to hear from Nieblas about where he finds his inspiration for his most-imaginative longboarding lines, and where great logging style comes from.
How old are you, exactly? Your mustache makes it very hard to guess.
[Laughs.] I'm actually 23 years old.
That's funny because so often the lines you draw look like an homage to an older generation. Did you grow up watching a ton of old surf films?
Yeah, definitely. I didn't really know much about surfing when I started, but a good friend of mine had all these old surf videos, so we'd go over to his house and watch them. The first surf movie I ever saw was "Many Classic Moments," with Larry Bertlemann and Buttons [Kaluhiokalani] and Mark Richards. To this day, anytime I see a '70s single fin it brings me right back to watching that movie—such a rad era, they were just so creative and had such unique styles.
Who is the surfer from the past that you've studied the most?
Probably Phil Edwards. I could never get to the level of what he was doing, but I can try. You can tell when someone is having fun and just being spontaneous, versus when someone is really trying to surf the wave a certain way. Some people stand up on a wave and they already know what they're going to do, but with Phil you could tell that he's just going with the wave and deciding in the moment what he wants to do and what he thinks is fun.
Do you ever see him around? I know he lives somewhere in south Orange County, probably not too far from you.
He actually always rides his bike by the spot where I drink my coffee and eat my breakfast every morning. One day when I was a grom—probably like 14 or 15—my older friend goes, "Hey, look! There goes Phil!" I'm like, "Phil? As in Phil Edwards? No way!" We stopped him to say "Hi," and of course I was such a grom that I asked him if he ever surfed the jetty at Dana Point before the harbor was built. He just looks at me sideways, gives me the middle finger and rides his bike away. I'm like, "Oh my god, did I just offend Phil Edwards?" And my buddy was like, "No dude, that's just Phil. He's over the whole surf scene these days and doesn't care to talk about it." It was just so legendary. I was like, "No way did Phil Edwards just flip me off."
So do you think that the best surfing happens when you have no plan and no idea what comes next, but instead, it's just a reaction in the moment?
I think so. No two waves ever break the same, so you just have to go with it and see what happens. It's like an artist with a canvas, where maybe you don't know what you're going to do with it at first, but you make the first stroke with your brush and things start falling into place in ways you couldn't have predicted.
Some of the stuff you do on a longboard, like your fin-first noserides, kind of defy logic. I'd imagine that took a while to figure out.
For sure. The first person I saw do them was Alex Knost at San O, and I thought it looked so different and so not normal. Surfing is going in such interesting directions at this point, where there's so much more than just noseriding and getting trim, but really doing whatever you can imagine. When I saw him do that, I thought, "This is exactly what surfing today is all about." For me, that's so modern. There's just a lot going on right now in terms of where people are taking surfing and it's pretty awesome.
In Spain recently you got a chance to surf with all of the folks leading that evolution in longboarding at the Duct Tape Invitational. How did it feel to win an event surfing against all these people you admire?
That was absolutely life changing. Still doesn't even feel real. That was a really unique event with the most amazing vibe on the beach. Everybody was just so stoked and caring and there were just smiles everywhere. That's what it's all about: just letting loose, having a good time and watching everybody do their own thing in their own way. To go to a place like that and be around those humans, you just feel really blessed. It was out of this world, for sure.
[This interview first appeared in SURFER Volume 59, Issue 6, as a part of the feature "Surfing in Tongues," which includes enlightening conversations with experts on a spectrum of surfy topics. To buy the issue, click here.]