The Encyclopedia of Surfing is a Whirlpool of History Worth Getting Sucked Into

Every human activity and pastime has a record keeper, a sage, and a scribe. A priest in a temple, surrounded by papyrus rolls, inking the present and past for future generations. In the surfing world, that scribe is Matt Warshaw. His temple, the Encyclopedia of Surfing.

“I like writing about the past because I like seeing how it connects to where we are now,” Warshaw told ExplorersWeb’s sister publication, The Inertia. “It’s just that I love surfing so much that I’ve been trying to figure out what got us all into this…trying to figure out what that unbroken thread means, and where it’s leading the next generation of surfers.”

Among the surfing community, Warshaw is the undisputed best person to follow that thread. A serious amateur surf competitor in the 1970s,  then the editor of SURFER magazine, the journalist left it all behind to get a history degree at age 29. An attempt at grad school followed, but the ever-restless Warshaw dropped out after two-and-a-half weeks.

a man with glasses in front of a row of books

Matt Warshaw in his home office. Photo: Matt Warshaw


Genesis of an idea

“I was sitting in my empty L.A. apartment, talking to my dad about all this, and he said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I told him I had no idea. I had this history degree, but what was the point? And I probably knew as much about surf history as anyone else in the world, but so what? And he said, ‘You should write an encyclopedia of surfing.’” Warshaw explained. “I sort of laughed, and he asked, ‘Is there one?’ I told him no, and he just said, ‘Well, why don’t you do one?’ So I did. It was my dad’s idea, his title, the whole deal.”

So was born the Encyclopedia of Surfing, first released in print in 2003, revised in 2005, and released online in 2013. Ten years later, the website is as close as surfing has to a Vatican archives — an exhaustive chronicle of events, boards, shapers, surfers, breaks, beaches, and more.

The ad-free interface invites browsing and casual exploration but also offers tools for searching. Serious devotees of flow might be sucked in for days, if not weeks, following link after link into wormholes of obscure surf-related medical conditions, ultra-niche interviews, and Homeric oral histories. To get the biggest bang for your buck, you’ll need to pony up a $5 monthly subscription — an amount that seems almost laughably trivial when compared to the wealth of knowledge it unlocks.

After all, if you had the chance to poke your head into the Library of Alexandria, would you balk at the cost of a cup of coffee?

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).