– stripping surfing back down to its most elemental form

Dan Malloy Interview

We are stoked to bring you an interview with Dan Malloy this week. Dan is the first pro surfer we’ve interviewed. In the past two years we’ve focused heavily on surfboard construction so most of our interviews have been with shapers. However, as the “green” movement in surfing continues to grow, and perhaps dilute itself, I find it increasingly relevant to look beyond products and focus also on culture and individual social responsibility.

Dan MalloyThe youngest of the three Malloy brothers, Dan is known for his powerful and technical surfing as well as for his ability to ride any and every surf craft. Dan has appeared in a ton of surf films, with his most recent film appearance being in the critically acclaimed Sliding Liberia.

When I thought of questions for Dan I wanted to avoid the standard what’s your favorite color questions and try to dig deeper into some of the issues around travel and board culture. Dan’s responses are thoughtful and honest. He does not try to sugar coat or avoid difficult issues – something to be admired at a time when the dollar is king. Dan is proof that the surfing lifestyle eclipses the consumer lifestyle. We hope you enjoy the interview and as always we welcome your comments.

Q. You’re the first professional surfer we’ve ever interviewed. Most of our interviews thus far have been with shapers or business people. But I think that you represent someone who pursues a low impact lifestyle. What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability to me at this point really just represents a marketing slogan for every company who recycles something and stuffs it into their product. I am glad that we are at least becoming aware of what we are doing but I know that personally I am really far from being low impact. It sort of makes me sick that people think I am green or what ever. I could claim a couple of flag waiving type of things that but if you did the math I would be in the upper echelon of polluters – just like most Americans, all travelers and anybody involved with huge corporations.

Returning to our families and communities and working hard on the land and finding ways to contribute to the things directly around us seems like a good direction to start looking. Oh, and slowing down. When I am in a rush a waste a ton.

Q. We’ve interviewed several of the leading wood surfboard shapers out there right now – including Danny Hess. I think it’s fair to say that most people out there have not had the opportunity to ride a wooden board, including myself. What’s it like to ride wood in both the high performance and traditional equipment? Do you think that wood boards will see a mainstream market share in the future?

Wooden boards have been a real revelation for me. It is really different though. I would not recommend hoping to get a wooden board that works just like a foam board. They are really different surfboards in a great way. When Danny first made me a board I was so stoked. It was such a beautiful board and Danny was such a cool guy that it really inspired me to learn how to ride it. The first few sessions it felt a little slow and clunky, the board looked really amazing though and I had this awareness of how much time and energy that Danny had put into crafting it that it kept ending up in my car. Then all of the sudden I had a couple break through sessions. And I realized that it wasn’t really heavy at all, I was just riding it wrong.  And Wegeners alaia are amazing too. I never would have imagined that you could go so fast and get barreled on a plank of wood with no fin. I have always loved riding boards without fins but these boards have taken it to the next level.

My friend John made one for me a few weeks ago out of local reclaimed redwood from an old water tower.  No foam, no fiberglass, no fins, and no new materials. To go top speed or get a little tube at home with this type of construction is a dream come true.

No, I don’t think good wooden surfboards will ever see a mainstream market share.
That would take tons of local shapers with a local kind of cottage clientele type of deal to switch to wood, and I don’t really see that happening – maybe shitty Chinese (wood) veneer ones. I tried a wooden Surf Tech one time and it was the worst feeling I have ever had on a surfboard – just super dead.

Q. I read an older interview with you where you talk about travel and you mention that you always travel light, with as little gear as possible. How does that affect your experience with the people you meet?

I travel as light as I can, but surfboards always put a damper on that idea. Anyway, over the years I have realized that the less you travel with the more you experience. That includes people. The more stuff and humans (none local) that you travel with the more you just create a little comfortable bubble. I am not saying that I go on trips with a small backpack only, half the time I am with a pretty big crew of folks and gear because we always seem to have some kind of agenda, which also limits your experience.

My advice for anyone looking to really experience a place is – travel light, with one person or less, pick up a book about your destination, preferably an old book, preferably used, learn bits of the language if you can and hit the road. That is a kind of an idealist version of how I would like to travel. I try to take little elements of that on every trip. You know Yvon Chouinard has this quote, “the more you know the less you need”. I kind of believe that, and if that is true then I don’t know very much yet because I still need a ton of shit.

Q. Often surf travel takes people to rural areas in remote parts of the world where locals lead simple subsistence livelihoods. Do you think that as surfers we have any sort of responsibility to the people in those communities?

I think as humans/surfers the number one priority should be the communities that you get to visit. It never is, because our number one priority is usually getting barreled which is really selfish and weird but super true. I’m guilty of it that for sure. It seems that some people think that tourism is a great thing for local economies and I guess in certain situations it might be. But I have also seen a lot of local farming communities that have this strange surf tourism influence that dose not seem good at all.

I think a lot of the people traveling are disrespectful. I know a lot of people who think they are doing people a favor by just showing up and trying to publicize a spot. I am pretty sure it is not that easy. Probably the best thing for us to do would be to go farm with these people, learn from them and let them know that their lifestyle is as good as it will ever get. Or maybe we should be staying at home minding our own business.

Q. What’s the level of surfing in under-developed countries where you travel? Are there guys in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean who surf as well as you?

Dan MalloyI was just in West Java. There is a kid named Dede there that is better than I will ever be. A better tube rider, better at airs, better at turns. And he is a good farmer too. It was really humbling. You know, Americans and Aussies kind of think we are the shit right now. But if these kids in third world countries ever get decent gear for a couple of generations they will be completely smoking us. I mean the kids in Jamaica are so much more talented than 90 percent of the pros that I know. All they need is good gear and money to travel.

Q. You were one of the cast in Sliding Liberia, a film that deals with war-torn country where a majority of people suffer from post traumatic stress disorder due to the violence and suffering they witnessed. Do you think that there’s more room for surf films to continue exploring issues relating to social responsibility?

That is a tough one. I think there is always room for better surf films that are more involved socially. It is hard for me to say if they will help these people though. Being there helped me to realize that it will take much more than a trip, a film or even a lifetime. And also that it takes some one really gifted to have the vision and the ability to work hard under conditions like that.

Q. It’s always inspiring to hear that your favorite surf spot is the state park down the way from your house, Emma Wood. And recently you also participated in bike-surf trip of the California coast. Can you talk a little about why surfing close to home is meaningful to you?

I like surfing at home because it seems to serve a purpose here. I can be in a funky mood or whatever and if I get in fun surf then I can go back to doing what I should be doing and be in a decent place. I also really like the feeling of knowing a spot well, and that takes time.

Q. In a recent post I wondered if the work we do on Phoresia has any influence on youth culture. What’s your view of the current surf youth culture? Do you think groms are only interested in the stuff that the glossy magazines portray or do you think that there’s more depth, more concern for the environment and society?

Well, I was one of the groms just a few years ago so it is interesting to all of the sudden be on the other side. I know some kids in Ventura who seem to have a way more balanced view of what is going on compared to what I was thinking when I was a grommet. So that is kind of exciting

Q. You’ve certainly traveled a lot and met heaps of people. Is there any particular wisdom you’ve learned along the way that you could pass on?

Yes, don’t travel too much. It is the time at home that supplies you with the inspiration that you need to be on the road.

The most interesting thing that I have learned is that traveling really is a state of mind, which sounds really cliche, so don’t stop reading here. What I have learned is that being on the road feels so damn good because all of the important, difficult, and meaningful things in your life are really far away. So you go to this beautiful little town in Spain or Java or wherever and you are up on the hillside watching the sunset just looking at this little town feeling so free.

At first I used to think, wow this place is amazing, maybe I should move here. But then after non-stop travel for ten years I started to realize that one, that feeling doesn’t last long. Two, my family means way too much to me to just leave like that. And three, within a few months of living here a good day of surf will just be average, you will have chores to do and know who the gangsters are and have to deal with people again.

It is amazing and worthwhile to hit the road when you can but I really think it can become an addiction like anything else that will leave you ungrounded if you don’t watch out. It’s kind of like getting drunk. It is no big deal and super fun to drink a little too much every once in a blue moon. You might even tell a friend that you love them, which is a sort of beautiful thing. But to get sloppy drunk every night and try to spoon your buddy is not O.K.

My goal these days is to tap into that traveling state of mind while I am home, to do things I have never done in my own back yard. There is more than a lifetime worth of amazing things to see and do and learn here. For me it is about becoming creative enough to tap into it.

Photos: Dan sent us these two photos and says that they were taken somewhere in North West Java last month. Dan had this this to say about the two photos “top notch polluter, wannabe purist. Alaias have been the reason I surf lately.” Cranking bottom turns on Alaias in overhead surf – what?

Originally posted Sept 30th 2008.

• Category: diy, interviews,, skateboarding

14 Responses »

  1. Great interview with Dan Malloy … Maybe i missed it in the interview, but what happened to his eye? Surfing injury?

  2. Hi Peter

    Dan didn’t say what happened to his eye but he did say that both of these photos were take somewhere in Java last month.

  3. Great interview.

    For me, one of the key take-aways from this interview was the notion that we all need to slow down. I couldn’t agree more. It seems that those times when I’m in a rush, are those times when I am most prone to grab a plastic bottle of water (as opposed to filling my Sigg), eat like crap, pass up on marginal surf (which I inevitably find out later from friends was “really fun”), and most importantly – forget to acknowledge how much the people around me mean to me.

    I suppose that really is what sustainablity is all about right – recognizing all the good things around you and keeping them going…

  4. Wow, incredible article. I particularly like his philosophies on travel and state of mind.

  5. Would like to see Patagonia store stock local shapers’ boards instead of guys who live 600 miles away. That’s sort of like driving to Vons in San Francisco instead of the local organic farmers market in Encinitas.

  6. Would you like to see Channel Islands, Rusty or Lost stores carrying other shapers boards? Why would they want to do that?

  7. Great interview, my understanding is that Patagonia in Cardiff will soon be selling other brands, including the work of other shapers. I think Jeff is correct and the store is responding to the market in my neck of the woods. You see very few of FC’s boards in our lineups and to be honest their board line is somewhat dated so it’s a good thing. Thank Mollusk, Thalia et al.

  8. Very Cool. The young Malloy is definitely on my top ten surfers I like to watch list. Got me thinking….I have not been on a serious far flung surf trip in many a year. I often find my self day dreaming of locations and fantasizing trips. Part of this is probably due to surf media romanticizing the whole deal and providing images of surf that looks so good. Its interesting to hear Dan discuss the issue and his appreciation for surfing locally.

    Hey Jeff we don’t have Vons in SF/NorCal. Its Safeway here… don’t get me started on them and their stupid club card! But good point none the less, reminds me of Fiji bottled water = exponentially more ridiculous than sending a board 600 miles. Though I reckon most boards are shipped about 6,000 these days. I’m riding local/regional boards though.

  9. Dan Malloy is the real deal. I think his whole trip is an important step in the evolution of surf culture.

  10. I’m guessing an Alaia in the face would really hurt.

  11. For those interested, dig out a copy of Alain de Botton’s book, ‘The Art of Travel’ for more on the traveling-state-of-mind ideas that Dan has tapped into.

  12. again, a cleanly done interview with no fluff. refreshing, and insightful

  13. I like the idea of creating sustainability in your back yard, being with the people you love and making a meaningful contribution to your local community. We’ve got to remeber that sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s a synergysm of environment, social and economic factors.
    Dan seems like a really cool guy for someone who could (and should ) be a industry clone or pro s_ _ t.
    Nice one, keep spreading the message.
    For a spiritual perspective on travelling and respecting the locals for their uniqueness try books by Paul Brunton eg. A Search in Secret Egypt or A Hermit in the Himalayas.
    I am going to go look for Alain de Botton’s book now.

  14. Dan and his bros always inspire… they might not realize how much they do— thanks to knowing them breifly, falling in love with their surf style, their family(esp lil sis Mary), their philosophy on life & how they treat the people & places they love, I have made a major decision in my life to chose adoption for an unexpected pregnancy I had. Seeing their little community, their bond within their family, all the wonderful experiences they share greatly influenced me to want this kind of life for the little girl I had 2 1/2 years ago. I have no family except for my sweet momma, a good group of friends, but everyone eventually goes their seperate paths, so to see this solid foundation is just what I wanted for her. I know I will have a family of my own some day, but I am so honored to see a side of how life could be for a child through their stories, so now she is in a loving surfing family! We were going to wait til she was 4 to get her out there, but she is allready trying to go out with daddy! I feel so blessed, and I just want to thank Dan, and his bros!