Sunday, March 25, 2012

From the horse's mouth - 10 questions with Mark Thomson

Following a recent email from one of the US mat community filled with the usual unsubstantiated claims about his relationships with Paul Gross, Dale Solomonson & George Greenough, I approached Mark Thomson to answer 10 questions in the same tradition as the Liquid Salt magazine interviews. He has very kindly agreed to do so and now people can make an informed assessment rather than one based on misinformation if they care enough to do so at all.

Why do you ride surf mats?
To ride a surf mat at a high level is an extremely difficult and satisfying thing to do. It is always a challenge and you have to earn it but the feelings you get from flying across the water on a bubble of air activates the human nervous system unlike anything you have ever done before. It keeps you super fit and flexible does not interfere with your board riding what so ever so you can cross over like you have never missed a day.

How long have you been riding surf mats? 
35 years or so. Pretty much since I started surfing. Mats are just part of the Australian beach culture. People forget that every surf brand on the planet had their own surf mat back in the 1970s before the body boards wiped them out.

How many and what surf mats have you owned?
My current historical collection has an original Surfoplane 1930s, original Converse Hodgman 1950s, a late 1960s GOLD CUP from China and an Original Merrin from the 1970s. As a camera man, who specialised in water photography, I’ve owned heaps of mats of all kinds. Canvas ones, PVC ones, if it was for sale, I bought it and if it was ok I would buy a box of them. Surf  mats have been a tool of the trade for every cameraman worth his salt for generations. So too many to count to be honest.
Since the inception of the modern urethane mats though, I have owned and still have in my collection 15 4th Gear Flyers and 2 5th Gear Flyers. Since the supply of 4GFs initially dried up in the mid 90s, just after the Inflatable Dreams story in Surfers Journal, I have now added 8 Neumatics to that collection. Incidentally, Dale Solomonson was the first to discover and utilise the modern urethane fabrics.                                                                                                           
How did you acquire them?
All the early 4GFs back in the 1980s and 90s came from George Greenough and another American named Derrick who lived at Broken Head.

What is the history of your relationship with George Greenough? 
I scored a house down in the rainforest at Broken Head and George and I where neighbours. We got talking one day whilst we both happened to be beach fishing and became really close friends. I had a surfboard factory on the beach and I was filming designing and building all sorts of boards, a really progressive time. George said I had a steady hand with the camera and offered me a job as his camera assistant. For the next 15 years we pretty much spent nearly every day together fishing surfing, windsurfing, and doing film jobs.    

What is the history  of your relationship with Paul Gross? 
I have never met Paul Gross or spoken to him personally or had any contact with him. George would return home to the USA every year for a few months and always came back with a stash of mats.

Who designed and what is the history of the MT series of surf mats that Dale Solomonson made for you? 
Well, I'll let a quote from Dale on Surfer Mag Forum answer that.
“The Neumatic MT series was made exclusively for Mark, and is unique in a number of aspects compared to other modern surf mats". The inspiration for the MT Series came from the good ol' Aussie Surfoplane from the 1930s. Larger outside I-beams for directional stability and built in concave which we were using in our surfboard designs at the time and still are. My favourite surfboard designs are 20 inches wide which is the same as the MT5. I had ridden 4GFs for 15 years and I knew their limitations and I wanted more performance from my mats. The MT5 was the break through design and I was able to go places on a wave I had only ever dreamed of before. The new Series III double coated bottom MT5's adhesion to the wave thru controlled surface tension is another level of innovation again.

How did the decision to mass produce the MT5 come about? 
A few years ago my son Daniel and I where getting a lot of recognition in Japan. Daniel for his amazing surfing ability and me for advanced surfboard designs and construction. Our friends in Japan where frothing over the mats I was riding because of their incredible speed and they wanted to get some. I had also been doing surf trips into the then relatively unexplored regions of Taiwan chasing typhoons and scoring epic waves. During one of my trips, the universe opened up a golden path in front of me and through a series of random chance meetings and contacts, I took a leap of faith and made a spontaneous decision to put a life time of surfing experience and hydrodynamic knowledge into the hottest high performance product I possibly could…...and put my trust in the universe. Thus, the MT5 is my gift to humanity to bring joy into the hearts of as many people as possible. With so many people around the world thinking 2012 might be the end, we need as many people as possible on mats in the ocean activating their DNA and vibrating the universe on a higher frequency with love and joy to offset the negative low vibrational energy of others.
Do you intend to manufacture a range of different models of MT surf mats? 
I'm super happy with the current Series III fabrics and, if the worlds financial system holds together, I have plans for a grommet mat, the MT5-5, inspired by my grandsons Jake Ryan and Hunter and a larger version, the MT5+5 for the bigger boys!                                                                                       

What do you see as the future of surf mats?
That’s a secret I can not share with you just yet!!!!

Mat rider cameo moment!

You first see the mat rider 2:04 and if you watch for long enough you will see him again very briefly. Shades of Musica Surfica! Guess who?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Concaves and asymmetry!

Interesting that PG is mucking about with concaves on his mats at the moment. Concaves first appeared in the original Surfoplane designed in Australia way, way back in the 1930's.  You can see that the outer pontoons are appreciably bigger than the inner ones.

Nothing has changed in this modern day iteration.

My Dale Solomonson Advanced 200/70 also had a touch of concave in it. My thanks to the extraordinarily affable Neumatics-R-Us for reminding me that I should indeed have mentioned this mat too.

The other well known Australian designed mat that has a concave is of course the Krypt MT5 and MT has mentioned that the original Surfoplane had, to some degree, inspired this design feature.

Interestingly Surfoplanes are also wedge shape too which PG has also been experimenting with lately.

Even more interesting though, is that PG has started making asymmetrical mats, with this particular one being half 5GF and half XL. This now providing us with the reason for his recent survey enquiring whether or not we only like to go frontside or backside as that is what you are going to have to decide if you want one of these. If you look carefully, you can see that the crease on the left (5GF) is not as deep as the one on the right (XL) and that the mat definitely looks lopsided with all the volume on the right. Very, very interesting times in the mat riding world!

Friday, March 23, 2012

You like backside?

Yes and frontside too!!!

Which direction do you prefer on a mat?
 It does not bother me and it was the same on a board as I was brought up on beach breaks and you learn to go whichever way the banks chose to make the waves go!

Is frontside on a mat also frontside on a board for you?
Yes it is!

If not, does that contrast work in your favor?
NA. See question 1

How much mat riding did it take for you to discern your preference?
NA. See question 1

What percentage of waves do you ride frontside? (For example, I go frontside 99% of the time.)
NA. See Question 1

Is your preference strong enough to dissuade you from surfing a spot that goes the other way? 
NA. See Question 1

Do you think your preference is physical in nature, or the result of the surfing environment you developed in?
See Question 1

How interested are you in learning how to go "backside" on a mat?
NA. See Question 1

As I am no longer able to comment on Surfmatters, I am answering this little quiz here.


It is not often that I choose to take out the Vespa Roundtail, seen in the pic being unboxed by Pendo, as is is a pretty chunky mat to handle. I normally take out the bigger mats when it is small and clean but after the other days session on the Vespa, I am now wondering if I have been mistaken to do so. For some reason, even though it was a lumpy onshore day with a weak looking wind swell, I decided to give the Vespa another crack. It performed surprisingly well with the volume of the mat assisting the often whitewater assisted take offs with plenty of glide left for the reforms of which there are always plenty on offer in these conditions. I am now thinking that maybe these bigger mats are better suited to these sort of conditions and whether I might take the UDT out for another session having basically shelved it? Anyone else have any views on this?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Series III Krypt MT 5 First Impression

Well, what a surprise MTs new mat is. But let me start at the beginning. When I got up this morning, I was again looking at the two MT5s, which I had left standing upright next to each other after last nights photo session, and I am looking and looking and then thinking and thinking then find myself saying "Shit, the new one looks a little bigger!". I go over to the two mats to investigate why, checking that they are similarly inflated firstly, and as I look I am thinking "Geez, has MT changed the rocker in this new mat?" It looks like there is less rocker which might account for it looking a little bigger or at least longer maybe! Now initially that is a surprise; until you think about the major change in this mat which is the super grippy bottom. If the bottom material is giving plenty of grip then maybe he has reduced the rocker. Well, now I am thinking if there is even only half a wave, nothing will stop me from taking this mat out today as it is clearly going to be a very different experience from the Series I MT5.
So I'm back now and I can report that it sure as hell was. I should be putting sometime into a Uni essay but here I am to report my first impressions in lumpy windy onshore conditions.
First the new Dolphin grip deck which was introduced with Series II. What a difference there is in the grip compared to my Series I which really does need a dash of wax on it to feel secure. This new deck is almost too grippy but I am assuming that this will moderate the more the mat is used. But it really works well with absolutely no need for any wax and has made the mat way more user friendly.
The Double coated grippy bottom is grippy indeed. You will notice this as you are paddling around that even if the mat has less rocker it feels like it has more rocker and definitely takes a little more effort to get through the water. When you take off you can confidently go for it even if the face is really starting to sit up and at one point I stalled the mat very purposefully at a moment I might not have chosen to on any other mat and the Series III did it so easily. It is quite an incredible sensation. This mat is clearly made for a powerful wave with a steep to hollow face. MT reckons he has lost a little top end speed but I guess it might only be noticeable to him on one of those fabulous Lennox waves.
There is a spot here that many of the shortboarders go to that I don't surf as it gets a little hectic to say the least but I have always wanted to try a mat there. To date I have not done so as I felt I needed to get my mat riding skills really honed but now I think I have found the mat which may well allow me to tackle that break sooner than later.
Ummmm! Damn, Mark has just informed me that there has been no change to the rocker so all my theorising was fruitless so you can ignore the machinations of my mind with regards to rocker above. But believe me, when I say this mat has incredible grip unlike any other surf mat I have ridden before today and I am not talking about the deck!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Series III Krypt MT5 arrives!

Today Mark Thomson's new Series III MT5 arrived and you can see the new double coated bottom fabric on the right in the pic.  I am looking forward to giving it a test and will duly report on that in time and it will be interesting to see how it compares to my well used blue bottom Series I model on the left.
Mark has this to say about the development of the Series III .

"The new super greys with the double coated bottom feel and look amazing. 
These mats are the best yet.
Last year I built 5 white 30d double coated ultra lightweight mats for the world speed record.
These mats are the ultimate frictionless speed machines but they are dead in few months of full time surfing.
Ever since I did the first white 30d double coated bottom I have been working hard to come up with an equivalent that would handle punishment and last the distance.
The MT5 Series 3 is a big step in that direction.
A genetic mutation between the super slick dolphin skin and the textured frictionless shark skin.
The surface tension of this material on a wave is fantastic
A perfect combination of speed and control with a side affect of enhanced durability."

MT5s have always been a sweet looking mat and, as MT mentions, this all gray model looks particularly so.
I had gathered the Dolphin skin deck had been improved following customer feedback and there is now a pronounced difference in the texture of the surface of the deck of this mat compared to the Series I .
I am really looking forward to experiencing the difference first hand tomorrow, with a bit of luck, and, if I find reasonable waves, an initial report will follow.

Monday, March 5, 2012

So disappointing and what for!!!!!

I had been planning to add another of the smaller non-roundtail 4GFs to the quiver, so yesterday on learning of the 4GF March sale, I ordered a Fatty to replace the one that got shredded, I repaired and ended up giving to a good friend of mine.
I mentioned to Michelle that I was attempting to buy another 4GF and at the time she looked at me a little mystified. Now she knows why, because my prediction here appears to have come true. This morning I awoke to find PG had refunded the full amount of my purchase!
I just cannot understand why someone who is in the business of selling mats would choose not to do so to one of their most vocal and reasonably high profile supporters.
Anybody who has followed Magic Carpet Ride over the last 18 months can attest to that.
So, yes, I post about Mark Thomson's mats and refuse not to do so in the interest of providing those who read my blog with the full mat story.
I have posted about Dale Solomonson often also but that seems to be ok.
I just don't get it. Do you?
It is so petty and I wonder if it is actually legal in California to refuse to sell a product. I know in the state of Massachusetts that "Reasonable Supplies of all advertised products must be on hand, or else the business is in violation of 940 CMR. The only exception is if the advertisement claims that supplies are limited. If this claim is not made, and supplies are unreasonably low, the merchant must provide the customer with a rain check.
Bait and switch advertising involves luring customers with an especially good deal and then attempting to talk them into purchasing another product that is more advantageous for the merchant to sell. This type of advertising includes: refusal to sell advertised products!!!!, changing the terms advertised, claming insufficient supplies, and demonstrating a different product than the one advertised. Such practices are illegal!"

Mar 2012 07:20:15 AEDT
Transaction ID: 1A386170AF758404D
Hello Robert JC Thomson,
Fourth Gear Flyer just sent you a refund
Fourth Gear Flyer just sent you a full refund of $190.00 USD for your purchase. If you have any questions about this refund, please contact Fourth Gear Flyer.
The refund will go to the card you paid with.

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Fourth Gear Flyer
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Unit price
4GF Surfmat
4GF Surfmat Models: The Fatty
$165.00 USD
$165.00 USD

$25.00 USD
$190.00 USD

Refund to Visa Card XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-3368:
$181.61 AUD
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Sunday, March 4, 2012

3 sessions and the advantage of square corners!

I have been in the drink for the last three days and will probably get in today and tomorrow too from the look of it. The conditions have varied the last 3 days from a crazy, lumpy, gray and forbidding, strong onshore to very pleasant sunny side shore conditions. So which conditions do you reckon I had the best rides? Nuh, the rather uninviting onshore day with a couple of particularly sweet rights and plenty of lesser rides to the left and right. All on my little lonesome too as usual as no one else bothered. Anyway yesterdays, conditions were the sunny side shore ones but there was a little too much swell coming in for the banks as they are at the moment. So I wasn't expecting much and decided on a session using the MT5 because the waves were pretty powerful.
I have to say that the Krypt is a very secure feeling mat to be on because of the generous square corners under the thighs and the squarish front corners which make the mat feel quite wide. My MT5 is the Mark I model so I have a little wax on the deck which works well. It always takes me just a little time to familiarise myself with MT's mat as the deck is much thinner than the 4GF heavier canvas deck. It is such a different experience riding a mat with a lightweight deck. It really does feel like a bubble of air and although it feels great to be on, I do find myself falling off the MT5 more often than a 4GF with the stiffer deck. The difference in weight is also pretty substantial too. The MT5 just a touch over 2 pounds(UK) and the Tracker almost 4 pounds(UK) when both are inflated to 90 degrees.
I tend to have the MT5 at a tight 90 degrees to start with and work from there. Every time I take it out I  understand it a little more about how to ride it. One of the reasons I had chosen it yesterday is when I was around the bay recently I had some issues setting the rail on the Standard for a clean bottom turn. Now I know the MT5 is stickier as I have experienced it and of course seen MT perform countless perfect carving bottom turns on his vids. I wanted to up my confidence level with the MT5 so as I feel more comfortable about taking it around the bay as the waves are more powerful and often hollower. Anyway, the conditions yesterday were pretty poor and basically it was drop and a quick turn across the face before pulling out through the back of the wave. (I remain amazed that one can actually do this on a mat!). There is no better mat (I have yet to try an 5GF) for performing the quick and precise carve than the MT5.
Those big square corners (a huge difference compared to the 4GF Roundtail Tracker next to the MT5 in the pic) at the back certainly seem to do the trick as it is incredible the way it will turn so well into a steep face. Returning to this quite long post, today's session was short due to the poor close out conditions and, as I was on the MT5 again, I amused myself by practising pulling straight in to the pit as soon as the take off allowed it. I added to the fun by dragging fins and arms to restrict the forward momentum as if setting up for the barrel and got mashed most of the time but good practice for when there is actually a barrel to head off into. I should ride this mat more often and having dropped a little more weight off recently will do so over the next few weeks as the conditions improve heading in to autumn in an effort to become more comfortable with flyweight, thin decked mats.