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!!!!


  1. A great read there Robin...thanks for posting!!!

  2. I do have one criticism though, Mark needs some new shorts!