I have a set of keys to Mark Renneker’s house. I hardly know the guy, he really doesn’t know me at all, but there they are, on a key ring tossed casually into my sock drawer. He handed them over to me a couple winters ago after we spoke for less than five minutes in a coffee shop. I was total stranger to him, but I needed access to his formidable surf library. “I’m working with Matt Warshaw on a new, online, Encyclopedia of Surfing,” I told him. That was all he needed to hear before handing me keys to his brand new house, overlooking the lonely, terrifying sandbar peaks stretching along the middle section of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, and to let me paw, often alone in his home, through his collection whenever I wanted. As it turns out, those three words “Encyclopedia of Surfing,” open more doors in the surf world than you could possibly imagine.
For the past two-and-a-half years, Matt Warshaw has devoted his entire life to building the biggest archive of surf culture history on the planet (though he hates the words “history” and “culture” and will be pissed I used ‘em here), and is not only making it available to the public, but making it fresh, vibrant, and contemporary. Not an easy thing for an encyclopedia. And most unbelievable is the access to resources that Warshaw—through his charms, flattery, or Lord knows what else—has been able to secure. Pretty much every surf photographer and filmmaker of any impact at all has granted Warshaw free access to their work, a treasure trove that he’s made available to the public in the form of his well-curated entries. I’ve been Warshaw’s assistant on the project, and anytime I’ve been charged with interviewing a well-known surfer, or sweet-talking a surf media luminary into letting us include their portfolios in our entries, simply mentioning the Encyclopedia of Surfing has seen photographers and filmmakers practically shoving their work, or house keys, into my hands.
That’s great news for the surf world. Much of the history of our sport, especially the mundane but important details, can be difficult to track down. Countless times while writing new entries, I’d be knee deep in research, chasing details around the web, wishing that there was a single digital archive that housed everything I needed. Oh, right. The Encyclopedia of Surfing. How about that?
At last count, meaning two minutes ago when I checked, the EncyclopediaOfSurfing.com boasts more than 1,700 entries. Somewhere north of 500,000 words. 500-plus video clips. Thousands of photos. We chose about 600 entries to launch with from the outset, with the remaining 1,000 or so to roll out over time. Everything’s indexed and searchable and linked to other related entries and outside websites. Pick your favorite entry, follow one of the links, and you’re off down the rabbit hole. It’s not all history either. The entries have all been updated, new entries are written as needed, and there’ll be frequent diatribes in the Encyclopedia’s blog section.
And…it’s all free to visit. It’s also free of ads. The Encyclopedia is set up as a non-profit corporation, and you can support it if you like by sponsoring your favorite entries; but sponsors get no say in the content of the site. No spinning banner ads, no distractions. Just pure, unadulterated, reader-supported surf culture. Go forth and explore.
The Encyclopedia of Surfing will be taking over SURFER’s Twitter feed on Thursday, October 3 at 2 p.m. PST, so leave us trivia questions in the comments section below or submit them via Twitter using #AskEOS and we’ll send ‘em on to Warshaw.