Wild Rides

Sometimes the interesting part of a surf experience has nothing to do with how well a wave was ridden, or if one was surfed at all

| posted on August 18, 2013
Matt Whitehead on the road, he who said the only thing more romanticized than romance is travel. Photo: Whitehead

Matt Whitehead on the road, he who said the only thing more romanticized than romance is travel. Photo: Whitehead

By Janna Irons

Matt Whitehead sat on the beach in Indonesia on the verge of heat stroke. He hated the crowds and the sweating, and decided, rather irrationally, that he was going to Alaska—the coldest, emptiest place he could think of. From there, he thought, he would ride a motorbike to Chile, and surf empty waves all along the way.

The entire plan might seem absurd except that Matt had already completed an even more preposterous surf adventure just months prior: a 5,000-mile trek by bicycle from the east coast of Canada to the west coast, then down to Mainland Mexico. It was filled with all that you’d expect from a journey that far-reaching, though Matt brushed off any sentimental notions of life on the road. “The only thing more romanticized than romance is travel,” he laughed. He recounted getting his bike stolen in San Francisco and spending months scouring flea markets until he finally tracked it down and could continue on. He’s had flat tires and close calls with fast cars and was even robbed at gunpoint in Mexico. “My friend and I were asleep in a tent near Ensenada one night when I heard someone rustling around outside,” he recalls. “I sprung up and chased them down a dry river bed. I saw the guy had my camera bags and he picked up a rock to try and hit me and I thought, ‘Good, that means he doesn’t have a gun.’ But then, out of nowhere, his friend came up behind me pointing his gun at me and yelling in Spanish. So that was the end of my camera.”

Matt’s been traveling since he was 18, and has somehow managed to fund his adventures with odd jobs for over a decade. “It’s normally manual labor-type jobs,” he says, “but I’ve done everything from working in a mental hospital to working in a bubble wrap factory. I’ll do just about anything. One time, I was in a coffee shop and overheard a guy talking about needing someone to chop some wood. I said ‘Well, I need to work,’ and he gave me the job. Normally people just offer it to me. It’s never good work, but it’s money, and I need money to keep traveling.”

After leaving sweaty, crowded Indonesia this past winter—a vacation from what many would consider a lifelong vacation—he was able to rationally consider the prospect of a bike ride through Alaska and realized that below-freezing temperatures would make it nearly impossible, unless he waited until summer. Instead, he decided to begin on Vancouver Island and spend the next year surfing down the coast of the U.S. and Central and South America. For this next trip, he’s opting to ride a motorbike, simply to increase the chances of scoring better surf. “When you’re riding a bicycle in the middle of nowhere, you can’t check the swell forecast and say, ‘Oh, there’s waves 300 miles away, I’ll be there tomorrow,’ because it takes three days to get there.”

Along the way, he’ll camp or stay with friends or strangers—another upside to traveling alone. Whether he’ll make it to Chile or not depends on factors both in his control and out. “I can’t ever say what I am planning on doing, because it changes all the time,” he says. “All I know is that I’m pretty wave-hungry at the moment. And at the end of the day, I know that I’m just doing this for fun, so if I stop enjoying myself, I’ll just go home.”

  • Helder Neves

    How come the world

  • roger

    No way! Uncanny that this happened again, after the episode in April!

    • David Van Rensburg

      Very uncanny

  • LeRoy


  • OB Regular

    Hot flash. I was out that day. That was not a 10′ wave. It was nearly triple overhead. I suppose if you’re a macho Hawaiian Waterman, it’s only 10′.

    • nettwench14

      Was thinking the same thing looking at those photos! Looks 15′ even by Hawaiian standards. Huge.

  • Declan Lawn

    This man is incredible! So much respect for a legend! Take it easy bro, enjoy the ride and everything life has to offer. You have already proved yourself in every way that you are an impeccable surfer that charges harder than most ever will. Hope your recovery is quick!


  • kyesurf

    when your in the water you on you’re own I learned at age thirteen one mile out and dropped a fifteen footer on the backside hunting cliffs and leash broke every wave pushed my board a wave futher. had to swim in two foot of foam and finally caught my board on the beach.I told my uncle and cousin and they said cool were going back out.

  • Ryan Ragan

    God Bless you Mike – I lived in OB SF for 20 years and had some pretty bad one’s there too ,but your neck & almost paralyzed (woooo) you have gone through a lot. Glad to hear your on your way back to a healthy recovery. Heavy story -Ocean Beach does not play!

    I wish you a speedy recovery. Much respect & admiration. ( your the man)!

    Ryan Ragan

  • Joe Fonebone

    “It was shrinkage !!!”

  • Blake Corbin

    It was MUCH bigger than 10ft that day.. I was two blocks north and heard the ambulance arrive. Not the most reassuring sounds sitting in the line up.

  • Adrian

    How does religion come into this? Incredibly lucky man and strong man, that’s it. Survival of the fittest. Why would a mystical being choose to save one man in a sea of turmoil? Come on people, it’s 2013. Magicseaweed, you need to be educated.

    • Rich

      Adrian, there is a God! A God which loves you. Loves you so much He gave his only begotten son, Jesus, for you. Jesus came accomplished that goal and now waits for you Adrian, a place prepared. Free of charge…the one condition…accept it. You have your whole life, but you will never find true satisfaction outside of Christ, so I , not Jesus, say do it now. Don’t put it off. You know He is real you feel it just like I did. It is written on our hearts. That part of you that you argue with…the part that you have to keep telling “there is no God” that is your heart. The truth is written their. Jesus said, ” I am the way, the TRUTH , and the life. no man comes to the Father but by Me.” There I said what I needed to say whew! Now maybe I can get away from this computer. Oh, Adrian, I am really pulling for you man, REALLY.
      A former surfer,
      A present father,
      A future surfer,
      and father to a great
      surfer, Richard M.

  • Victor Redondo

    Awesome bro! Welcome to Costa Rica!!! Pura Vida!!! hope you recover soon

  • Ari Thompson

    who on earth takes a shotgun on a surfing vacation. this guys problem was his own. it’s madness – i’ve been on vacations all over the world – including central america, mexico, south america, asia pacific – i also enjoy surfing and scuba diving. NOT ONCE have I ever thought while packing – hey i should take a gun. (not that i even own one to begin with). YOU don’t need a gun here at home and especially abroad to surf.

  • Nick

    Mexico is a cesspit of corruption , nevertheless, it’s pretty stupid to take a shot gun to a foreign country – in some countries in the Caribbean and Central America he could have got 29 years for that Alone!!

  • Andres Niemeyer


  • AK

    At Sloat I always see these guys on SUPs that purposefully pull into closeouts at this size and bigger. How is it that Parsons’ got so wreaked? Maybe he was using the wrong equipment?

  • Kara Hawthorn

    life is gnarly dude

  • Bart Kalisvaart

    Why bring a shotgun… nothing good can come of that.

  • gary jones

    I like cheese Dudes