Chatting with Matt Titone about Indoek’s New Photobook, “Surf Shacks”

Mason St. Peter at home in Topanga, CA. Photo: Matt Titone, Surf Shacks 2017

If you visit this site every now and then (or enjoy crashing weddings on the East End during summer), then there’s a healthy chance you’ve been acquainted with our friend and creative sensei, Matt Titone. Matt’s got something of a black belt when it comes to good ideas — whether it’s remodeling his backyard garage into one of California’s raddest Airbnbs or curating a disposable camera photo series with some of the most talented eyes in photography. And as of this past week, he can add a new, finished project to his collection of really cool shit: the Surf Shacks book.

The 288 page photobook features an open-door look into the coastal abodes of some of surfing’s most creative people, accompanied by comprehensive interviews that are fascinating all the way through. Curious as to how the whole idea first came about and what the near-half-decade of putting it together entailed, we got in touch with Matt and hit him with some questions of our own.

Nearly four years of photographing the most beautiful homes in surfing. Can you recall how you first came to admire where surfers lay their heads at night?

Yes, it was about four years ago. We were trying to think of another project to do on Indoek that we could release on a regular basis. Until then we had dabbled in a couple one-off pieces like our mobile guide to NYC for the Quick Pro in Long Beach (which was a big hit at the time since smart phones were relatively new), The Anatomy of Owen Wright, and even a few products like our Wax Kits.

Back then, we didn’t know much about our audience — we were just doing things that we thought were cool. That said, people were always telling us how much they loved our Mixtape Mondays series. It was something they looked forward to every week. By then we’d done 150 weeks straight of free, downloadable mixtapes. While that was really cool and fun, it was also a lot of work for Drew, who was curating them at the time. Not only that, but we wanted to start an ongoing project that utilized more of our artistic skills and interests, not just curating existing content on the interwebs.

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A collage from Hiromi Matsubara’s humble abode in Chiba, Japan. Photo: Matt Titone, Surf Shacks 2017

So we came up with the idea to shoot surfers’ homes specifically, an idea we had not seen before. Indoek has always been about creative professionals who happen to surf, that is who we are, so that is who we usually choose to celebrate on Indoek. All the subjects in the Surf Shacks series are surfers, but that’s not the only thing that defines them. They are also our peers — the directors, designers, photographers, architects, DPs, artists, writers, etc. whom we admire outside of the water. Once we had the concept and a few people in mind (as subjects), it began flowing organically and has ever since.

By its title, readers might be surprised to open the pages of the book and find that not only are there beautiful abodes featured, but also incredible interviews (many of which are with fascinating movers in surfing that seemed to have evaded the spotlight). Did you ever find yourself pursuing the interviews as much, maybe even more-so, than the homes?

Absolutely. There are so many people we’ve covered in the series who I didn’t give a rats ass what their home looked like, I just wanted to meet them and learn more about them. This book is not really an architecture or interior design book. There are definitely a lot of unique and inspiring homes from a design perspective, but there are also a lot of just ordinary homes that are rentals close to a beach, and in those cases it has been more about the subject’s story (rather than how cool their home is).

I hate to do it but I have to. Top three spots in the book that you’d be most down to housesit at?

Yikes. It’s actually harder than I thought to narrow it down to three — and this answer probably changes depending on my current mood, but here goes:

  1. Jess and Malia’s place in Kauai because it is right in front of one of my favorite waves.
  2. Randy Hild’s place in Laguna because his place is like a library/art museum. I could probably spend at least a week locked inside just rooting through his vast collection of books, art and surf culture relics.
  3. I want to say some of the places in the Northeast during the fall because that’s my favorite time to be up there, but I’m gonna have to go with Trevor Gordon’s sailboat in Santa Barbara instead. My dad was a big sailor and I miss our old family vacations spent on sailboats.
Inside Trevor Gordon's sailboat, docked in Santa Barbara. Photo: Matt Titone, Surf Shacks

Inside Trevor Gordon’s sailboat, docked in Santa Barbara. Photo: Wild Adler, Surf Shacks 2017

Alright now forget the staycations—which interview did you have the most pleasure being able to do and why?

Also a very tough one. This is kind of a toss up between Randy Hild, Jon Rose, and Steve Zeldin. I’m going to have to go with Steve Zeldin though for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I’d always wanted to meet the guy. When I started surfing as a teenager and gobbling up surf magazines (pre-internet), his name was all over the place in the credits. Then Water Magazine came out (which Steve started) and completely blew my mind. That magazine inspired me in so many ways: it sparked my interest in graphic design, which led me to transfer from Flagler College to SCAD and realize my career path as a designer. It gave me a new appreciation of photography and art direction in general. I do not consider myself a writer, but it also got me very interested in content because the stories were so rich and personal. Water Magazine just really struck a chord with me.

Anyway, Steve was always this unseen enigma to me and this was the beauty of having Indoek: it provides a way in to meet people we admire. Suffice to say, when I finally met Steve in person he was not exactly the guy I had expected him to be, but he was so rad and I soaked up everything he told me about what he has learned over the years in the surf media world. We talked like four or five different times for hours on end for the interview — he has some really cool stories!

Steve Zeldin at home in Newport Beach. Photo: Matt Titone, Surf Shacks

Steve Zeldin at home in Newport Beach. Photo: Matt Titone, Surf Shacks 2017

Going back to the part about me not being a writer though, I recorded all these interviews and later had to transcribe them, which is fucking hard and terribly time consuming. So, if you read the interview with Steve (or Jon or Randy for that matter) after reading this, please be patient and don’t judge us on our grammar or editing skills. Indoek is truly a proofreader’s worst nightmare.

Other than a love and passion for surfing, did you find any themes or design commonalities across all the shacks and/or people featured that surprised you? Natural light is too easy.

Yeah, reclaimed wood is kind of a cliche but I suppose it’s also very fitting for surfers’ homes in general. I think it’s beautiful and I personally love it, but I almost find myself slapping my head every time we see another place with reclaimed wood — like, “Again? Not another one!”

I’ve said it before though: my favorite part about the series is actually the diversity in the homes. When you look through the book, there’s everything from mid-century modern homes by notable architects, to converted vans, your typical, coastal craftsman homes to literal beach shacks, to city apartments, cabins in the woods, boats and even a friggin school bus. We are always on the lookout for something different.

Favorite relic or piece of surfing history you came across in wandering through these surf shacks?

Again, it’s hard for me to name just one. However, like I said before, Randy Hild’s home is like a surf culture museum. He literally has a library with every surf magazine ever printed perfectly preserved, cataloged and organized by year. His collection of art, boards and surf memorabilia is unparalleled.

Randy Hild and his well-organized collection of all things surf. Photo: Matt Titone, Surf Shacks 2017

Randy Hild and his well-organized collection of surf publications. Photo: Matt Titone, Surf Shacks 2017

As evidenced by the work on Indoek, you’ve always done a great job in creating ideas that can live and grow as series—versus one-off articles or stand-along features. What is it about creating an array of content in similar nature that attracts you?

Well, to expand on the first question, we love projects that have have legs — or can evolve into other things besides just online content. Indoek is a sister company to our design studio, ITAL/C. That said, our daily focus is usually on design and Indoek provides us with an outlet to dabble in other things like products, photography or events for instance. Stuff that gets us out of the studio, away from our computers and collaborating with other like-minded creatives.

While we like having the online articles on Indoek, it was never our intention to become a media outlet or a blog. We almost just use the website as a way to test out content ideas and see what has potential to turn into a larger project. With the Surf Shacks series, the intention or end goal was always to produce a coffee table book. That seemed like a pretty lofty goal at first, but after shooting over 50 different homes over the course of almost four years, it became easier to achieve once the content already existed as a series on the site. Goals in general are often easier achieved one step at a time — slow and steady, baby.

That seemed like a pretty lofty goal at first, but after shooting over 50 different homes over the course of almost four years, it became easier to achieve once the content already existed as a series on the site. Goals in general are often easier achieved one step at a time — slow and steady, baby.

The same is true with the 27 Frames Project. While it also made for good online content, having a big group photo show that celebrated the best of the series was a much more rewarding experience for us, but it had to start somewhere and that’s what we like to use the site for.

Biggest challenge in bringing this lovely book to a physical form?

You know, creating the book was by far the easiest part for us. We are designers who love print and physical, tangible things — this is what we do. I would say the biggest challenge was probably working with a publisher for the first time.

One of the reasons we didn’t release a book sooner was because we intended to publish it ourselves, which is a huge undertaking and financial commitment. We were actually working with a printer in Minnesota and about to start a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for an initial run of about 500–1,000 copies before the holidays.

Then Gestalten contacted us and after many conversations, we decided it was in our best interest to partner with them in order to reach a much broader, global audience. It has been a huge learning experience for us so far, but Gestalten is awesome and I don’t think we could have found a better publisher for this project.

The final product, now available for preorder. Photo: Gestalten, Surf Shacks 2017

The final product, now available for preorder. Photo via Gestalten from Surf Shacks

For the sake of this question and your attraction to ongoing things, let’s say there’s a Surf Shacks Volume II. Off the top the your dome, which two individuals would you be most psyched to line up for a feature?

Unlike a lot of our other projects that usually would end with a product like this, I think it’s safe to say that there will be a Surf Shacks Volume II book someday. We already have a lot of unpublished content for it. As far as future subjects though, I’d love to feature Geoff McFetridge, Barry McGee, Thomas Campbell, Julian Schnabel, Herbie Fletcher to name a few. More women in general and homes in obscure, unexpected locations would be great too… There are actually a lot of folks still on our wish list.

To check out all ~50 homes and interviews in one incredibly-designed place, preorder the Surf Shacks book here. Thanks for making the time, Matt.