Interview by Aaron Hughes. Photos by Ray Collins, Ryan Mattick and James Kates.
Zion Wetsuits are a wetsuit company born and bred on the South Coast. Headed up by certifiable madman Ryan Mattick, the brand is all about pushing boundaries, whether they be those surrounding the coldest of waters, surf craft choices, good taste (Koots as a mermaid anyone?!?) or general common sense. Whilst that may leave those dragged along on the journey fearing for their lives, it does make for some phenomenal promotional trips, often exploring areas few have even seen, let alone surfed. Last November a small crew of locals, including Ray Collins, Morgan Hives and Ryan himself took off for Iceland to film No Country For Cold Men, featuring a surfer (Garrett Parkes), bodyboarder (James Kates) and kneeboarder (Chayne Simpson) in the same film, blurring the lines of some long-held prejudices and opening the way for a fresh take on the surf film concept. We dragged Ryan and (Jimmy) James out of the editing bay for five minutes to talk story and further prolong the finishing of the movie. Pro bodyboarder (and Jimmy's flatmate) Chris James joined in on the conversation, because, well, he likes coffee too...
Aaron: Let's start at the beginning, how did the concept come about?
Ryan: There was no concept really.
Jimmy: No Concept for Stupid Men!
No, there's more to the story; breaking down the craft barriers, discovering new waves...
Ryan: Jimbo and I have always just frothed out on the cold. I'm pretty much at the point in my life now where I won't go to a warm place ever. So the coldest place we could find that has real good waves is Iceland. We could've done Norway, we could've done anywhere. Iceland's been done, but it's not as cold as it should be. It looks really, really cold and there's a lot of cold stuff there, but with the way the gulf stream goes it's actually ok. If it were in the North Pacific it would be unsurfable. Plus you've got those crazy, volatile landscapes and you feel like you're going to die every day at some point! Jimmy actually did feel like he was going to die every day we were there…
Jimmy: ...most of the time while we were on the road!
Ryan: So Iceland was the location for the trip. I guess we're both passionate about booging and surfing and we needed a little bit of a throw-off and some absurdity, so the kneeboarding came in there. Chayne fully rips. I've seen him do some insane things on a kneelo! So we thought he would be a good addition to it, a good little balance.
Jimmy: If we were doing just a bodyboarding film we would have surfed a handful of times in a month but because we had a kneeboarder and a surfer we were able to go to points and keep active and show the different crafts and how they're good in different waves.
Ryan: I guess the contrast between the different crafts and what they're suited to. Jimmy still had a go on his boog in all those waves, sliding across the face!
Jimmy: I surfed the worst points. You're not going to see it on camera but I was out there every time!
Ryan: Or will you?
Jimmy: You don't want to see it on camera.
Ryan: It's going in there. (Much laughter)
Aaron: So who were the different surfers and what's the breakdown of craft?
Ryan: You've got Jimbo who's the booger, Garrett Parkes who's the surfer, and Chayne Simpson who's a world champ kneeboarder. Actually, he’s number two in the world.
Jimmy: Is he really?
Ryan: Yeah, he actually got beaten by Garrett's dad, who shapes his boards! Garrett's dad is a mad kneelo.
The guys pretty much didn't know each other before the trip, so we were kind of like, "Is this going to work? Are they going to get along?" Because they're pretty different people. You know, Garrett's a bit of a Byron Bay surf dude, Jimmy's a South Coast creative type and Chayno's just a firefighter that slides on his knees for fun, but everyone actually got along really, really well. Everyone put up with the other crafts' wanting to get their fix of their own salt.
Chris: Do you think it's a sign of the times? You know, you're seeing way more footage of bodyboarding around, so everyone’s more accepting...
Ryan: It's definitely getting more accepted. I reckon surfers are respecting bodyboarding a bit more in the right waves. I think more bodyboarders are surfing and actually getting into surfing and the whole surf scene as well, and the comp stuff too.
Jimmy: It’s all about practicality with the waves...
Ryan: Everything's moving to like a, "Let's bodyboard, who cares!" type of thing, where ten years ago there was a lot of close-mindedness. It's a good time for the next generation I reckon.
Chris: Do you reckon the landscape of Iceland is a big drawcard? In a way it's kind of a big, tropical island, and you guys can find waves in every condition.
Ryan: It is kind of that play on paradise really. 99% of the population wouldn't want to subject their bodies to that kind of thing. At the same time you've got perfect waves around you, but you have to put your body through some pretty gnarly things to get them.
Jimmy: And what better way to promote a wetsuit company? (Much laughter)
Ryan: I pretty much started making movies to fulfil that cold urge I had! But yeah, it is a bit of an antithesis to paradise in a way.
Jimmy: The endless winter.
Ryan: Yeah, because it is really cold. (Much laughter)
Jimmy: A big part of it is surfing someone no one’s surfed before and where you know no one's going to be surfing.
Ryan: Nothing makes you feel more alive than stumbling across a wave that probably no one's ever seen, in the most remote parts of the world. I didn’t even surf it and I felt alive just going out and finding it.
Aaron: I've seen some photos and heard some stories about you and the cold - no pants, no shoes…
Jimmy: He had these suede shoes and he'd get snow all over them and then as soon as he hopped in the car with the air con, the snow would melt and his shoes would be soaking wet. The whole trip he had wet shoes (much laughter) and probably the same socks or no socks the entire time, and he was just strutting around in thermals, no pants!
Ryan: So a lot of the time you're just driving right? I get super claustrophobic in cars. I can't even wear a jumper in a car, so I'd see something and just hop out in what I was wearing.
We had some pretty cold nights sleeping in the van. It got down to minus-fifteen. We had three minus-one sleeping bags each! I had this massive jacket on and so many layers and still couldn't get warm this one night.
Jimmy: We pretty much just had our eyes exposed. That one night, it was during the last week, we traded out our big camper for this little, tiny thing that just slept us both and we felt the roof and there was ice beads formed on the roof from our breath…
Ryan: Stalactites on the ceiling! (Much laughter)
We woke up in the morning and Jimmy went and surfed five hours straight by himself at this bombie. He surfed from the morning pretty much till dark, because the days are only about six hours long at that time of year.
Jimmy: We all got a group message from the Iceland government because there was toxic air from the volcano and asthmatics were warned.
Ryan: Both of us are asthmatic, we were both freaking out!
Jimmy: I felt weird that day.
Ryan: Your face was super-puffy that day I remember.
Jimmy: Super squishy face!
Ryan: There was this one day we were driving along ice roads, snow was coming down and it was super windy. We had to go through this pass and the Icelandic government has an app for you to check the conditions of the road and the app said it was impassable. It tells you how many people have driven the road in the past twenty-four hours as well and there hadn't been a single car.
So we punched on, we went a fair way, and we got to this one part, it was going to be going really high up with no rails or anything, like with a sheer drop off. We pulled back from that. It's probably a good thing too, it snowed real heavy later that arvo. People can die, cause if anything had happened, no one’s coming past and you can easily freeze to death in your car. That kind fuels you to keep going though - push it that little bit further.
One of the best things about Iceland is that they have these geothermal pools. In the summertime there's a lot of people hanging out, but in the winter there's no people. The things are closed down, but the heat's still running. So you can just go and chill in these pools and watch the northern lights and stuff. It'll be like minus-five outside and thirty-five in the pool. So that's one thing, you freeze yourself all day and then you find a pool and just sit in it.
We went to this one pool in the east actually and there was this volcano warning and it said don't go anywhere near this part, but there was a pool there so we had to! It was pitch black, you couldn't see a thing, and we all just stumbled across into this pool. There was a stream next to it and that's exactly where the lava would have flowed if it went off, and it could have just gone off at any point. So there was total darkness around us and we'd just hear these crazy, rushing sounds. It was pretty freaky. You don't sleep much in Iceland.
Jimmy: What fuelled where we were going was just checking the charts and seeing where we'd have swell and where it would be offshore pretty much, there wasn't really a plan.
Ryan: We circumnavigated the whole of the island pretty much.
Jimmy: There's a few little nooks we haven't checked yet.
Ryan: Yeah, there's three main parts that we haven't made it to.
Aaron: So do you think even just in Iceland there's still a lot more waves that haven't been explored?
Jimmy: Yeah, it just depends on swells, but with the fjords, if there's a big swell, at some point it's going to be offshore and have lines hitting certain parts.
Ryan: Even in the fjords sometimes if it's blowing onshore there will be some weird things with the wind and it will swirl around and be offshore as well.
Aaron: Is there a local surfing population there? Do they get out and explore much?
Ryan: There's a crew based in Reykjavik. There's probably about twenty guys that surf. They surf a bit, but the economy in Iceland is pretty messed up, so a lot of them have to work full-time jobs and don't get much chance to really explore. You know, they only have one or two days a week off to get out. So they normally go to the usual places. Occasionally they're able to get up north, but they just don't get the chance to travel and suss the whole island out, just because of the economy.
Aaron: I know you're pretty driven by the exploration. Do you think there's still a lot more cold water surf to be found? Obviously warm water is generally completely packed-out and overcrowded these days, do you think there's a lot more potential from these places?
Ryan: Oh yeah, there's still potential! I'm constantly looking at Google Maps, but it's hard though man, it's hard. There's heaps more out there. It's just cash and time. There's only certain times of year that you could even do it.
Aaron: Do you have plans to try and get to some of these places?
Ryan: Yeah for sure...
Jimmy: ...and to revisit some of these places when there's surf...
Ryan: We're definitely going to go back to Iceland again. We've been there twice now and towards the very end of last trip we found some world-class waves that we didn't get to surf. So we have to go back and do those.
Jimmy: There's some islands, some final frontiers...
Ryan: Yeah, there's some frontiers. I have three frontiers. There's one that's certain, but beyond Iceland there's the kind of frontiers that you need to get air-dropped into and stuff. It's dangerous as well. I mean, it's a little bit dangerous in Iceland...
Jimmy: We just need a huge corporate sponsor to fund it.
Ryan: Maybe Zion will be big enough soon and we'll be able to do it.
Aaron: Absolutely! So Zion obviously started out predominantly in the bodyboarding scene, but are now expanding further into the surf world...
Ryan: Yeah, we never wanted it to just be a bodyboard brand, that's so closed-minded. We have been stooped in booging, but we've always wanted it to be an all-around board-craft brand. We find stoke in any kind of wave-riding. Not just surfing, not just booging. In kneeboarding and surf mats and longboarding and stuff. We have respect for all kinds of wave-riding.
Jimmy: I probably should mention that Ryan used to be a pro-bodyboarder...
Ryan: ...a pretty bad one at that! (Much laughter) I can't even remember the last time I rode a boog. Nah, but we do get stoked off of anything really. Anything that's explorative, and riding waves and chasing cool stuff.
Jimmy: You definitely get your most stoke out of heavy waves though, let's face it.
Ryan: Yeah, I mean, a lot of the time we’re looking to find slabs. In the back of my mind when we went to Iceland I knew there was a lot of points. The geography there is made for points. There's so many there and I knew we'd find a lot more, but we were trying to find a slab really. We found one before, but we ended up finding a pretty sick slab that has potential to be world-class but we didn't get it on its day. We got it about six-foot, but I think it can hold double that and be a big wave slab.
Aaron: So in the meantime do you think you'll be able to get the movie finished in time for the premiere on Friday?
Jimmy: No. We're going to be cutting till the final minute when we press play, but that's alright, nothing new! At least we don't have to make DVD's, that's always a spanner in the works.
Aaron: What is the plan for release?
Ryan: We'll be releasing it online soon with the launch of our new website...
Jimmy: ...but come along to the Stoke Factory Friday night! We’re going to have a BBQ.
Ryan: Yeah, there's going to be a pig on the spit. We're going to have a full Icelandic feast.
Jimmy: And Jarred "Toadfish" Rebecchi from Neighbours is going to be USBJ'ing. So if you're into B-grade celebrities and B-grade music, and probably a B-grade film... (much laughter)
No Country For Cold Men premieres at 7pm this Friday, August 28 at The Stoke Factory, 101 Swan Street, Wollongong.