Archbold, Matt


Regularfoot surfer from San Clemente, California; one of the sport's great natural talents, introduced in the mid-1980s as a bashful child prodigy, then evolving into a heavily tattooed and periodically self-destructive cult hero. The son of a banker, Archbold was born (1968) in Fontana, California, and raised in San Clemente. He began bodyboarding at age five; six years later, when he got his first surfboard, he proved to be a natural, able to do full turns and 360s in less than a month.

Archbold entered his first surf contest at 13 and finished second in the boys' division to future world pro tour star Brad Gerlach; in 1984, the 16-year-old Archbold won the juniors division of the United States Surfing Championships. He dropped out of school in ninth grade, turned pro, had some minor placings on the world tour in the mid- and late '80s, but lacked the aptitude and interest for formal competition.

By 1988, having turned his attention completely to free-surfing, Archbold had earned a reputation as one of the world's best aerialists, along with fellow San Clemente surfer Christian Fletcher—both were greatly influenced by aerial pioneer and world tour champion Martin Potter—but to categorize him as such was a disservice: in small- and mid-sized waves Archbold was simply one of the best in the world—fast, fluid, limber, and innovative, with superhuman balance and the quickest reflexes in the game. It was often said at the time that his raw talent was equal to that of three-time world champion Tom Curren. Future three-time world champion Andy Irons often cited Archbold as his greatest influence.

The monosyllabic Archbold was reserved by nature, but insatiably attracted to rock-and-roll excess. Dozens of top surfers began getting tattoos in the late '80s; Archbold started and didn't stop, and by the late '90s his torso, arms, legs, and neck were covered in inky flames, crowns, spiderwebs, and angels. His drinking and drug use kept pace. Archbold made surf world headlines in 1993, when he was given a six-month "work farm" prison sentence following a drunk driving arrest, his second such conviction, on top of a number of similar arrests. "I have a problem with drinking, and it gets me in trouble," Archbold told a surf journalist while serving his term at a state-run minimum security facility in El Toro, California. A childhood friend of Archbold's, interviewed for the 1998 surf video documentary Addiction: The Archy Story, agreed. "He's on the wagon, he's off the wagon. He doesn't care about the wagon. He'd break the wagon and put it on your tab if he could."

One of the sport's most photogenic surfers, Archbold has appeared in more than 50 surf movies and videos, including Amazing Surf Stories (1986), Surfers: The Movie (1990), Panama Red (1994), What's Really Goin' Wrong (1995), Voluptuous (1996), and Aloha from Hell (2000). Archy: Built for Speed, a surf video/biopic, was released in 2008. Ford Archbold, Matt's son, is a successful photo pro.