Matt Keenan, member of the REAL International Surf Team, recently won the 3rd annual Dean Randazzo Freeze for a Cause Benefit surf contest in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Matt is known for both his talent on the water and also for giving back to the sport. Matt’s willingness to give his time to help kids get into the sport, and better their surfing careers, make him a great surf ambassador.
We caught up with Matt right after his victory at the Randazzo benefit. For a man on a mission, constantly living through his Blackberry in between flights, here’s what we found out:
Hey Matt, looks like even though it’s been snowing every week in New Jersey, you’re still getting wet and getting out there. What’s it like surfing all winter in NJ?
“This winter was crazy. It was the snowiest winter ever and also the coldest water I've seen in at least the last five years. It got down to 35degree water temp and it just chapped your lips it was so cold. I love surfing so much, so I'm on it no matter what. Just lucky that I can suit up in my house and ride up 5 blocks, surf, then ride home and take my suit off in the hot shower. Its not really as crazy as people think because the suits have gotten so much better as well.”
What’s your secret to success in cold water? Some people look at those cold weather photos and say “No thanks”. How do you gear up and get motivated for 33 degree water with snow on the ground?
“Like I said, I'm really lucky to live super close to my favorite spot so I get changed in my house where its nice and warm, then take my suit off in the hot shower. The bike ride back sucks, but its so worth it. I've been getting some of the best tubes here in town this year. We've had some great swells and our beaches are getting pumped so it’s been steep, thick and hollow. The real secret it just having passion for surfing and when there's surf you just gotta do it. It makes a big difference if you have been surfing all winter as opposed to just waiting till it warms up. That's the big secret, just get into it!”
New Jersey’s been getting a lot of coverage lately. Not only regionally, but nationally for some serious barrels and quality winter surf. Who do you think are the top surfers in NJ on a daily basis out there?
“NJ is really a great place to live. We've got a lot of great surfers. Down south the crew I surf with is Rob and Chris Kelly, Andrew Gesler, KR, Jamie Moran and the rest of the OC groms (Ocean City). Up north there's a great crew of Sam Hammer, Mike Gleason and up and commers like PJ Raia and Pat Schmidt. There's really no shortage of talent coming out of here and it's awesome to see.”
Tell us about the Dean Randazzo benefit contest. For those who don’t know, who is Dean Randazzo and what type of comp is this?
“Dean is our version of god. Grew up here and moved out west. He ripped, made the tour and was just this incredible talent and I wanted to be just like him. This contest is one of three benefits they do to raise money for the foundation. We have the Freeze for a Cause, Golf for a Cause , and Surf for a Cause. We just get together and support the cause and try to raise money. The foundation really does a lot of amazing things and they helped my family out this year with my sister’s husband who had cancer.”
Coming off the cold beach that day I bet the awards party was a warm one. Any local NJ cooking or legendary hangouts associated with this story?
“Sam Hammer's family has a restaurant up there by the contest in Lavellete called, The Crab's Claw and they hosted the after party. They have awesome food, great drinks, and the best vibe.”
You’ve been hitting the flights down to Puerto Rico this Winter quite a bit. Swell chasing or ulterior motives?
“Just trying to keep busy, get some photos, some video and surf some heats. There's no better time to get out of the northeast then when its dumping snow and cold. Also, I was trying to get as tan as Trip's neck after 3 weeks in the islands, but it was a futile attempt. I wasn't even close! Ha!”
Tests confirmed you are a carrier of the kiteboarding virus (K1B1). Can you tell us your condition and long-term prognosis?
“I've actually been given no chance of recovering. It's a total death sentence. I love it so much it actually tortures me at times. K1B1 is so painful at times, so humbling and so contagious. My wife has recently been diagnosed with it as well and her treatment is one prescription of the zero to hero treatment. It's a 3-day treatment that is really the only known one in the world.
On a serious note though, I’m just freaking obsessed over it. Wish there was wind everyday because I'd be on it. I've only been kiting a few months and not really a lot in those months because of traveling and such. It’s my new obsession. I can't wait to kite every chance I get!”
After spending time “inside” the sport of kiteboarding, what is it that you like and what would you like to see go away?
“I'm not really sure anything needs to go away because I'm so new I really don't know anything. I just love the speed you can carry, the positions you can get into on the waves and I love long down winders just cruising in and out. I'm so determined to get to the point where I can ride my surfboards with no straps and just tee off on lips and ride the waves. Actually the only thing that might need to go is all the guys wearing their trunks over full suits. So weird to me, haha!”
Tell us about the surf comp you just went down to in Rincon, PR. How were the conditions?
“The conditions were fun, but super difficult with a lot of wind and current. You had to pick the right ones or you were stuck behind or they shouldered out.”
What are your boards looking like lately. Any super short sticks in your quiver? What do you see as the benefits of going shorter?
“I ride Sharp Eyes and have for a really long time. The boards just keep getting more and more refined. Higher performance, more sensitive and lighter, seem to be the biggest things I see. Guys are dropping an inch or two off of what they were riding. They fit better in the pocket and also allow for the high performance turns and airs. You see a lot of guys also riding a few different versions of really short boards and it’s just something really fun to ride. I've got this magic 5'4 Sharp Eye called the Disco. It’s just a shortboard outline with a wide tail and fuller nose. Works so well backside in the pocket and in the barrel. It was my favorite board to ride at Middles my last trip down.”
What are your plans for 2010?
“Just to surf as many events as I can, get some really good photos and video and learn to stay upwind, ride my surfboard and have less kitemares. I know everyone has them, but I'm just the king. I averaged between four and six a session with the REAL crew a few weeks back in Puerto Rico, haha. I'm never giving up though.”