One of the beautiful things about surfing is the community it has created. People from every imaginable walk of life enjoy that feeling of perfect harmony between foam and salt water. No matter the conditions, there will be people out chasing that euphoria only a good wave can provide. And good waves exist everywhere—though we mostly only see the conditions of southern California and far-off tropical breaks plastered across our phone screens, surfing has become popular all over, even in chillier waters.
Matthew Wigglesworth, a surfer and artist from the South Wales coast in the UK, braves these chilly waters on the daily. Wigglesworth’s unique style is a product of his experiences and the environment around him, depicting figures skating about or catching a quick wave. His use of neutral colors, while not flashy, is easy on the eyes and brings about a sense of relaxation culture familiar to us all, but particularly to the UK.
Keep reading for our recent interview with the artist + surfer...
Where were you born?
I was born in England, UK. I grew up in a small farming community in the country.
How did you get introduced to surfing culture and what was your earliest memory of surfing?
My parents would take my brother & I traveling around Europe every summer and we always ended up at some beach or another. I remember seeing surf and my dad would take us out in it on his shoulders. I think my love for the sea started in those early years. But it wasn't until I was about 18 that I got properly introduced to surfing. There were no surf shops in my town and no one I knew surfed, so it wasn't really on my mind until a friend bought me a surf magazine from his holiday in Cornwall. I was mesmerized by the surf pics and lifestyle and devoured the magazine night and day, it was the first I’d ever seen. I think that’s when I first felt surf stoke haha. The surf culture seemed to resonate with me though, it was a revelation of a new life. At the earliest opportunity I went to Cornwall looking for real surfers and real waves haha. I ended up in Newquay, Cornwall. I was awestruck; there were skaters and surfers and surf shops everywhere. I just felt so at home with it all. The next day I got a kook board and wetsuit and hit Fistral beach on a red flag don't go out day. I didn't know what was safe and what wasn't back then. I almost drowned a few times that day. But I didn't give up. The next day was about 5ft+ and clean and sunny. I didn't realize at the time how good those conditions were for the UK. One wave later and the rest is history.
Where is your local spot?
I live in Wales at the moment, which has many uncrowded places to surf within a short distance from my home. So for me, it depends on what the conditions are like and that determines where I surf. If I want to be alone, I can just drive down the coast, find a bay with no shops or houses, or even people, and just get in the water and get surrounded by the sea and nature. Mainly though, for a quick and dirty surf, I go to Aberavon, an industrial area. It used to have one of the best waves in the country until the local council built a pier on it for the shipping lane. However, it still has one of the best lefts in Wales, which is good enough for me haha.
How is the surf scene in the UK?
In my travels around the world, people often ask if there’s any surf in the UK. I just laugh because actually, it's really good and not unlike many places I've surfed. Each area has it’s own scene and history according to local history. I remember talking to this guy at Whitesand’s Bay, Pembrokeshire, Wales. He starts telling me the history of wetsuits in the area. How this guy’s Mum used to make them for the local boys, awesome. There are a lot of cottage industries and surf start ups going on. It’s getting better. There is so much undiscovered talent in and out of the water in the UK. One day I want to document it, as it’s so unpublished. The winter time in the UK is another story. You’d be hard pressed to find more hardy surfers in the world. Winter delivers the best swells, but of course, it’s cold. I mean no-balls-left cold.
How has growing up in the UK shaped your view of surfing?
You always appreciate a swell. Like you hit it every time and never take it for granted. Often the conversation goes like, better to get wet haha, because it’s not always good, but you go out anyway. Lots of British surfers travel in the winter to warmer climates. France, Portugal and the Canary Islands are popular destinations. So we get our fixes of decent warm water waves. Generally though, I think the UK doesn't get too much coverage, probably because it’s so cold and fickle. I’ve surfed California in the winter. I stayed with some friends in San Clemente and went out to Lowers in December. I wore a 3mm wetsuit, no boots, no gloves, no hood. I was loving it; it was like our summer. So surfing in the UK, you just get on with it, get in the water, surf when it’s cold or dark, whatever. But it’s quite limited. I mean, having traveled around the world, I’ve seen and surfed some of the best breaks. I’m always in a surreal state coming from the UK. Like we see these places in the magazines and movies, so when you get to surf them, your stoke goes through the roof. I’m blessed to have traveled so much and that’s helped. Generally though, surfers are just one big tribe of people in the world, so you end up fitting in wherever you surf.
When did you get interested in making art?
A lot of soul searching. I spent years trying to rediscover who I was in this world and how I fit into it work wise. Sounds weird, but I had a dream that spun my life around. It went from there. The dream opened my vision to what I really love, which was being an artist. I’ve always loved art; even as a kid, all I really did was draw. So it was just such a stoke to find my vibe again. It wasn't easy though, It took years upon years. At the beginning of this year, I made it my life's work to be an artist and work creatively.
And, who are your influences in art, surfing and life?
So my wife Sara is totally worth a mention. She is Australian and very laid back. In the winter of 2001, we moved to Idaho for a few years. First thing I bought was a loo roll and a snowboard, before we even got a bed. She never batted an eyelid. Sara is amazing. So many good surfers and artists out there and I wouldn't want to miss any. Ryan Lovelace, Josh Rufford, Matt Allen, Andy Davis, Beau Young, Michel Junod, Ryan Tatar, Anna Ehrgott, Mark Conlan, Robin Lanei - her art is so funny, Jack Coleman, Russ Pope, Nathaniel Russell, Joel Tudor, Alex Knost, Danny Hess, Ty Williams, Nathan Oldfield, Tyler Warren, Yusuke Hanai, Thomas Bexon, Adrian Knott, Barry McGee, Joe Vickers, My folks and family, Jesus. Sorry if I missed you, it wasn't on purpose. Shall I go on?
What medium do you prefer to work with- digital or paint?
I do both. I normally take a sketchbook out with me in case I see something that inspires me, especially when I travel. I just find a place to sit and doodle. Mainly I work digitally though. I love the process and flexibility of it. Plus, I get a lot of digital commissions now, so it just makes sense.
I read in your interview with Liquid Salt that you left the corporate world. What was your corporate job and the deciding moment to walk away?
I worked for a finance company as a design director. I would sit in expensive hotel conference rooms and office boardrooms. Businessmen would be wearing their expensive suits and shiny shoes and were so stiff and square. I felt lost and trapped in a weird world that I didn't fit into. Conversations drove me nuts. I'd turn up in jeans and desert boots; my boss always rolled his eyes haha. I just remember the greed for money and stuff like that. It was so boring. I’d just sit and daydream about surfing or some other activity.
I remember sitting in the Ritz Hotel, London, in yet another meeting. All this money people had and they wanted more and more. I just saw greed and they just didn't have any depth to their lives or visions for anything other than just money or what it could buy. It made me feel sick inside. I got up to grab a bottle of water and some waiter dude in white gloves wouldn't let me. He had to serve me what I wanted. I just grabbed it anyway and walked off. Haven't looked back.
Have you regretted it?