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Remembering Matt Kivlin (1929 - 2014)

Matt Kivlin


From The Encyclopedia Of Surfing
Elegant regularfoot surfer and surfboard-maker from Santa Monica, California; often cited as California's best wave-rider in the late 1940s and early '50s; creator of the slouched, knees-together, neatly synchronized "Malibu" surfing style. "He invented what I call performance cruising," next generation Malibu ace Kemp Aaberg said. "He was gentlemanly, and rode that way, without a lot of yahoo around it." Kivlin was born (1929) in San Antonio, Texas, and raised in Santa Monica. He began surfing in 1943, when lifeguard and four-time Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships winner Pete Peterson took the 14-year-old with him on a day trip to Palos Verdes Cove. Two years later, Kivlin and future big-wave rider Buzzy Trent began hitching rides to Malibu; they would sometimes get a lift with the Kohner family, whose diminutive youngest daughter Kathy would later show up at Malibu, where she was nicknamed "Gidget."

Kivlin visited Hawaii for the first time in 1947, and was impressed by the agile, close-to-the-curl riding style of Waikiki surfer Albert "Rabbit" Kekai. Back at Malibu, Kivlin, along with surfer/board-builder Joe Quigg, started designing and riding modified versions of Kekai's board -- narrower, thinner, and lighter than what the Malibu surfers had been riding -- and began to emulate Kekai's pronounced turns and active footwork. By the end of the decade, the 6'3" Kivlin had developed his own method, active but smooth, which would be directly copied by the next generation of Malibu surfers, including surf style icon Mickey Dora. In 1947, Kivlin made a pared-down 26-pound balsa board for his girlfriend that was lighter than any of the boards in use at the time. The "girl boards" -- Quigg had also made one for his girlfriend -- were soon in hot rotation among the Malibu men, who found them far easier to turn than their own boards; the upshot was the popular "Malibu chip" design. Kivlin and Quigg also developed the first narrow-based raked-back-surfboard fin, a design that inexplicably went ignored until the mid-'60s.

Steve Pezman on Matt
Matt Kivlin’s Californian and Hawaiian peers respected him as the best California surfer of the postwar ‘40s into the 1950s. Many point to him as the originator of the classical California point style: riding small, perfectly peeling waves with knees and ankles together and slightly flexed, torso upright, arms gracefully spread low and balanced, slotted deep, in perfect trim and control.

Kivlin built boards for that type of surfing, thin-railed blades with speedy pointed outlines-boards foam impresario Gordon Clark regards as being closely related to the modern equipment of today, but over fifty years ago! All surfing that followed Kivlin was either directly or indirectly influenced by his approach.

The MSA Surfer Award
The MSA Surfer Award is presented annually to a surfer who has made contributions to the sport and to surfing at Malibu. The Award is meant to acknowledge great surfing, whether at First Point, Third Point, or places in between and is MSA's highest honor for surfing. The 2009 MSA Surfer Award was presented to Matt. Through a number of important designs, he forged a critical link in post-WWII surfboard evolution and help set the stage for what became, at that time, the modern surfboard. The MSA Surfer Award has been co-presented with the Surfing Heritage Foundation.

2011: Founding members of the Malibu Surfing Assoc. (50th anniversary)
2010: Kemp and Denny Aaberg
2009: Matt Kivlin
2008: Lance Carson
2007: Allen Sarlo

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