Surfing is one of those activities that is unquestionably cool. Even if they’ve never stepped foot in an ocean, let alone on a surfboard, you don’t meet many people who say, “Surfing is lame.” It just doesn’t happen. And despite the persistent stoner/slacker/surfer stereotypes that stretch from Jeff Spicoli to the “So pitted” guy, the individuals who participate in the certified cool activity of surfing are usually pretty cool themselves.
It should come as no surprise then that surfers with a creative bent tend to reside in equally creative environs. These habitats are chronicled in the new book from Indoek, Surf Shacks. Indoek is a creative playground for Matt Titone, who started the website as a surf blog in the late aughts. Titone is a principal in the creative agency Italic, where he has done work for clients such as Google and Reebok, and is a lifelong surfer who took up the sport as a teenager in coastal Delaware.
Surf Shacks started as a series on Indoek, but as the catalog of entries grew, Titone saw an opportunity to turn an online venture into something more tangible IRL. The book showcases 40 homes, ranging from vans to historic mid-century modern abodes. For his subjects, which include Playmate of the Year Brook Power, Titone is as much concerned with what they make as their boardriding skills. All of the people featured in the book are involved in some kind of creative pursuit and Titone believes that’s a big reason why their homes are so visually interesting.
We spoke with Titone about how he found the different places, the design features that unify them, and his own “surf shack.”
Where did the idea for this book come from?
We started the Surf Shack series on Indoek.com four years ago. The intention was always there to make this a great book. But without having any experience getting a book published, and since we didn’t have the content yet, the site was a good testing ground to roll out each feature as we photographed and interviewed [the subjects]. It happened over the course of four years. Indoek is kind of a passion project so every chapter in the book was something we shot on the weekend or on a vacation.
What is Indoek?
It’s a little bit of a long story. Indoek started with me and my friend Drew Innis about seven years ago. Drew was working on a surf film, and we were looking for ways to get investment for it. We had this idea to make a fake film production company and call it Indoek. We started a blog to show investors for the film that we had our finger on the pulse of surf culture. The film never got made but the blog kept going. It was just a fun way to catalog our interests. Then in 2012, I started a design studio called Italic with my other buddy Ron Thompson. At the same time Indoek was at a crossroads, a shit or get off the pot-type moment. I was like we have this design studio, maybe we can use Indoek as a client to help us get projects that we want.
Like a proof of concept?
Exactly. We use it in that way now. Surf Shacks is the perfect example. It started as a series on the site and the end product is a book. We also did the “27 Frames” series, where we mailed disposable cameras to different photographers that we liked and then published the rolls online and interviewed them. That was the online content but it culminated with a big group art show with all the photographers and 88 huge framed prints and we raised $15,000 for the Surfrider Foundation with a silent auction. The content starts on the site but we want to have it add up to a product or something that goes outside of the site.
How did you discover the homes featured in Surf Shacks? Were there people you wanted to feature or did one person refer you to the next, and so on?
It was 50/50. We still have a list of people that we want to go after. The surf community in general can be a little flaky. Things take a lot of time. Half of it has just been we meet somebody new and they want to introduce us to somebody else. It’s always a little awkward when you’re put in touch with random strangers and photograph their homes, which is the most intimate part of their lives. But that’s been the best part of the whole project: meeting all these new people with interesting jobs.
Were there any surprising discoveries?
I went on a trip to Japan and wasn’t even planning on shooting a Surf Shacks. My buddy Jake, who’s also in the book, is the DP (Director of Photography) for Vice. I knew that he had been over [to Japan] doing some stories for Vice. So I just asked him some cool stuff to do and he put me in touch with this woman Hiromi, who was at the time the CEO of Surfrider Foundation in Japan. She kept giving me recommendations over email and also was like come to Chiba and visit me. I was like, uh, that’s a little weird, but OK. I rearranged the trip and stayed at her place. I was blown away not only by her home but by the community she lives in. It was this weird Japanese hippie commune almost in the woods of Chiba, which I would never expect to find in japan. That was pretty cool. She had an awesome place and she’s a macrobiotic vegan chef. So she was always preparing these awesome meals.
What were some of the design themes that emerged among different homes as you started working on the book?
I’m not an interior designer and this isn’t an interior design book by any means. I think a lot of people have that misconception. I will say that reclaimed wood is very popular in surfer’s homes. There’s a lot of wood. For the most part, though, we’re going for diversity.
This book certainly will appeal to people who’ve never set foot on a surfboard. What is it about surfing and the surf lifestyle that people connect with so strongly?
Surfing will always be a cool thing. It’s an idealistic lifestyle—people living close to the beach, this conception of them being quote-unquote free spirits. Also, I think the fact that surfers are big travelers [is important]. A lot of the shots in the book, there’s all these sort of knick knacks and relics from everybody’s travels and personal items that define their character. Most of that stuff comes from exotic travels. Our niche is featuring creative people who surf. All these people are creatives first and surfers second. That makes their homes stand out. Whether they’re artists, photographers, directors, illustrators, or designers, they usually have some level of taste and that shows through with their homes.
What are some of the favorite design details you came across while working on this book?
I’m definitely a board geek. I geek out on people’s quivers for sure. My younger brother is an architect. So I geek out on architecture and design projects more because he’s so into those things. I love more of the DIY, smaller, simpler living homes. If I had to pick two it would be the first two chapters in the book. Jess and Malia’s place in Kauai is designed and built by Jay Nelson, who’s an awesome artist from the Bay area. It’s a really simple little cabin. They don’t have a lot of stuff in it, but the design of it is really cool. Then Randy Hild’s place is by a midcentury architect of the [Joseph] Eichler generation. It is just a classic California mid century modern home. I think those architectural features are the things that really excite me now more than anything.
Where do you live? Do you have your own surf shack?
I live in Mar Vista, which is right next to Venice. I’m originally from the East coast. I would say now my home does [qualify] because my architect brother was living with me and my wife. We had a two-car garage in the back, and he always wanted to do something different with it. He lived with us for a year and totally redid our garage and turned it into this beach cabin that’s two stories. It’s bigger than our actual house now and way nicer. It’s a really photogenic beach cabin. The intention was that he was going to move in but he got a sweet gig in New York. Now we’re Airbnb-ing it out, but we have our own Surf Shack now. It’s definitely been inspired by this project.