Michael Kew is a native California freelance writer, photographer, and filmmaker. Kew has been published extensively in many surfing and international travel magazines, newspapers, websites, films, and books and is the associate editor of Slide Magazine. His recent book “Crossings” is a compilation of Kew’s travel tales from 2001 to 2011.
What was your childhood like?
Nature consumed and shaped me. I was a loner who found the outdoors to be my best friend. Born in downtown San Diego, I grew up in a quiet, then-rural part of Encinitas (three miles straight inland from Swami’s), with dirt roads, horses, cacti, coyotes, raptors, rattlesnakes, peace, mud and dust—it was an ideal environment for a budding brain. Before I started surfing seriously, I wanted to be a truck driver, a heavy machinery operator, a logger, a farmer, and I wanted to live in the Midwest or in the mountains somewhere, a bucolic countryside. I didn’t really care or think about the ocean or beach.
My father was a surfer (he grew up on Point Loma), though, so he’d drag me to Cardiff Reef when I was a tot. My mom said I used to try to eat sand and pebbles on the beach there, probably not the most sanitary thing based on the estuary’s water quality.
I have vague, early-life memories of bodyboarding at Ponto in Carlsbad, George’s in Cardiff, Moonlight Beach in Encinitas—I probably was about 5 years old. 1980, 1981.
I don’t really recall how or why I became interested in actually surfing, but influence may have come from the Montgomerys (our family friends) up in Montecito. Brian, Mike, and Scott were team riders on Channel Islands Surfboards, and Bruce, their dad, was Tom Curren’s stockbroker. They got discounted boards from Al Merrick. I remember Scott giving me some of his old copies of Surfer magazine. That’s likely what really whetted my appetite for surf-sliding. That and The Endless Summer, the first surf film I saw.
When did you get your first surfboard?
Not until I was 11 years old, on my birthday in August 1986. It was a 6’0” Surfboards Hawaii, rounded-squash tail, double wing, thruster, brown pigment, found in the used-boards rack in the old Sunset Surfboards shop near Swami’s. Really wish I still had that board.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
It was at my friend Chuck Wilson’s birthday party at George’s in Cardiff on July 6, 1986. I borrowed my friend Mike Paeske’s board, a Pocket Pistol, and somehow stood up on my very first wave, which was whitewash, so it wasn’t a “wave” in the authentic sense. It was small and on the inside, but it was an organic connection. I felt like I’d really found what I wanted to do forever.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a child?
Besides my family, in the surfing world, my idols were mostly older guys from the Encinitas world—John Glomb, Tag Gasparian, Doug Silva, Trevor Christ, Brad Gerlach, Joey Buran, Sonny Miller, Lonny Brothers, Chris Craven. Also the older locals at Swami’s. I got most of my custom boards from Gary McNabb (Nectar Surfboards), so it was that whole crew who served as inspiration. I was also a mega fan of Matt Archbold and Christian Fletcher.
Who/What inspired you to begin writing?
That I cannot pinpoint as it just evolved innately. We didn’t really have TV, so, as a kid, I read books and magazines constantly. My mother was/is a serious reader and I think she passed that along. I take after her in the literary realm; my dad is much more of a numbers guy.
What story do you hope to tell when you write?
To engage, entertain, educate, affect. To place the reader inside the paragraphs and make them want to live there until the end.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
I can’t say any one place in particular as they all have stood out to me, otherwise I wouldn’t have visited them. Everywhere has its charms and blemishes. My favorite places are California, the Pacific Northwest (forests and rain), Indian Ocean islands (the steamy tropicality of Seychelles, especially), the South/Central Pacific, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom (particularly the Scottish fringe).
Who/what inspires you?
Positive, humble people. Raw land. Storms. Cold, rocky coasts. Temperate rainforests. Palmy, sparkling tropical lagoons. Old things. Boats. Dirt. Achievers. Honesty. Soulful music. Sincerity. Gifted artists and writers. Stylish regularfooted surfers. Perfect right pointbreaks. A rare kind of woman.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Compassion and acceptance and understanding of most other people and of all animals. To not sweat the small stuff. To expand your mind. To respect Mother Nature and fellow men/women. That ignorance and myopia are cancers. To take nothing for granted. Each day (and night) is a gift. Humor and sarcasm are essential. Engage the long view and realize how small we all are, how we are here for such a short period of time, so we had better make the most of it.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
No, because every decision formed a result that has shaped me to be who I am today. I am very happy with who I am. I’m perpetually broke and would like to be making more money so I could afford to travel more, but that’s about it.
What are you most proud of?
My ability to live freely and happily from doing what I love most—surfing, traveling, loving, learning, and creating art.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing has made everything possible for me—an income, an outlet, a reason for travel, an education, a social network, an inspiration, healthy of mind, soul, and body. Surfing is my marrow. Brightly, it defines me to my core. Sometimes I wonder what I would be doing if I had never started surfing, or if I had grown up in Kansas or Kazakhstan. It’s weird to ponder. Sometimes, though, I feel enslaved by surfing and coastlines because I can sometimes never see myself living somewhere feasible that is truly affordable and rural, though this is highly subjective. Surfing also limits the types of places I travel to. I need wild water. I’d be stoked to visit places like Mongolia and Chad; luckily there is a lot of ocean on Earth.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Good physical and mental health. Positivity and optimism. Freedom. The unconditional love of my family, friends, and my two cats. Right points.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Independent shapers. Surfing doesn’t have one “path,” but it is great to have such open-mindedness in the ways we can ride waves. Never before have we had so many options available and easily attainable. Creative boardbuilders are our backbone.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
I don’t have a favorite board or a favorite surf spot because they are all so different from each other. My quiver is eclectic, ranging from a heavy 9’4” pig to a 4’11” finless asymmetrical. Since I live so close to it, I surf Rincon Point often, but Rincon is not my favorite wave. It’s the most convenient (a 45-second drive down Bates Road), and the best quality, but the crowd can really be a sharp buzz-kill most days. My truly favorite surf spots can’t be named here.
What’s your favorite meal?
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I only use my iPod if I am on a train or in an airplane, and it’s been a little while since I’ve done either. I rarely listen to music when I am at home since it’s so quiet here and that is very valuable to me. My van has a cassette deck, but I usually listen to talk radio or KCSB.
What are you most grateful for?
Family, love, freedom, home, humor, and good physical/mental health.
What’s next for Michael Kew?
I’m getting deeper into videography and editing movies—this is something I have always wanted to do, but technology has only recently made it possible. So I’m running with it. Photography and writing are my staples, however. Writing will always be my #1 passion. My first book, “Crossings,” a travel-story compilation, has just been published (for info, click on http://peathead.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-book-has-been-published-want-one.html). There are several exotic trips in the cards. I’d like to continue expanding my social and professional networks and participate in fresh, creative projects that will stand the test of time.