Built for Speed
Living on the south side of San Clemente, surrounded by blue skies and palm trees, is a guy once perceived by many to be the greatest surfer that ever walked the planet. After living in Hawaii for a number of years, Matt Archbold has returned to his original stomping grounds, trying to live a new life.
He isn’t living the drug and alcohol fueled, rock star type lifestyle that he once was known for. Archbold is a family man now. His wife Audrey and daughter Poppy, 6, live on a small street, where kids run in and out of their home, playing hide-and-seek or asking Matt various questions. He’s teaching some of these kids to surf as well.
“I’m just stoked how it’s gone from my younger years to now, I’m so much different. I’ve been married to the same girl for 17 years now,” Archbold said. “[I’m] more of a family man, I got all these neighborhood kids around and I have four kids of my own so … I’m really stoked at what I have become.”
Archbold still surfs every day, whether it be at Trestles or his favorite spot, T-Street, where he caught his first wave on a surfboard. He is still sponsored by RVCA and according to his longtime friend Charlie Fox, he is still the same person he has always been.
“He’s just a different guy, not a different person, he’s always been the same person, but just how he lives his life is completely different. He’s not living his life like a rock star anymore, staring at the end of life at the ripe age of 30,” Fox said. “He’s doin’ great now. He’s surfin’ with his kid all the time and livin’ a healthy life as opposed to weeks without sleep and everything else.”
Archbold previously lived on Oahu’s North Shore, after dropping out of San Clemente High School at 16 years of age to surf on the world tour. He says the move to Hawaii was very beneficial to him, because it improved his surfing abilities and kept him out of trouble.
“I was getting in a lot of trouble and stuff and I figured that I just needed to change, so one day I just grabbed a couple boards and a bag and just bailed,” Archbold said. “That was probably the best thing I ever did … because I just got so much experience [in Hawaii]and just felt really comfortable. It boosted my career up to a different level.”
When Archbold finally stopped surfing on the world tour, at the young age of 25, he says it was to focus on “free surfing,” a style he mastered and caused him to thrive as a pro. This style also got him recognized by many as an “innovator” and “pioneer” in the surfing community. Fox says if it hadn’t been for his troubles with substance abuse, he may have been the best ever.
“He was so good [at surfing]when we were in sixth grade, that I remember write-ups in magazines saying this guy’s gonna be the best in the world. He would’ve been, I really think he would’ve been, had his past been different,” Fox said. “He was so exciting to watch and just his personality … would be totally expressed in his surfing.”
Archbold’s mother, Nina Welch, says that “he was always a dare devil,” even as a child, describing that he would always want to climb out of his crib. She says that his rebellious attitude could have caused him to get addicted to a partying lifestyle.
“[Matt] did really well and then he got into the whole drug scene and the drinking and all that kind of stuff and he was kind of a rebel too,” Welch said. “He would just do his thing and he never really liked to follow rules.”
Moving back home ended Archbold’s wild lifestyle for good. He is now solely focused on being a father figure for Poppy and the other kids in his neighborhood. He says he always thought of San Clemente as home anyway and knew that he would eventually come back.
“San Clemente’s just home pretty much for me and a lot of my friends are here,” Archbold said. “It’s pretty much my roots, San Clemente is where I was raised … it’s a good place to grow up because you got a lot of different kinds of waves.”
Archbold just bought a home on an acre of land in the hills above San Clemente, another sign that he is ready to start a new chapter in his life. In addition, his oldest son Ford, 25, is taking after his dad, as he is currently surfing professionally in the World Surf League.
“He’s much more family-oriented now, which is just great. He’s gone through his trials and tribulations and I think he has become a better person for it, a great dad, husband, son and incredible surfer,” Welch said. “I’m very proud of him.”
Words by Nick Nenad
Photography by Art Brewer