43 years old, hailing from Manchester, England, a surfer/skater/snowboarder, Matt Barr grew up under the influence of the side-stance—and, as he explains below, California. He started his podcast, Looking Sideways, three years ago. He has since done over 120 episodes, featuring many of the monsters of the boardsporting world.
Matt is an excellent conversationalist. I know this firsthand. I was a guest on Looking Sideways last year when we chatted amid the charred remains of my recently-burned-to-the-ground house. Matt and his good friend Owen Tozer (ace photographer) were doing a sort of Californian pilgrimage, on which they visited the people and places that loomed large in their side-stanced upbringings—Herbie Fletcher, Jamie Thomas, Mammoth, Black’s Beach, etc.
Matt and I spoke via phone, as so many of us do these days. We did not mention the C word—there’s enough of it in the news. Here’s our conversation, mildly edited for your enjoyment. (Hope you’re all safe and healthy out there. And thanks for tuning in.)
All photos by Owen Tozer.
How did Looking Sideways begin?
Three or four years ago I was listening to Marc Maron, all the usual suspects, and I thought, “I could do that.” So I lined up a couple of guests before I could back out of it, gave myself a deadline, put pressure on myself to just do it really, and yeah, kind of went from there.
Do you feel your skills as an interviewer have improved over time?
I’ve been working in action sports over here in Europe for 25 years now, and I’ve been a journalist all that time. I never once thought, “Am I a good interviewer? Am I good at this?” But one of the most gratifying aspects of the whole thing was the fact that when I released the podcast a couple of people were like, “Ah, you’re really good at this.” And listeners started to get in touch and comment on the fact that apparently I was good. It was just something that I never, ever considered. So that gave me a bit confidence because initially I was a bit worried about how it’s going to go down, and whether the people were going to be annoyed with my voice, because I go quite geeky. So the answer to your question really is: I don’t think I’ve gotten any better. I think I’ve just gotten a bit more confidence and trust myself a little bit more now to not worry about it.
Do you have a favorite episode that you’ve done?
I did one with Jamie Thomas which is still probably the most listened to. The fun part for me is the physical experience of having the conversations. That is a privilege, and it’s brilliant every time. And on this occasion, within five minutes, I was like, Wow, this is brilliant, he’s trusting me, and I think we both enjoyed that experience. I also knew with a sort of journalist hat on that it was a good story, and the reaction proved that. People very much responded to it, and a lot of the skate mags posted about it, and I got a bit of acceptance in that culture. What else? I did a good one early on with Alex Honnold, of “Free Solo.” He was just a lovely, lovely guy. Craig Peterson and Kevin Naughton I really enjoyed—the two surf travel legends. I’ve loved that story since I was 16, so to get to interview them last year was a really nice moment because I was like, Yeah, this is brilliant, this is exactly why I want to be doing this—to meet my heroes and also help them get their stories out there.
How was your trip to California last year?
It was probably the first time I fully appreciated the impact that that tiny part of the world has had on me personally, but also this culture in general. Which is a ludicrous thing, because I’ve based my life around it. But from where I came from we didn’t grow up with that surf/skate/snow culture. We didn’t have that. We had to glean it from magazines and videos, and we had to find the clues where we could. And over here, as you know, we created for ourselves a sort of British version of action sports culture, and then this European version of it. But it’s all basically aping what happened in California. So it was a real nice moment of synchronicity really, a kind of final piece of the puzzle, to go there and finally see it not from a video but firsthand. It was a nice bit of unfinished business, let’s put it that way.