Meeting Meola at the "Innersection"

Matt Meola is the man of the hour this morning. Jason Kenworthy

Matt Meola went from underground Maui shredder to international surf star overnight by winning Taylor Steele's inaugural Innersection free surf contest. The 21-year-old from Haiku, Maui was awarded $100,000 for the video victory, narrowly beating out young Aussie, Craig Anderson.

Legendary filmmaker, Taylor Steele, changed the way we see surfing yet again in 2010 with his Innersection platform. After countless feature films, Steele innitiated a website wherein surfer/filmmaker teams submitted segments to be voted on by the general public. The five highest rated sections became "Innersection Blue." Takingit a step further, folks who bought the DVD could vote on thier overall favorite segment. The award was granted last night (March 2) at the Kommune Resort and Beach Club on Australia's Gold Coast. And as you read this, Meola is being hit up by every surf publication and web site out there. His name is on the tip of the surf industry's collective tongue, but ESPN was fortunate to talk to groggy, and possibly hungover, Matt Meola the morning after the awards banquet.

ESPN: Congratulations, Matt. How did it feel to win Innersection?
Matt Meola: Thanks, man. I'm pretty baffled. It was more of a relief. I got called on stage. It was between me and Craig Anderson, and we got called up there. I knew it was going to be one of us and my heart was just pounding. When they finally said my name it was more of a relief than anything. It felt so good. It's kind of hard to explain, too.

What was the most challenging part of putting together an Innersection segment?
Getting good waves and clips is the challenging part because you have to do quite a bit of traveling and it's hard to get a lot of A-grade stuff. You have to be on it filming and you have to be surfing everyday and that's the most challenging part. Working with Elliot (Leboe) and putting the section together is a lot of fun. I'm not really doing the editing. I'm just sitting there and watching him, but it's more of a fun project.

Besides winning, what was your favorite part of this experience?
This whole experience has been pretty great. Before Innersection, I wasn't really out there. To me, I just felt like I was just some surfer from Maui. This whole project turned me into somebody. Now my name is a lot bigger in the whole industry so that's been huge.

Last year, you changed sponsors in the middle of filming for Innersection. How gnarly was that?
O'Neill wasn't really going to do much for me. They actually paid for my two trips to go film for it. Right after those trips, I got the offer from Oxbow and it was so much better and so much more my style. I talked to O'Neill and they kind of just let it happen so all the lifestyle filming I had to use all Oxbow stuff and it was right when everything was changing. I'm pretty sure almost all of the surfing footage when I was still with O'Neill, but we had to do all the lifestyle with Oxbow.

Since you mentioned the lifestyle shots, how much of a factor do you think the B-roll plays in a successful surf segment?
I think every surf part needs a little lifestyle to keep it interesting with a little theme, but in the end I think it comes down to the best surfing. People could probably care less about the lifestyle if they're watching the part. I mean it makes it look interesting, but it all comes down to the surfing.

So after "Innersection Blue" was released what did you do to get people to vote for your section?
There were quite a few Facebook posts that I would be like, 'hey go out and buy the DVD and voter for me.' I had a lot of good friends that would do the same thing on Facebook. My mom was super supportive and she got all her friends to vote. Facebook is a huge help because it's pretty much free advertising, so we used it to our advantage.

Who picked Alice In Videoland's "We are Rebels" for your section's song?
It was so funny because (Elliot Leboe and I) were having so much trouble deciding what song to use. The day I went to go sit down at Elliot's to start putting everything together, he had a couple of songs on his computer. The first one he clicked on to see how it felt with the surfing was the one we used. It's weird. We didn't have it edited to it. We just had a bunch of clips and he just put the song over it to see how it felt and just right away we knew that was the one.

So is that song you're ringtone now?
I got the normal AT&T ringtone. After two weeks of hearing that song over and over again working with Elliot it became my least favorite song in the world.

It seems like you get pegged as a small wave/air guy, but we've seen footage of you towing-in to massive Jaws.
The Innersection project didn't allow any tow-in surfing. I was all bummed because I thought it would make my part a lot more well-rounded, but they didn't allow any tow-in stuff. The small wave stuff is more of my thing, and I'd say I'm better at it. A lot of my friends are super gnarly big wave guys so hanging out with them I end up getting dragged out there (to Peahi) and doing that, too. So I'm lucky I got my friends to keep me well rounded.

The world is your oyster at the moment so what's your plans for the rest of the year?
For the next month or so I'll be rehabbing my knee that I injured about 10 weeks ago. I'll be at Upcountry Fitness in Haiku, Maui -- it's a super good gym and they've got some good trainers there that are helping me out. As soon as I can get back in the water there's a trip to the Mentawais with Surfing Magazine that I've got planned. I'm going to be collecting as much footage and going on as many trips as possible.

So what are you going to do with the $100,000 Innersection prize?
That's what everybody has been asking me. My life goal is to own a house and property in Haiku, so I'll probably save some and start working on that. I'm thinking about buying a jet ski because my tow partner's ski is pretty trashed right now and not really working. Other than that, throw a couple of pretty good parties and that's about it.

What's your next video move? Another Innersection part? A bio surf flick?
Right now, Oxbow is working on a movie and I have to be filming for a part and I'm pretty bummed out. Because of my injury, I haven't been able to get much work done. So as soon as I'm better I'm trying to put a part together for them. If I get enough footage and have enough time, I'm going to try to make another Innersection part probably. But, I think getting the Oxbow part done is going to be a lot of work because I don't like to put anything out there that's not A-grade. It takes a lot of time to gather a lot of good clips.