Matt Atkinson of Lost Boy Creations became a builder out of necessity: the surf shack he was renting above the breaks in St. John was missing a kitchen table. Atkinson got to work crafting one and the process brought something alive in him. Fast forward, and his shop on Petronia Street in Key West is something like accidental destiny. In St. John, Atkinson began apprenticing with local master boatbuilder, Jamison Witbeck of Kekoa Sailing and Charters in Cruz Bay, learning the trade firsthand. In a bit of prophetic carpentry, the two collaborated on a Neverland-esque tree house compound on the island, using found materials and felled trees.

The freewheeling lifestyle of St. John became the basis for what would become the Lost Boy brand.

“It’s something my mom called my friends and me in St. John,” said Atkinson. “We never wanted to grow up. When there was wind we sailed, if it was clear and calm we dove, when there were waves we surfed, when the sun was shining we went to the beach, and when all else failed, we’d go to work.” For Atkinson, that work sharpened his skills as a carpenter and apparel designer. The avid surfer and paddleboarder began building boards in his home garage and selling his signature shirts and hats from the trunk of his car. Plans were underway for Atkinson to open a St. John storefront when the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017. “We lost everything in the storm. The words total destruction were used.” In the wake, Atkinson and his girlfriend Lyndsey made their way to Key West.

What began as temporary has become something more permanent for Atkinson, who opened his Petronia Street shop last October.

 - A man standing in front of a door - 2018 Fantasy Fest
Matt Atkinson and a custom board outside of his Petronia Street storefront
Debi Hindsley/Contributed

“I stumbled across the place on Key West Yard Sale. It needed work, but I thought of Young Frankenstein; ‘a little paint, a few flowers, a couple of throw pillows…’” remembers Atkinson. The newly renovated space, once the workshop of acclaimed carpenter Rudy Prazen, is part of a larger history of craftsmen in the Keys. “I’m holding onto that tiny piece of ‘old conch.’ It’s amazing to inherit this space and that tradition,” said Atkinson, who incorporates local, repurposed wood in each of his boards, including Cuban Mahogany felled during Irma. “Every piece has its own story whether it came from United Street or someone’s backyard. The same storm that brought me here, brought me this opportunity. I’ve been working with Jimmy Wray, a renowned Stock Island woodworker, to make sure that these beautiful trees don’t wind up in a debris pile”

It takes Atkinson roughly 100 hours to make a single paddle board and a week to complete a surfboard. He likens the experience of board building to surfing itself. “When you’re riding waves you’re always trying to improve yourself and in woodworking I do the same thing; I solve a problem, learn from it and the next time I try, hopefully it happens naturally.”

Having his workshop within the Lost Boy retail space was important for Atkinson. “People get that intimate feeling when they come in the shop and see a board being built. They can’t always take a board home, but they can take a hat or t-shirt. It creates a connection.” That connection can be felt as far afield as the West Coast. Atkinson, a Dave Matthews Band devotee creates a limited addition hat for the band’s annual August show at the Gorge Ampitheatre. What began as a way to honor the band and the iconic venue has become something of a cult collectors item, even DMB bassist Stefan Lessard has been known to rock one of Atkinson’s hats on stage. “It’s wild to see thousands of people wearing your hat. It’s turned into a whole new demographic in the Pacific Northwest that would otherwise never know about a surf company in the Caribbean. More importantly that concept has led me into making limited run hats for our family here in Key West.”

Although Lost Boy Creations is primarily a one-man operation, Atkinson routinely uses “we” to describe the brand and its journey. “A logo is only as good as what is behind it, and behind this logo is a way of life. We’re in this together. So many people that do incredible things associate themselves with this project. Whether it’s hanging out in the shop, having a beer, I need hands. I’ve been given so much and that collective support is the ‘we’ to me.”

In honor of that support and in celebration of his shop’s one-year anniversary, Atkinson will be hosting a weekend concert in the back garden of the Petronia Street storefront. Coinciding with the Goombay Festival, local favorite Chris Toler will kick off the festivities Friday Oct. 18th at 3 p.m. with performances by DJ Mackswell and Sol to follow. The revelry continues Saturday afternoon with performances by Ike Kanakanui and Miami’s own Xperimento. Free admission, cash bar, all lost are welcome.

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Matt Atkinson crafts a custom board in his Petronia Street workshop
Debi Hindsley/Contributed

1. Full Name? Nickname
Matthew Atkinson, “Matty.”

2. What is your astrological sign and do you match the description?
I’m a Virgo. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if I act like a Virgo, but most people say I’m a Virgo to a T!

3. Do you have a life credo or motto?
Well, I think the motto for Lost Boy Creations most accurately fits my life credo: “Live like a lost boy!”

4. What is your greatest fear?
Failure… that and spiders. Those eight-legged freaks move too quick for me, and they’re sneaky.

5. What’s on your bucket list?  
I’d love to do a thru-hike. I’ve had opportunities to do portions of all three triple crown hikes, but never have been able to.

6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
“It’s not where, but who you’re with that really matters.” Traveling with my family and friends to adventure destinations.

7. Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?  
I’m an introverted extrovert haha. I love to be out and about, but certainly need my quiet time.

8. Which TV, movie or super hero character is your alter ego?
Indiana Jones. He’s the ultimate adventurer!

9. What would your last meal be and who would cook it?
Any pasta dish, and it’s gotta be my father who makes it.

10. What is your greatest extravagance?
Travel, for surf or music. I have no self-control in that regard.

11. If invisible what would you do?
Get on stage at every concert I go to. Feel what it’s like to be a rockstar.

12. What landscape do you find most inspiration in or around?
The mountains. Alaska is one of my favorite places in the world.

13. Favorite guilty pleasure?

14. What is your most marked characteristic?  
Being tall—for years I was referred to as “Tall Matt.”

15. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, who or what would it be?
A shark

16. Lunch with one famous person, who would you choose?  
I have yet to be able to answer that since Steve Irwin perished.
Finish these sentences…

17. My perfect day in Key West would be …
a morning of Fly fishing on the flats then some drinks and dinner for sound check with my girlfriend.

18. My autobiography would be titled…
“Making something from nothing, an island life.”

19. I can never refuse…
an invitation to play golf.

20. When I go, I will go ….
having left it all on the table… except for the secret location to a buried treasure. That’s coming to the grave with me.

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REDA WIGLE is a middle child and Taurus Fire Tiger named after a stigmatic saint. She divides her time and affections between New Orleans and Key West.