It's a Guy Thing

Chasing the Storm

An in-depth view of Matt Bromley’s world of big wave surfing

Images courtesy of Monster Energy

Matt Bromley’s movies; “Risky Business” and “Risky Ripples” testify to his unique ability to perform on huge and dangerous waves. Unforgettable footage shows him dancing on massive, rough, windy mountains of water with chop threatening to throw him off all the way down as he outruns the thunderous curl of monster waves.

Matt, who is also known as, “Bromdog,” has always been at home in the water. Before Matt could even swim, he was practicing his breath-hold, swimming around the bottom of the pool like a little tadpole. When the family moved to a beach house in Kommetjie, Cape Town, South Africa, he quickly abandoned other sports, and turned to competitive surfing.

Bromdog won three South African championships and captained the SA team to World Games on two occasions. Although he loved to compete, he lacked competitive fire, or at least his motivation was different. Competitions were all about high-performance surfing in smaller waves, whereas Matt loved the bigger stuff. 

At around the age of 16, he really started to find his passion in serious waves of consequence.

He started responding to a higher calling – the wild freedom and beauty of big and extreme wave surfing; chasing the biggest swell systems around the world. 

This new type of surfing required courage, split-second timing, wave judgment and understanding of the weather, ocean and tides, but most of all, it required the ability to constantly expose himself to situations beyond his comfort zone. 

With Monster Energy and Billabong on board, he has created numerous world-class video clips and films, and has taken on many of the biggest waves on the planet.

Whether big tubes at Pipeline in Hawaii or windy, freezing storm surf at Mullaghmore, Ireland or padding into the biggest wave recorded in tropical Indonesia, or riding one of the top 10 biggest waves ever paddled at Jaws, the most notorious big wave in the world, Matt is passionate about the steepest waves of consequence. 

Bromdog is recognized as one of the top exponents in the world of both big wave and “slab surfing.” In 2019 he featured on the list as an invitee for the Eddie Aikua Invitational in memory of the Hawaiian legend, at the famous Waimea Bay. The Eddie is the most prestigious surf event in the world with the coveted trophy being won by the likes of Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons and John John Florence.

All these accolades are cloaked by Matt’s humble demeanor and soft-spoken nature. You’d never know that behind his good manners and chilled-out attitude, is a gnarly man looking to slay some giant waves.

In Bromdogs Words     

I was never really good at chasing the ladies, partially because I was always chasing swells. At the age of 17, I had my first proper initiation to big wave surfing, out at Dungeons, South Africa. 

Everything about Dungeons is terrifying. The reef is just off Seal Island so you never know what’s swimming beneath you in the freezing cold waters, and then the take-off area, where a wave can break, is the size of 2 football fields. The raw, shifting, unpredictable peaks, make it one of the most feared waves in the world. I borrowed a board that was 10ft long, which felt more like a boat than anything else, and a leash that was 15ft long, that felt more like a rope.

The day arrived and I caught the boat out around the beautiful Sentinel mountain peak, out into the deep where the wave breaks. Without any waiting around, or observing the lineup, I jumped straight in and paddled directly into the danger zone. 

The horizon started to break, as a massive set of waves was approaching. 

I had no idea what to expect, was I gonna be fine? Were the waves going to be breaking to the left or to the right? Further out or further in? On my head?

I was greeted by my worst nightmare; the biggest wall of water I’d ever seen, 30 feet high and towering over me, about to break on my head.

I tried to remain calm, but my adrenaline took over and my breath escalated rapidly.

I dove through the wave and made it out the back, but my board started dragging me back in towards the rocks. While trying to re-gather my board, I turned around to see an even bigger wave behind me. Panic set in. I dove through the second one, popped through the back of the wave and there was a third, and again, my board pulled me back in closer to the danger zone. I went through another three monster waves, each time being pulled dangerously close to being sucked “over the waterfall” into the wipeout – where the wave would have pulled me into its full energy and held me deep under the water.

The ocean settled and I was shaking with fear. I literally felt that if I had been taken over with one of the waves, I would have drowned. I had no breath, the panic had taken over my body and I was totally sapped of energy.

I thought, this is not for me, so I started paddling back to the channel. On my way to the safe zone, another solid set wave broke over the crowd, but because I had paddled wider, I was in the perfect spot. Something told me, last minute, to spin and go. I paddled into, what was at that time, the wave of my life and rode it successfully to the channel. It felt incredible. I wanted in!

Since then, I’ve made it my mission to surf the heaviest and biggest waves on the planet. I track big swell systems around the world, and when all the elements look right to produce monster waves, I link up with a photographer and videographer, and we chase the swell. We document the big sessions and produce content that is distributed through various media platforms.

I usually book a ticket in the morning and fly out that evening, landing on the other side of the world 2 days before the swell hits. Sometimes we’re stepping up to surf 50-60-foot-high waves.

So, what makes the perfect storm?

Storms create the energy for big swell systems. The stronger the winds and the further the wind blows over the ocean surface, the greater the energy transferred into the water. 

The problem is that you can’t surf in the middle of a massive storm, because the ocean is too messy. So the perfect storm for us, is a huge system that sends waves to the coast, and suddenly veers away from the land, giving us clean conditions and big waves. 

Down here in Cape Town, “The Cape of Storms”, we experience some of the biggest, roughest oceans in the world, and in 2018, we had the perfect storm.

Speaking sunsets

Across the bay from Dungeons, breaking about a mile out to sea, is a wave called Sunset Reef. At the age of 12, we moved to a house on the beach which looked straight into the barrel out at Sunset. I’d come home from school and watch the guys towing into massive peaks out there, using a rubber-duck to whip each other in. I knew that one day I wanted to paddle out there, so I started making baby steps, pushing fear back little bit by little bit, expanding my boundary. 

Then at 15 years old, I did the 1km paddle out and surfed Sunset for my first time. That was my welcome into deep water, outer reefs and was the start of my big wave journey.

From there I was onto Dungeons at 17 years old and then I really started exploring big waves around the world, from Hawaii, to Ireland, Portugal and Mexico. And then, all my life’s experience came into play in 2018. There was massive swell predicted for the day. We awoke in the dark and checked the offshore buoys which pick up live wave readings for swell height and energy, and they were giving phenomenal readings.

Professional photographer, Alan van Gysen, and I launched our trusty jetski from our local slipway. As far out as one could see, it was full white out. I’d never seen the Cape Town ocean like this before. Huge waves blocked out the horizon. I was terrified as we put the ski in the water and started trying to find a way out through the giant surf. The channel, which we normally use to drive through, was totally closed out. I just held onto Alan and the back of the ski and hoped he could make sense of the chaos. 

Twice I had to jump off the ski to rip kelp (seaweed) out from the bottom of the ski, which had been jammed into the impeller. We bashed through big white waters and then gunned it for the backline as massive swells surged up all around us. I just prayed that Alan knew what he was doing! As we turned the corner to Sunset Reef, the ocean became groomed and we pulled up to see the most incredible big peaks of water marching in. The reef was magnifying the wave energy into giant, perfect waves. 

I had my 10ft board on the back, ready to paddle into some monsters, but we quickly realized that the waves were moving too fast and were too big to paddle into.

My surf friend, Simon Lowe, also nicknamed “The Coach” rode by us on his ski and shouted out, “I’m going to tow you into the biggest wave of your life!”

Before I knew it, I was being towed out behind him, and we waited far beyond the breakers for a big set. Then, the horizon went dark and actually started to cap (break), as a massive, massive set was approaching. He shouted, “here we go!”

My stomach dropped, feeling terrified of what may be approaching. I started praying and talking to myself, “you got this, you got this, you got this!”.

A huge peak stood up off the back reef and Simon whipped me into it. I remember being at the top of this mountain, and it felt like I was about to start the scariest rollercoaster of my life. Then, I rode over the edge, and dropped vertically down the Monster, picking up speed and suddenly going the fastest I’d ever been on a board. I kept a low center of gravity as wind chops tried to buck me off my board. I got to the bottom of the wave and leaned into my bottom turn which sent me shooting up onto the wave face, in the curl of the beast.

I held on for dear life as the wave exploded all around me, and got shot out into the channel, screaming with joy. That was one of the waves of my life, right out in front of my house, before some of my local heroes! Wow, that felt good!

We rode a few more really big waves, before the wind arrived and ripped up the surf, making it too dangerous to surf. When we set our feet back on land, I thought, “today we have REALLY lived!”. I felt so alive and so relieved to be back on the beach. The beers were spread between all parties involved immediately.  

What’s in the preparation?

Fear cripples performance, doubt is the precursor to fear, and being unprepared is where it all begins. The best training for big wave surfing, is big wave surfing, however these mammoth swells only come around a few times a year. So for me, the best way to mimic the big wave environment, is swimming. I can hold my breath for over 4 minutes while lying still, but this does little to help me when I’m out there in the danger zone, and my adrenaline is pumping and my heart feels like it’s going to burst through my chest. So I try to mimic getting caught by a big set of waves. I do 25m sprints to get my heart racing, take 3-4 breaths and then swim underwater for the time of a long hold-down, which is actually only around 15 seconds. Underwater, I try imagine myself getting pushed into the depths, I sense the darkness, feeling the pressure on my ears and I feel my lungs burning. I do this over and over again to get used to the feeling. Everything in the pool is about getting my heart rate up, getting used to all these uncomfortable feelings and working on good breathing in between, to mimic multiple wipeouts in a row.

Give that a crack… 10 sets of 50m: 25m sprint, 3-4 breaths at the wall and then swim 15 seconds underwater, come up and swim easy through to the wall, straight into the next 50m set. Be careful when doing underwaters to always have someone watching you in case of a shallow water blackout.

I also do Ju-jitsu/grappling. I love Ju-jitsu. It’s the most incredible fitness I’ve ever done and it really helps me with my mental game; when you have someone who is 260lbs pinning you down to the floor, and trying to get you into submission, you have to remain calm and figure a way out, just like a terrible wipeout haha.

And lastly, I do a lot of high-intensity training with short rest periods in between. Most of my gym work is just using my body weight to create stability in my joints, and explosive power in my muscles. Surfing is such a dynamic sport with forces coming at you from so many different angles. It’s crucial for injury prevention to be disciplined in the gym. The constant, repetitive movement of paddling, really takes its toll on my shoulders. So my favorite injury prevention equipment is a resistance band. I carry this in my pocket everywhere I go, and pull it out randomly to punch out a set of external shoulder rotator cuff movements.

We also try add a balancing dimension to each exercise, so if we’re doing squats, it’s on a Bosu ball or if it’s bridging, I’m on a Pilate ball. Incorporating the instability in the exercises really helps to develop the fine balance muscles which are essential for surfing. 

On top of this, I do a lot of twisting motions which cross the center line, for instance, 15 reps of side bridge twists, or 5 reps each side of backwards clock lunges which place different angles of stress on the leading leg as you lunge the backward leg through the different points of the clock.

Recently I’ve also really been getting into stair sprints. They are insane fitness to pump the lungs and build explosive power in the legs. 

Physical training is the foundation of my preparation for big surf. The greater discipline I have in training, the firmer my foundation is to rise up to the fear. Discipline in training helps me to feel mentally prepared. 

How do you rise up to the fear?

Surfing big waves is more of a mental game than anything else. Most surfers are physically fit enough to ride big waves but few have the confidence to do it. The thing is, when you leave the beach, you step into an environment far beyond your own control. No matter how much training or preparation one has done, when the waves get really solid, everyone feels vulnerable! Even the best dudes are scared! Everyone is stepping out in faith in some way or another, and for me, when I paddle out into these crazy, big waves, I feel like I’m in God’s Hands. 

I use three mental techniques that really help to calm the nerves and regulate the fear. I have to build a mindset that starts months before the swell. If I don’t build, I fall into a spiral of doubt and negativity. Fear is always creeping at the door, I have to actively build to maintain a sound mind.

1. Positive self-talk, or affirmations:

We need to take our thoughts captive!

David Goggins is one of the gnarliest men on earth. He ran a 100-mile race every weekend for 8 consecutive weeks. He said the best conversations that he has, are with himself.

Your body can be lied to. Sounds weird right? If you tell your body something, there will be a physiological response. Phrases like: “I can’t do this” “I shouldn’t be here” “I’m not ready” “I might drown” create a panic response in our body. 

Phrases like “I’m here for a reason” “I can do this” “This is what I’ve been created for, this is what I’ve trained for” “This is my moment!” “This is my opportunity to get the biggest wave of my life” create excitement, confidence and a sense of purpose. 

Positive self-talk gets our mind and body ready for performance and 

is a huge part of building a positive mindset.

2. Visualization:

I love visualizing my hero moment, which is me executing my big moment with confidence. 

I’m sitting out the back, and I see that wall of water coming my way. I feel my stomach starting to churn, as fear tries to creep in, but then I say yes to the challenge. I think of all my training, preparation, and experience; this is the moment I have been waiting for. I get excited, and start paddling for the wave. I can feel the strength in my arms and the energy in my breath. As the wave picks me up, I can see the water drawing off the reef and the wind blowing up the face. I’m at the top of a mountain, I lean forward, and drop into the ride of my life. I ride the wave with confidence. 

Day-dreaming in the car or before I sleep at night; I think about my hero moment over and over again. This visualization helps me in a way to experience the big waves before I go into the ocean. It helps me get excited for the big occasions, instead of doubtful. It helps me feel the joy of smashing the moment instead of the dread of possibly failing.

3. And then lastly, and I think the most important thing for me, is my perspective:

What is my perspective on the big moment? How do I see this swell approaching? Does it represent an opportunity for failure or is it an opportunity for a breakthrough. When I look at a swell or a big occasion, especially the ones which seem beyond me or too big, as an opportunity for breakthrough and success, with a view to grow, instead of an opportunity to fail, that’s when I get energized. THAT’S WHEN THE MAGIC HAPPENS! I try to hammer it into my mind, when a big swell pops up on the forecast, this is an opportunity for me to step up and ride the wave of my life, and that excites me!

Leading up to the swell or whatever big moment it is, we can build one of two mindsets;

One is shaky, doubtful and afraid, the other is calm, determined and confident.

The one is restricted and ready to fail, the other is free and ready to rise up. 

What’s next?

I’m super excited to release my new film, “Over the Edge”. It’s a documentary, produced by Monster Energy, which captures my story, from surfing tiny little waves at the learning beach, to surfing some of the biggest waves in the world, and reflecting on the different measures I take to step up to these life-threatening situations. 

During the film, we also scored the biggest swell ever to hit Indonesia, where the waves were so strong and powerful, that they changed the structure of the reef, breaking off large chunks of coral, and washing loads of little sea creatures up into the jungle. 

Matt is an inspiration to many young kids, talking in schools and outreach projects around South Africa. His message is often around how fear is what stands between where we are, and who we are born to be. He encourages people to face their fear, to step away from a life too conservative, to step out in faith and find freedom in riding their big wave of life with confidence.

We look forward to Matt resuming his stellar global pursuit of giant waves when the curtain comes down on the COVID 19 crisis.