Surfing is an incredibly unique sport. Although even calling it a sport seems to restrict it to a set of stereotyped parameters which seem hardly relevant to the majority of us. There a very few “sports” that you can find enjoyment on so many different levels and in so many walks of life. Whether cruising on a longboard or charging into building sized caverns over shallow reef; the resulting stoke factor and end result remain the same. Similarly, to those looking from the outside in, the idea of what surfing involves and what it means to those that participate can be a far cry from the truth. In this way it’s not hard to draw parallels between surfing- what many of us consider a religion, and the real thing. Many religious groups are stereotyped, marginalised and misrepresented, something most surfers have experienced to some degree. Enter a young South African by the name of Matthew Bromley.

I’m squeezed in the passenger seat of the tiny Ford next to Matt who appears even more spacially restricted considering his lanky 6’4 frame and my full board bag bearing down on us. We’re in Matt’s hire car rushing to the bus station and we’re somewhat late. I sprang the request for a last minute ride on him only an hour earlier, which happened to coincide with the better part of the tide and chance of decent waves on this particular day. But as is the nature I’ve come to know, he agreed without the slightest inkling of annoyance and then proceeded to make us both lunch before we found ourselves hurtling through the Irish countryside.

I first met Matt a few years back when he arrived to Ireland fresh faced and excited, ready to chase some of the larger, meaner waves the country has to offer. His polite demeanour and quiet nature gave no indication of what some may consider a slightly lunatic approach to surfing. He’s since become a good friend and I’ve watched his exploits from afar as he’s worked tirelessly with filmer Guy Macindoe on their recently released project, Risky Business. To many (before this film) he may have been a somewhat unknown, but to those in the know, Matt is as genuine as they come and as legitimate a big wave surfer as anyone. It was in the close confines of the rental car cockpit that I quizzed him on his new film, big waves, and what it means to keep the faith.

photo by Alan Van Gysen

N: Give us a little run down on your background, upbringing, nationality?

M: I moved to the beach at Cape Town, South Africa when I was 12 years old. That’s when I started surfing every day. I actually wanted to bodyboard when I was a bit younger but my Dad had been surfing for like 40 years and took the bodyboard away from me and gave me a stand up. I used to come home from school and watch this huge wave out in front of my house, Sunset, and the guy’s back then were pioneering towing in rubber duck’s at the same time Laird Hamilton was doing his thing in Hawaii. I remember thinking that’s what I want to do one day.

I studied part time over the last 6 years while I travelled and now have a business degree. Through my teens I did the contests but realised when I was about 17 that I felt most comfortable in bigger waves and that really was my passion.

N: So you and Guy have obviously released your film now, tell me about that?

M: I met Guy in Ireland where he was working on a project with Alex Dive and afterwards we messaged a few times then next thing I knew it he was flying over to meet me in South Africa. He stayed with me for 2 months then we went to Ireland, Iceland, Portugal and ended with the best month of big wave surfing in history at Jaws. That was 100% the highlight of the trip. I remember when we were flying to Hawaii, all the websites were talking about this El Nino thing that I didn’t know anything about. As soon as we arrived there were back to back swells for Jaws and every day Guy and I were heading down to the cliffs not knowing if it was going to be 15ft, 30ft or 60ft but it was incredible. The last day stands out for me. It was huge and windy and I felt so in the zone. Through a lot of prayer, meditation and visualisation I caught 5 of the biggest waves of my life and I’m stoked we captured that in the film.

photo by Christa Funk

N: Do you find that your spirituality and religion factor into surfing big waves?

M: I feel like I wouldn’t be able to surf big waves if I didn’t have faith. I’m so heavily reliant on it and I feel like those waves are so far beyond me at places like Jaws. I’m often terrified at the beginning of the swell then I get into my prayer and visualisation and by the time the biggest days come I feel no fear and feel at peace; I know that comes from God. If you believe that you’re not just surfing for yourself but it’s actually your purpose and that God has given you the skills to do this then you suddenly go from having all this fear and doubt to feeling like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. It gives you so much confidence. Most people like to have total control over their lives and when you go into big waves you have absolutely no control over what happens to you, you’ve gotta hand over the reigns. Like you’re in God’s hands, like the Dorian film. Ha ha.

N: And how do you think that factors into your preparation and your training? Because I’ve seen how hard you still train so are you preparing regardless?

M: I definitely think you still need to be as prepared as possible however there’s still a massive gap between my preparation and those waves that I’m going to surf. I think everyone out there is stepping out in faith in some way.

N: Yeah I once heard a quote from Cliff Skudin, I think that went something like, “There are no atheists in the impact zone”.

M: I often have some prayer time on the rocks before I go out and if there’s people around me I’ll ask the guys if they want to join me. Thats the only time most guys will have a pray. I think it’s a very spiritual experience for everyone on different levels. When it comes to big waves, everyone needs something to believe in. In normal life you don’t really ever put yourself in those situations so when you find yourself there people are obviously going to think about it.

photo by Alan Van Gysen
photo by Alan Van Gysen
photo by Alan Van Gysen

N: I think that religious angle sometimes gets dismissed but for me it’s very interesting as an “outsider” and in a way I’m kind of envious of that faith.

M: The thing that I feel with my faith is its actually real to me and it doesn’t worry me to talk about it. I had the same thing on the Teahupoo “Code Red” day and that big one I got near Nias. It felt that was exactly where I was meant to be and I felt a total peace.

N: So it’s kind of who you are, there’s no disjoint between what you feel on land and in the ocean, you don’t preach two separate things?

M: Yeah you see those big waves and they’re so powerful and you’re in awe you know? You almost see God and its much greater than what you are. I think it’s a very holistic thing. Religion can often narrow it down to a strict set of rules but for me it’s more about the freedom.

Matt and Guy’s new film Risky Business has done a run of premiere’s through South Africa (in which even South African cricketing royalty, Dale Steyn took an aisle seat to attend) and is now online for free. The fruits of a year of hard work from two young guy’s on a shoestring budget.