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Biggest Waves in the World with Matt Bromley

Oct 262021

Dungeons, the revered big wave break that lies on the southern tip of Africa, is not your typical surf spot. Rather, the series of granite reefs that make up the ‘lineup’ are more like pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

“The area where a wave can break is literally the size of two rugby fields,” says Matt Bromley, explaining what sets Dungeons apart from other big wave breaks around the world. “Places like Jaws in Hawaii and Mavericks in California are fairly predictable in that the waves more or less break in the same place every time. At Dungeons, every single wave is totally different. You never know what you’re going to get out there.”

Standing at 6’3” tall, Bromley has long outgrown his childhood nickname of The Pterodactyl, when he was a gangly-limbed teenager. Today, he’s built like an Olympic swimmer and has become known for his surfing exploits at big wave locations around the globe, a journey he traces back to the notorious reef that lies mere miles from his childhood home in Kommetjie, Cape Town.

Dungeons helped catapult Matt onto the global surf scene and, he says, equipped him with the skills to tackle pretty much any wave out there. But it was hardly an amicable start.

 

“The first time I surfed Dungeons was when I was 17,” recalls Matt. “I borrowed this massive board that was far bigger than anything I’d ever ridden before and remember holding it under my arm, just thinking ‘What am I even going to do with this thing?’ It felt more like a boat than a surfboard!”

 

To access the lineup at Dungeons on foot requires a long hike over Hangberg Mountain and then a daunting paddle through The Gauntlet, a wide channel of calm water inhabited by seals from nearby Seal Island. Cape Town big wave surfers jokingly refer to this stretch of water as a drive-through restaurant for great white sharks. It’s not surprising most surfers opt for the 20-minute boat ride from Hout Bay harbor instead.

 

After hitching a ride out with a group of older veterans, Bromley jumped off the boat and paddled cautiously into the lineup. And then all hell broke loose.

 

“The horizon went dark from an approaching set of waves and I got caught inside,” recalls Bromely, describing how he was trapped by the biggest waves he’d ever seen in his life. “I had to bail under three waves. I managed to swim through them but each time I nearly got sucked over backwards, into the impact zone, where all the energy of the breaking wave gets focussed. If that had happened, I’m pretty certain I would have drowned. When the set ended I was literally shaking with fear. I wanted nothing to do with it and was out of there.”

 

While paddling for the safety of the boat, another wave approached and caught everyone inside again – except for Bromley, who was in the perfect spot to catch it.

 

“Something told me at the last minute to take this wave and go”, he says. “I made it to the bottom and it was the biggest rush I’d ever experienced. That wave changed my life. It made me realize that fear was the only thing standing between me and what I really wanted to do. And the only way I could overcome that fear was by facing it head-on and moving past it.”

It’s a philosophy that has since taken the 29-year-old around the world, carving a niche for himself amongst some of the most challenging waves on the planet. His latest film, Over the Edge, traces this journey, from the freezing waters of Cape Town to the pinnacle of big wave surfing at Pe‘ahi, or Jaws, in Hawaii. The motivating force driving him from one challenge to the next, Bromley says, is fear. Or, more accurately, the rush he gets from overcoming it.

 

“Everyone feels fear. It’s healthy to be afraid,” he says. “But it’s how you deal with it that counts. No matter what you’re facing, fear can be used as a tool to accomplish your goals. When you lean into the fear and move through it, that’s when the magic happens.”

 

Bromley is quick to point out, however, that grabbing your biggest board and blindly flinging yourself at the most dangerous wave you can find is just as likely to get you drowned.

 

“Preparation is essential, and one of the biggest parts of preparing is obviously physical training. Spending time in the pool, spending time in the ocean, spending time in the gym. What I really like to do is to try mimic the big wave environment in the swimming pool. I try to mimic the adrenaline you feel and combine that with being in an intense situation.”

 

To do this, he first gets his heart rate up by doing a few sprints. Then he swims underwater for the duration of a long ‘hold down’ – when a wave won’t let you up after a wipeout – underwater.

 

“While I’m underwater I visualize myself being pushed down deep by a wave. I simulate the pressure on my ears. I take myself through all the uncomfortable feelings of a bad wipeout – the urge to breathe, my heart racing like it’s trying to burst out of my chest. I take myself through this scenario over and over and over again, to mimic a worst-case scenario.”

 

Bromley is the first to admit that a controlled environment will never replace the brutality of a real-life wipeout at a place like Jaws, widely considered the Valhalla of modern big wave surfing. But the ability to cope with these situations and realize that you can survive them builds the foundation for the most valuable asset you can have as a big-wave surfer: confidence.

 

“The more physically prepared you are, the more confident you are,” says Matt, who also laughs at the cliché of big wave surfers being reckless cowboys. Instead, he adopts a highly analytical approach to chasing big waves, both in and out of the water.

 

“When I see a really big swell building on the weather charts, I try to break down and analyze every single element of the swell. Are the waves going to be increasing or decreasing on the day? What are the dangers at the spot I’ve got my sights on? Is my equipment ready? I try to visualize the exact conditions that there are likely to be on the day and prepare accordingly.”

 

By eliminating as many variables as possible, it allows you to take control of the situation, says Matt. Or, at least, as much control as you can have in amongst seas with 50-foot waves. The last preparation he does is to place himself in the moment – again, and again, and again.

 

“When I first see a really big swell on the charts, my stomach just churns and I almost feel sick. But then I try to visualize myself out there. I visualize the wind blowing up the face of the wave. I see myself paddling into it and looking over the edge. I try to conjure up all the feelings of fear and my instinct telling me not to go. But then I imagine myself pushing through that and pushing over the edge and dropping into the wave of my life, over and over again. When I do that, it changes all the doubt and the fear, and the anxiety. It changes that into a sense of purpose,” he says. “So often, our best moments are just on the other side of that fear.

Make sure to watch Over The Edge: A Big Wave Journey With Matt Bromley

 

Released globally today on iTunes, Vimeo, Apple TV+ and more, OVER THE EDGE, is a big wave journey from the freezing waters of Cape Town to the pinnacle of big wave surfing at Pe‘ahi (Jaws), in Hawaii. The motivating force driving Bromdog from one challenge to the next is fear. Or, more accurately, the rush he gets from overcoming it. Click here to watch! 

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