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Cyclone Idai Strike Mission - Mozambique - Matt Bromley and Brendon Gibbens

Quick 5 with Matt Bromley & Brendon Gibbens | Cyclone Idai Strike Mission

Jan 272019

It’s an uncomfortable truth, and one many of us struggle with; while temperate weather is what everyone else lives for, cyclones (any storm) produces the very thing we as surfers live for - waves. We are probably the only people on earth who welcome one of our planets greatest forces - albeit just for the aftereffect. We’re not psychotic, and we certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt or lose their homes - in fact some of us pray before and after for those in peril, and some go out of their way to help when disaster strikes at home or abroad by getting involved in relief work or by donating, but still, the fact remains that we as a community wait and watch for wave-generating systems, and when we see one developing on a synoptic chart we unfortunately - but truthfully, get excited and do all we can to get as close as possible to spots in affected regions where the best waves might be found.

Sometimes we find ourselves in harms-way too when on the chase, like Dion Agius and company in 2017 during cyclone Dineo to the same wave-rich zone in the Inhambane province in Mozambique when that tropical storm made landfall and ripped off the roof of the house they were in and others around, and flooded the town. Experiencing firsthand the power and terror of these storms you’re left with a deep sense of respect, awe and sympathy for those who have to face this year in and year out. And it also makes you think and focus a lot more on helping, giving back and serving those affected by disastrous storms like this one.

The spinning vortex that would be named cyclone Idai had shown up abruptly on forecast models a few days before the predicted landfall on Thursday 14 March 2019. Unaware of the level of destruction and disaster this would leave in it’s wake a small, core crew of surfers took a gamble on the unfavourable wind prediction but perfect swell and committed to a 16-hour car drive to Inhambane, Mozambique to join local surfers at this rare sandspit. On the morning of Wednesday 13 March the sea was already tossed up and the waves well overhead. The wind wasn’t perfect, but as the tide turned the powerful waves being sent perpendicular to the bar started to grind down the line in perfect cylindrical fashion. The small crew made the most of the window and traded fast, racing tubes from take-off to kick-out while rain-squalls and dark-clouds overhead were being sucked into the eye of cyclone Idai a few hundred kilometers north near Beira. That evening the swell peaked and the wind for some reason dropped completely, and for about an hour on dark it was as good as sandpits get. The following morning while we sat watching an unruly ocean settle itself for another mixed but ultimately good surf day on the turn of the tide later that afternoon, Beira in the north was hit by the full force of cyclone Idai.

Surf photographer and writer, Alan Van Gysen catches up with Matt Bromley & Brendon Gibbens on their humbling swell hunting experience as cyclone Idai left a wake of destruction in Mozambique...

when you’re chasing a cyclone, it’s so volatile. The system is forming so close to the land and changing and morphing every few hours...

You were recently in Mozambique with a tight crew of surfers chasing a swell. Why Mozambique?

MB: Mozambique is such a special place. It’s closer to home and it’s tropical wild Africa. The whole experience is unique and colourful and it has amazing surf, uncrowned surf! This cyclone was sending big swell from a very northerly angle, promising to light up some rarely surfable spots.

BG: I’ve visited Mozambique a few times and only experienced hints of its brilliance. The impetus to revisit the country came after seeing cyclone Idai cross the Mozambique Channel, generated a rare and massive swell.

Chasing waves around the globe comes with it's own dangers and pitfalls. What are some of things surfers worry about when chasing waves?

MB: Chasing waves to tropical zones, you’re usually on high alert for malaria and staff infections from reef cuts. There’s so many scary bugs and bacteria in places like Mozam, you always gotta be aware of what you’re eating and where you’re hanging out. And then when you’re chasing a cyclone, it’s so volatile. The system is forming so close to the land and changing and morphing every few hours, it’s so difficult to score. The winds and the swell changed so many times for this Mozam cyclone. But the opportunity for nuts waves was there, so we pulled the trigger.

BG: The primary concern when chasing a swell is hoping that it will materialise and live up to one’s expectations. Being stuck in a life threatening situation is also a major concern when dealing with extreme weather. One can research and strategically plan a strike mission, but there will always be variables involved.

If we can spread our light wherever we go, it would add so much value and meaning to our travels as professional surfers.

What went through your mind when the storm that brought the waves crashed headlong into Beira, Mozambique?

MB: I had no idea that there could be this type of devastation from a cyclone. We were busy having fun further south, enjoying the waves it produced, and then a day or two later, we started to hear about people dying in the storm! Then it a thousand, and now we know it’s way more! People dying, families separated, homes devastated, and then if there’s that’s not enough, there’s crocodiles in the flood water and the disease will still come.
It’s so heavy. They need our help.

BG: It’s a horrible dichotomy. The people of Beira were facing adversity while my friends and I were enjoying balmy weather and good waves further south. We were lucky not to be hit by the brunt of the storm. I commiserate with the people of Beira.

Did chasing a devastating cyclone to Mozambique change your perspective on waves and the storms that make them? 

MB: As surfers, we’re always chasing storms for big waves while other people are busy avoiding the weather and sitting by the fire. But never have I chased something that caused widespread devastation and took lives. I think tropical cyclones are just such scary systems with so much energy! And then the places they hit are often under resourced with insufficient rescue services. It’s so gnarly to think about .
Our prayers and thoughts are with the peoples of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. 

BG: Yes. I didn’t realise just how devastating Idai would be, I underestimated the severity of the storm. This experience has made me cognisant of planning for a natural disaster type situation.

How can surfers and people who travel for a living make a difference in the lives of those in the places you travel to? Especially at times of need...

MB: I would love to be more involved in the nearby communities of place like Mozambique, Nias, Tahiti etc. whether it’s helping out in schools, donating to food or medical schemes, taking surf lessons, giving away boards or inspiring kids to chase their dreams. If we can spread our light wherever we go, it would add so much value and meaning to our travels as professional surfers.

BG: I suggest making contributions to disaster relief organisations.