The first time I met Matt Bromley was in the lineup at maxed-out, 20-foot Puerto Escondido. It was the morning of the big wave contest and a dozen of us were out having a free surf before the first heat started. Matt didn’t have an invite to the contest but was in town for the swell and ended up packing one of the biggest barrels of the day just before the contest started, proving a point without ever speaking up or complaining about the fact that he’d been excluded.
What impressed me most about Matt that day wasn’t the wave that he paddled, although it was a beast—it was how humble and understated he was about everything. In a sub-genre of surfing that is largely populated by big egos and surfing alphas, Matt has always let his surfing do the talking. In the water, he’s a total beast, but on land he’s the friendliest, most unassuming guy you are likely to meet, which might cause some people to underestimate him.
Over the Edge is out NOW. And you can watch it by going here.
To do so would be a mistake, as Matt has proven time and again over the past five years. From Dungeons, Sunset, and the various barrels at home in South Africa to Indonesian outer reefs, Jaws, and THAT wave at Nias, Matt is as gnarly as they come. But he’ll never tell you about it, and that’s what’s so endearing about him.
Fortunately, the new film Over the Edge demonstrates exactly how heavy Matt is, for those who haven’t had the opportunity to watch him surf in person. It also provides an in-depth look into the life of one of big wave surfing’s most unassuming characters—and, unsurprisingly, it’s as understated as one would expect.
To learn a bit more about the film and force Matt to talk about himself for a change, we reached out to him at his home in Cape Town, where he and his wife are navigating a whole new type of adventure—raising a new baby.
Hey Matt, thanks for taking the time to chat. How are things going over there in South Africa?
Well, we have a three-month old baby, so things are crazy! Life has changed drastically, but it’s been super awesome and we are loving it. The thought of chasing big waves seems quite far away right now, so I’m trying to wrap my head around the Jaws season and how to get ready for that.
You are just coming off the big wave season there at home, right? It seems like you guys got a couple of swells there at Dungeons and Sunset Reef. Which of those bombies do you reckon is the better wave?
I grew up on the beach in front of Sunset and surfed it for the first time when I was 15, so that was my introduction to big waves.
Sunset is a perfect peak, so if you sit on your lineups, you are going to be in the spot. When the set comes in you can be in the perfect place to backdoor it, because it’s quite predictable. It does get quite steep and hollow and super heavy once it’s over 20 foot, but it’s very predictable. And then across the bay you have Dungeons—they are actually super close to each other. With south winds you surf Sunset and with north winds you surf Dungeons, on the other side of the bay. The southwest swells just march straight into the bay, and whichever the wind is blowing, you can surf really good, big waves.
You are never comfortable, you are always getting caught inside, and when you take off on a wave you never know if you are going to get a mushburger or a wave that’s going to turn into a crazy slab
Growing up, I could always see the back of the waves exploding at Dungeons in front of the big rock we call the Sentinel. I got to surf Dungeons for the first time when I was 17—that’s in the film—and it’s just such a massive playing field. It’s almost impossible to have lineups because you are out in the deep, looking up at huge lineups. It’s the trickiest big wave I’ve ever surfed.
You are never comfortable, you are always getting caught inside, and when you take off on a wave you never know if you are going to get a mushburger or a wave that’s going to turn into a crazy slab like Shipstern’s, or a huge barrel that’s going to pinch. So if you can kind of make sense of Dungeons, it makes it a lot easier to move into other waves around the world, like Puerto and Jaws and Mavs. Obviously Jaws and Mavs get a lot bigger, but they are so much more perfect and the reefs are so much more well defined. So I think I had confidence from the tricky waves at Dungeons when I moved over to those spots.
It seems like you haven’t missed any major swells at Jaws over the past few years. Is that your main focus now?
I think that Jaws is the ultimate big wave, and the goal for me has always been to ride big waves that are super steep and have a barrel. I have just seen so many waves at Jaws that are like 30-foot barrels. And guys are still just scratching the surface of what’s possible out there. Guys have obviously had huge barrels, but it just seems like there’s so much potential and such incredible waves out there that need to be ridden.
So every time there’s a big swell that goes there, my stomach starts to churn and I almost feel sick and get so scared. But I just feel like I’ve gotta do it. It’s kind of a love/hate relationship, I guess. I get so nervous and scared and it’s so hard leaving home and my family and traveling across the world to surf it. But at the same time, when I paddle out, I just get this incredible sense of purpose, like this is where I’m supposed to be. In those big, scary waves is where I’ve had my moments where I feel most alive.
Your family is featured in the film quite a bit—both your marriage to Jade and the new baby that was just born a few months back. Has having a family changed the way you approach big waves at all?
I think it has just made me want to be more prepared and more ready. Every little bit of preparation I can do, I feel like I need to have that covered. I have an even bigger responsibility to be physically and mentally ready, to make good decisions and be smart in the water. I am still as excited as ever to chase big waves, but yeah, it’s tough leaving home.
Even before, when I’d leave home—Jade is super supportive, but it’s really hard. She knows I’m not just going away for a couple of weeks, but that I’m also going to surf life-threatening waves. So she’s often crying and it’s really hard to leave home. And now having the little kid—I haven’t actually done a Jaws chase yet since having the baby, but during the last swell in the film, Jade was pregnant and I had that extra responsibility on my shoulders.
Leading up to that swell, I was doubting myself, like, “Am I being silly by traveling all the way there in the middle of COVID-19 and only arriving the night before the swell.” So I think now I am just focusing on making good decisions more than ever and preparing more than ever. And when I’m out there and it’s really big, I just have to know all the elements and be as ready as possible.
What about this coming winter? COVID-19 is still a concern, travel is still a bit weird, but the North Pacific is starting to wake up. Will you be coming over for Jaws swells?
South Africa has been on the red list for half a year, but we just got taken off the red list, so now we can technically travel to the US and Hawaii. So I am getting my vaccination sorted and training hard and watching the charts for Hawaii. I am looking at the possibility of bringing the whole family over but am not sure if it’s maybe a little too early for the little one.
But it would be cool to do a long stint. It’s really difficult to fly to Jaws from South Africa for just one swell—it’s a long trip and very taxing. So it would be great to bring the family over and spend a month. But it sort of depends on visas for my wife and child—I have a 10-year visas, but they don’t have them, and I don’t know if the US is even granting new visas at the moment.
You’ve also spent a bit of time at Nias over the years and were obviously there for the huge one a few years ago, which features heavily in the film. The drop you made on that big one was crazy—talk us through that.
I think that was the best drop of my life! That day was crazy. Everyone was there, and that is probably one of the things that helped me to get that wave. We were all looking at the sets, and we were saying that it actually looked more like Mavs than Indo, because the water was brown and it was just this huge slab.
And then that one came and it was just this double up of Zeus! I started paddling for it and everyone was screaming for me to go
The sets were so big—so much bigger than the waves that we were catching. The footage people have seen of the big ones that day, you can’t truly see how big they are because there’s no scale, no one riding them. We were all trying to psych each other up to go on a big one. But I was feeling so rattled and it was so gnarly. You’d look over the edge and the waves were doing this crazy thing, doubling up so hard, and it looked like the reef was right below the surface. I was sitting way out the back and just sitting by myself and praying and trying to get into the zone.
And then that one came and it was just this double up of Zeus! I started paddling for it and everyone was screaming for me to go. I kind of had a run-up into it—I have good lineups at Nias and the current was sweeping over the reef and sort of helped me. I felt like I was under it and had the best paddle I could get, but then as I got to my feet the whole wave dropped away.
My board was weightless under my feet and I couldn’t really see what was happening, but I was leaning forward as much as I could. But when I got to the bottom it felt like God had put the board under my feet. I landed on the board and it felt so sick. I bottom turned into that big, brown barrel and thought I was going to make the wave of my life. But unfortunately, the whole wall ended up closing out into the channel.
Paddling into a wave like that requires full commitment. You are pretty open about the fear that you feel before big swells. How do you manage the stress and fear when you are in the water at a spot like Nias and huge death slabs are coming through?
Taking yourself to the point where you are on top of a big wave and looking over the edge, and it’s so steep and scary and you have to make a decision whether you are going to push yourself over the edge or pull back—I feel like everyone has those moments, whether it’s in huge surf or any number of other “big waves” that people have a chance to ride in life.
I think everybody feels feel and doubts themselves, but that’s an opportunity to face our fears. And when we push ourselves over the edge, I sort of believe that’s when we feel the most alive. And it could be anything! I mean, my wife having a baby a few months back—I reckon that’s scarier than any big wave I could ever paddle! But when we push ourselves over the edge on the waves that we have to ride in life, I think that’s when we really start living.
When I chased that last swell to Jaws that we see at the end of the film, with so much going on at home and in the world and being exhausted and scared—it was so gnarly for me. But I think that’s what made it so satisfying when I finally pushed over the edge and went for it. And it ended up being one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! I think that’s true for everyone—when we face our fears and push over the edge, we are able to connect with ourselves and truly live.
Cover shot by @AGUATOGRAPHY