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Riding the Wave of Resilience

Riding the Wave of Resilience

From Double Setbacks to Jaws and the Eddie Invitational...

In early September of 2023, Jack Black Ambassador Matt Bromley, otherwise known as one of the world's finest big wave surfers hailing from Kommetjie, Cape Town, experienced a life-threatening head injury when surfing the infamous, and notoriously perilous, beach break at Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Shortly after recovering, Matt found himself faced with another serious injury to his ribs. With a mere 3 months since his first injury, Matt's health was crucial to his season, and he'd recently been invited to compete in 2 of the world’s most prestigious big wave surfing events, the JAWS Challenge and the Eddie Aikau Invitational.

We chatted to Matt to learn more about his thoughts, feelings, insecurities and ambitions, going into Jaws and the Eddie.

We were terrified when we heard of your head injury at Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Can you tell us exactly what happened? And the nature of the injury?

I headed over to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, to film with Alan Van Gysen and his new project called the Monster Energy Origin Series. We headed over for what was looking like 5 days of 15-20ft waves; the forecast looked unbelievable, so we were beyond excited for what lay ahead.

On the second day of waves I took off on a really big, beautiful peak, dropped in and pulled up into the barrel and somehow the wave closed out on me. I jumped forward in the barrel and the nose of the board hit me so hard in the forehead. It was a really scary moment under the water… I didn’t really know what had happened… it was just like a huge shock. I felt my head, and I knew it was really bad.

When I eventually came up my immediate thought was ‘don’t pass out, stay conscious’. I couldn’t see out of my one eye because there was so much blood coming over it and so I couldn’t gage the next wave, it was probably another 15-20ft wave towering over me. I paddled as fast as I could, dove off my board and just got under it. I came up to another 2 waves I had to push through. I tried to paddle to the beach but I couldn’t get there because a big current had formed.

The lifeguard had noticed that something was happening. They had launched the jetski, but it wasn't working, and wouldn't turn on. So the only way was instead to paddle to the safe zone which was about half a km to the side. I was kind of half paddling, half holding my head… I was losing a lot of blood… We got to the safe zone and a fishing boat came and picked me up. I climbed in and a dude came with me to translate. When I landed in the boat there were fish all around my feet and the guys were just looking at me in horror... They could see my head was fully split open, down to my skull. They drove me to the corner as quickly as they could, where we climbed out and had to swim ashore where ambulance then took me to hospital.

My translator, who was one of the surfers out in there in the water, actually told the doctor that I was a model and that my face is my work, so I needed the best treatment, so we got a surgeon... And in that time, Alan Van Gysen arrived at the hospital with Edwin Morales, who was our local connection in Mexico… Just as the surgeon was about to start operating he showed me a picture of the wound and I just thought… OH MY GOSH that is SO gnarly, and he looked at me and said ‘no no… photo look small… [wound] much bigger’. So then I was like, ok I surrender…

I was just so grateful that it wasn’t worse. It missed my eye by literally a few millimetres. The wound starts at my eyebrow, then goes 8cm up. There was 35 stitches; 20 internal stitches, 15 on the outside. Also, it missed my temple - and I didn’t get knocked out - I mean it could’ve just been so much worse. So I was so grateful that I was able to get back in the water within 3 weeks to a month.

📸 @Alanvangysen

Shortly after this, you then encountered a second injury, can you tell us more about that one?

So yah, I literally had 1 month out the water. I went for one surf to check that I was ok. Then I headed to Indonesia on a trip for Monster Energy, to the Mentawai Islands. It was so good to be surfing again, in cooking waves, with good friends. On day 3 or 4, the day of the swell, I went for a turn on like a 2 foot wave, fell off, and got washed into a coral head on my side. The water just wrapped me around this coral head and in that moment I just thought, my trips done, Jaws Challenge, The Eddie, it’s been my DREAM to be invited to both these events, over in Hawaii, and in that moment I thought, that’s all over. When I came up, I couldn’t breathe for about a minute, I was in so much pain.

I thought they were maybe just bruised, I managed to get another boat to take me back to the harbour where I flew home early. When I went to hospital, I got X-Rays and turns out I’d broken 2 ribs, had air and blood in my chest cavity, and needed at least 6 weeks out of the water.

We can only imagine how it feels to experience these injuries… and recover from them? Was there much rehabilitation involved?

Rehab wise, it has literally just been rest. There’s not much you can do for a head wound, or for broken ribs. The heads all healed up now and my ribs are finally feeling a bit better. I’m now 3 weeks into recovery and I’m able to cycle an indoor bike and do leg exercises, basic shoulder rehab and shoulder stability stuff.

📸 @Alanvangysen

Separate from the physical body, these injuries must be extremely testing on the mind. How have you dealt with these uncertainties, if any? And do you feel ready to get straight back out there?

The biggest thing I think has been for my wife… she’s now seen how bad things can it’s been really hard for her to come to terms with the fact that I’m gonna head back out there into big waves.

For me… there’s a little bit of that worry in the back of my mind, but with all this time out of the water, I feel like I’ve processed what I’ve been through. I’ve just really been focussing on getting my mind strong. I’ve been getting my mind ready to not only face the fear, but to be excited in the face of fear, so that when I am faced with it again, I’ll be ready.

I’ve also been doing a lot of visualisation. Taking myself through all of the scenarios that are gonna happen when I’m at Jaws for the big wave challenge. From when I wake up in the morning with my family, to driving down the dirt track, to when I paddle out and put the contest vest on, to when I see the horizon go dark and that big wave coming my way... I’ve been taking myself through these situations, over and over again, in the steam room… ha ha ha...getting my mind READY and EXCITED for what’s to come. So that’s kind of been my main preparation right now.

📸 @miahklein

What can you tell us about the Eddie?

The Eddie is probably the most prestigious big wave event in the world. It’s an invite only event, in memory of Eddie Aikau, who was one of Hawaii’s first life guards, and a legendary waterman that charged huge waves at Waimea Bay, kind of set the standard for how big people can go. And then he actually died on a rescue mission…they were doing a big crossing, the boat sunk, he went looking for help and he was never seen again.

Its every big wave surfer’s dream to be in that event. Even non-big wave surfers, like John John Florence and Kelly Slater, and all of the best of the best, in the world - it’s kinda like their dream to win the Eddie, you know? And even just to get the invite.

What can we expect when watching the Eddie live?

It’ll be streamed through the Eddie Aikau platform. Waimea Bay is all about a massive take-off. It’s a super steep heavy wave that focuses a lot of energy in a small area. So it’s all about a massive take off and you will just see people, including myself, hopefully, throwing ourselves off the edge on the biggest wave possible, in the most critical situations and making it to the shoulder [of the wave].

📸 Camila Neves

Are you excited for the JAWS Challenge?

Well… This one is really the BIGGEST dream of mine… To be in an event of the best 24 big wave surfers in the world. Jaws is also the best big wave in the world, and that’s where we get to go test ourselves against the world’s best. The thing about Jaws is that the take-off is only at the beginning of the wave and the whole wave is like a rollercoaster ride - you can get massive barrels there. It’s given me the best rides of my life, the best sessions of my life and it’s the ultimate pinnacle of big wave surfing. Also, to be in a heat out there with the best of the best surfers in the world, that is televised all around the world. That's my dream.

What are your hopes for the podium?

Well my hope… Yaahhh…well my hope is to win the thing eh! 

I believe that I can do it. I believe that I'm good enough to do it. I’ve got a solid 15 – 20 years heavy water ocean experience and I’ve pretty much dedicated my life to chasing big waves, that’s what I believe I’ve been created to do. When I’m out there and its crazy big and stormy and scary, I feel like that’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. So I can’t wait to get out there. It’s gonna be scary, it’s gonna be challenging, but I’m excited for it.

Well Matt, rest assured, we're wholeheartedly rooting for you every step of the way. Thanks for continuing to inspire us, and the wider community, with everything you do. We can't wait to welcome you home with an ice cold Jack Black beer. 

📸 @kyle.kingsley

To watch Matt’s journey you can follow him on Instagram here.

To find out more about the Eddie Aikau, click here.

To find out more about the Jaws Challenge, click here.

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