If you’ve cast your eyeballs on the now multi-award-winning feature documentary, Facing Monsters starring Western Australia’s Kerby Brown, his brother Courtney and the Brown family, you’ll have witnessed the jaw-dropping shock and awe at both the perilous pursuits of the Browns deep in the Southern Ocean, stalking never-before-surfed slabs, and the awe-inspiring beauty of this wild Aussie setting.
A deep dive into the fascinating and multi-faceted mindset that drives big-wave slab hunter Kerby, Facing Monsters is equally an exploration of his self-admitted inner turmoil, addictions, tight family bond and love for his children, juxtaposed with the stunning yet often spine-tinglingly scary footage captured by cinematographer Rick Rifici and director Bentley Dean. When we left things with Kerby at the end of the film, and without letting the cat out the bag if you haven’t seen it, those waves bite, hard, and Kerby survives a wipeout in the film by the skin of his teeth. One that’ll make your hairs stand on end.
As Kerby tells me, he is admittedly down a few of his nine lives, and if you’ve been wondering how the enigmatic bearded slab-slayer has been faring post film-wrapping and bustling tour schedule, read on (Facing Monsters is still touring; in France next). In a contemplative and honest mood, Kerby was still nursing physical and mental wounds whilst working through the “life-changing” injuries he accrued during filming when I spoke with him – so brutally shown in the movie (he’s floating in a pink-hued ocean for a reason in the film’s promotional poster). He seems a man torn between his innate, primal desire to explore the vast unknown of the unridden in the intoxicating Southern Ocean, and his unwavering love for his wife and kids and to not endanger the family unit. That monkey on his shoulder is present, but this winter marked his first foray back out in the ocean, at peace in the place which seemingly brings him his most inner serenity.
In the film you come across as a pretty laid back, private person, yet this is quite a warts-and-all story about you, and the different challenges of your life. Was that hard to delve into?
It would’ve been easy to just make a surf clip. But if I was gonna do a film, I wanted it to be meaningful, and really to be as raw and real and honest as it could have been. I didn’t want it to be like a glorified piece on me or anything like that. It’s really just a window into my life, and it’s exactly what I would’ve been doing if there was a camera there or not.
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It seems like you’re someone who’s shunned convention or maybe what was expected of you?
Yeah, for sure. A hundred percent. I guess I’ve always struggled with conforming to what’s expected. Since I was a teenager, I kind of struggled to fit into that mold and what was expected. I guess I found my peace and my place in the ocean. That progressed to wanting to push that further, and the more remote and the more dangerous, the more appealing it was for me, because I felt so much more free out there than I do on land.
Something one of your friends said in the movie was that “you can decipher the code,” in terms of these Leviathan-esque waves. How’s that?
The waves are almost characters, right? Each of those waves that I’m surfing have got different meanings. To me, they’re all special places. It’s taken a lifetime of experience to kind of feel comfortable doing that. There’s a lot of time spent looking at these places, a lot of visualization. When you are in the channel looking at some of these spots, you’re questioning yourself going, why are we here, out here again? It’s really scary, but I don’t like to sit and analyze it, because then you almost put yourself off if you watch it for too long. You’re just looking at too many things that want to eat you up and kill you. It’s really when I kind of get out the back and I decide I wanna surf and that’s when it all kind of clicks for me. You are just trying to synchronize with these intense pieces of ocean. It’s you trying to gel with that natural element, that fucking raw power of the ocean. And if you can be in sync with that, that’s when things click. And that’s when you have special moments and memorable sessions. It’s when you’re really letting go and you’re not thinking too much.
You’ve got a couple of members of your family in tow for your adventures in the film. It seems like your brother Courtney is cut from the same cloth as you, and that your dad (who also seems like one cool cat) is really supportive?
They’ve always been really supportive. Dad really pushed me towards the competitive side of things just because I think he saw that pathway as a way for me to make a living off surfing rather than work. (Kerby used to surf on the QS before packing it in and choosing to lone-wolf it and pursue his love of big wave slab exploration.) He’s always encouraged me not to get a standard job if I can do something I love. I’ve had a lot of struggles with when I’m not doing that, with self-destructive behavior, and they’re probably more concerned about that. So to see me going chasing waves and doing something that I love, that’s important. And it’s a healthy lifestyle, they’ve always backed it. But I don’t think it makes it any easier to see the consequences and the waves that we’re surfing…
That relationship with my brother too, to have that partner to do it with, it’s such a hard thing to have to connect with someone so well. To be able to do it with my brother, that’s even more special I think. We work so well together.
Some of your friends in the film said that you’re searching for something that might not exist. By the end of the film, or even now, in the years ensuing, have you found that?
It’s been a big learning journey, with a lot of personal growth, and positive things that have come from a bad situation. In terms of waves, I felt like I was in such a good place in the film. We didn’t get what I was hoping for in terms of what I was looking for out there. I’m sure it’s still out there…I think there’s crazy waves still out there to be ridden. But it’s definitely changed my perspective. It’s been all-consuming, for a long time. This has kind of forced me to just really take a step back and reassess and look at the bigger picture. To see my family, and my kids, and my brother go through all that with me (and my injury) obviously, I got really lucky, but it was such a fine line. It was pretty hard to see them have to deal with me in that way and, and the thought of doing that to them again is pretty horrible. I have really been enjoying the little things, appreciating things that I probably didn’t before. I feel extremely fortunate to be in the position I am, it was so close to being a hell of a lot worse.
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I almost didn’t expect the accident to be as graphic as it was. When you do see some of the wipeouts, it’s so insane.
To be honest, it didn’t show a lot of the real gnarliness of my head wound and horrible stuff you couldn’t really see that in the film, it was kind of skimmed over. For me, it was a hell of a lot worse. There was a lot more going on than you even saw and especially as time has passed. The recovery and all of that has just been such a long, slow journey back. I’ll just forever have to work on my body and stay fit. I’ve still got a lot of work to do, I’m moving around and doing the basics, but I’ve still got a lot of strength to build. It’s definitely ongoing. It’s pretty much a life-changing kind of injury for sure.
Have you been back out on the water yet?
This winter was the first time I’d been back out on the ski. I do a lot of photography, so there’s been a few days where I’d just go out on the Jet Ski by myself, and stare into these mutant kind of slabs around here that you can’t really surf, but they’re insane to look at and take photos of. That was my first time being back out amongst that heavy, intense ocean and slabby waves. I was by myself, it just felt amazing to be back out amongst that power. I was sitting on a Jet Ski taking photos and just soaking it all in, without the stresses of having to surf.
To be honest, I’m not rushing this at all, and you know, I’ve got nothing to prove. I’m just kind of taking it as it comes and seeing how I feel and I guess I’ll just wanna work on getting physically stronger. People ask me that question where I’m gonna get to, and I honestly don’t know. I think I probably won’t know until I’m back out amongst it and see how I’m feeling physically and mentally to even consider going back into a shallow slab wave. So it’s a conflicting thing for me now. I wasn’t thinking about those kind of waves for a long time, but now I’m back in the water again, it’s creeping back into my mind. It’s a huge lifeline I’ve used, I really can’t afford to have another head injury. The risks to go and do it again are just tenfold on what they already were, which were already so high.
How’s that chat gone with your Mrs?
I kind of had a couple of discussions with Nicole about it, and the kids are pretty freaked out by me even thinking about going back there. My family probably is like, ‘have you had enough?’ I think people want me to say I’m done, but I’m not, I’m definitely not saying that. I’m not saying I’ll be back doing that again to that extent.
And your brother?
If things had gone the other way, that would’ve ruined his life. I think it was pretty traumatic for him. And that’s what was hardest for me, especially watching the film back, to see the reaction that he had. There’s a lot of pressure on him to get me home safe. I don’t think we’ve had a serious discussion about doing it again since then, I don’t think he’s overly keen to jump back out there with me. To ask him to do it again…he was already rattled at doing it, having that responsibility. So, it’s a big call to go back and, and put him in that position, and for my family. It’s something that I’m taking very seriously, so I’m really taking my time with this one. I’ve got no reason to rush anything. I don’t want them to grow up without a dad. So that’s really on my mind more than ever now, especially since all of this.
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Looks like life’s been super busy since the film wrapped and the accident?
It’s been so busy since we finished production. Obviously, me being badly injured was the end of that, and so the last two years of my life have pretty much been about recovery, getting back to functioning again. Off the back end of that, then, post-production, then the film was coming out and it was just non-stop. It’s been a crazy couple of years. Hopefully, I’ll be home now for the rest of the year, just with my family. I’m gonna really be working on my health and trying to get strong, and just really want to get back in the water as much as possible, and see where that takes me. I’ve been enjoying photography again, and I’m into my cooking. So, anything creative is what makes me happy, and just being a family man.
Any idea what’s next?
My life’s been consumed by chasing these waves and now the film for the last couple of years. Figuring out what’s next, I’m not too sure what that is at the moment, but I’ve got some good ideas and there’s definitely a lot of options there. So chasing things that make me feel good. Before the doco, I was working offshore on a boat in the middle of the ocean, and I was away for six months a year and working for another company. That phase of my life’s finished, which I’m happy about.
Facing Monsters is available to rent YouTube and Amazon.