Senior Editor

The Inertia

Matt Bromley has spent a lot of time under water getting bashed around by huge waves. Far more time than the average surfer, because Bromley spends far more time than the average surfer surfing huge waves.

“I feel like as a professional big wave surfer,” Bromley says in the video above, “I’ve been exposed to some really, really scary situations.”

This is the first episode of Bromley’s latest project, which walks the viewer through what, exactly, happens during a wipeout of epic proportions. It focuses on a wipeout at a Nias outer bombie, and according to Bromley, it was thought to be the biggest wave ever paddled into in Indonesia.

After what looked to be a relatively simple paddle in, Bromley found himself looking down the line at a wave that was almost too perfect to be true.

The foam ball lifted me up and exploded on me so hard. Instantly, I was put hands and knees pressed down onto the coral reef. The wave was just pressing me down, and I remember just being stuck on the stones, flattened onto the coral reef.”

Nias is an iconic wave. It’s one of the more obvious, when observed from the right angle. But just a stone’s throw away, there is another wave. When the earthquake hit in 2004, everything changed there. The reef lifted up enough to change the wave from what it once was, and it also affected the wave around the corner.

“It created this incredible big bombie,” Bromley says. “It’s probably the heaviest wave in Indo, and it’s called Sobatu.”

It is not, as you’d imagine, a wave for the faint of heart. Not only is it extraordinarily heavy, but there’s a coral ledge that pops out of the water just in front of the take-off zone. “It’s super sharp, like this long table all the way to the shoreline. If you blow the take off there, you’re very likely to end up on that table, and it’s not a table you want to be on.

The way the wave works is interesting. It’s a deep water slab, with outer bombies refracting energy towards it. This creates huge peaks breaking over a long slab of shallow reef, made shallower by the earthquake.

“It breaks in many different spots,” Bromley explains. “These massive teepees come in and unload. The bottom of the wave drops away and it delivers huge barrels. I’ve seen waves out there that are probably 18-foot and absolutely square. The thing is, nobody surfs there. Every time I’ve been out there, there’s only been one or two guys in the water.”

On the day of the wipeout this video replays, Bromley was standing on the rock looking at Nias. It was about as perfect as it gets there — 6-8 feet and not a drop out of place — but Bromley knew that the wave around the corner might just deliver something better than perfect. Something life-changing. With Alex Gray in tow, Bromley walked around the corner to have a quick look.

They heard from boat drivers that it was around 8-10 feet, but when they got there, it was clear it was much, much larger.

“These big blue mountains of water were marching in and just unloading on the reef,” Bromley recalls. “These huge, perfect barrels; waves of a lifetime, over and over again. I just knew that if I got one of those, it would be the wave of my life.”

And so, as big wave surfers will do, they paddled out. Gray paddled into the first wave and promptly snapped his leash. He climbed back into the boat, his tail between his legs, but Bromley wasn’t ready to pack it in just yet. As he sat in the lineup scanning for waves, the horizon was darkened by a looming set. Frantically, he scratched towards it, farther and farther out to sea to meet it.

“I thought, ‘it’s really, really dangerous out here. I’m so far away from help and I need to pick my waves really carefully,” Bromley says. “The chances of something bad happening are very, very high.”

After a while, a wave showed up that Bromley deemed to be the one. It was enormous, 15 feet and thick as thick can be, groomed to perfection by a light Indonesian offshore.

“I looked at this thing and thought, ‘okay, this is the wave of my life,'” Bromley says. “‘If I make the drop, this is going to be the wave of my life.'”

And so he turned and went. He made the drop. Once he was at the bottom, however, he realized that the wave had stretched a long way down the line, and he was far too deep. “I could see the boat in the distance,” he remembers, “and I knew that I wasn’t going to make it. I was in a very, very bad place.”

For a few brief seconds, Bromley had the vision to end all visions. Inside an enormous tube, so deep there was nothing but water in his periphery. Then he was struck down.

“After a moment of glory I was violently sent up and planted on top of the coral rock ledge that was raised out of the water in the 2004 earthquake,” he says. “I was left shaking, bloody and feeling lucky to be in one piece.”

All in all, though, you won’t get the wave of your life without taking a few on the head. And for Bromley, the risk is worth the reward.


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