Core Stories | Matt Bromley

Core Stories | Matt Bromley

Matt Bromley: Slaying Dragons at Dungeons

The Cape Town surfer has raised himself into surfing's big-wave elite. But it is at his local big-wave spot of Dungeons where he might truly change the game. 

Perfect Sunsets A-Frame

Matt Bromley was scared. Scared as he’d ever been. Maybe as scared as he ever will be. On a borrowed 10-foot board and with no inflation vests or safety skis, the 17-year-old saw mountains of water capping a kilometre on the outer reefs. Behind him was the towering peak of The Sentinel - or Hangberg - at the western end of the mouth of Hout Bay. In front of him was a five-wave set, perhaps 50-foot high steaming in through the cold, dark, Southern Ocean waters. You can see why the wave is called Dungeons. 

Beside Bromley was Grant “Twiggy” Baker who, unusually, was of no real use. “It was the first time I’d surfed the wave, and I was shocked just how comfortable he was in that environment,” said Bromley. "I was so out of my comfort zone, I was losing my mind.”

Bromley’s family had made the 30-kilometre move from the centre of Cape Town to the Cape Peninsula’s small town of Kommetjie at the age of 12. His father was a lawyer second, and surfer first (even now approaching 70 he still is one of the town's biggest big wave frothers), who took his son out to the Kommetije's heavy water spots like Crayfish Factory and Outer Kom. By the time he was 15, Matt was surfing Sunset, the legendary big wave spot off Long Beach that he could watch from his house.

Wintery moments hurdling down the faces of monsters.

CHECK OUT MATT BROMS CORE LORDS EPISODE WITH THE ATS BOYS!!!

 

He was a talented surfer in all conditions, representing South Africa as a junior. He was grouped with fellow Kommetije surfers and good friends Mikey February and Brendan Gibbons as some of the country’s brightest prospects. In his teens he’d also spent multiple seasons in Hawaii, staying with his best mates Benji and Davey Brand, whose family split their time between homes in Cape Town and Pipeline. Add slab hunting trips to Indo, West Australia and Tahiti, and by age 17 Matt thought he was ready for Dungeons. Sitting next to Twig, he knew he'd fucked up his risk assessment.

Risk assessment from afar....

As the set approached Twig’s advice to Bromley was to stay put and stand his ground. The ocean swells would be splintered into 25-foot peaks, and reform on the inside reef and allow entry into a giant, slabbing big wave.

But this was Bromdog’s first ever surf at Dungeons. Even now, after more than a decade of dedication to the wave, he is still only just learning the vast reef. Instead, self-preservation propelled him forward towards the horizon. He managed to just punch through the lip of five of the biggest waves he'd ever seen. Each wave threatened to drag him back towards oblivion. Once through the last wave of the set, finally safe, he’d had enough. He decided to paddle back to the boat in the channel, call it quits, and reassess his whole big wave game.

“I was rattled, but as I paddled back, this huge wave popped up wide. I swung and dropped into this huge, blue bomb. I rode it to the channel and everyone was cheering,” said Bromley. “I’d gone from a near-death experience to the biggest thrill of my life. And that was the turning point. I’d been chasing slabs in Oz, Tahiti and Indo, but that wave started a love for chasing really big waves.”

 Mesmerised.....

Bromley has been true to his word. For the last decade, Bromley has dedicated his life to hunting the biggest waves possible. Jaws has been top of the list and his bravery and ability at the wave, and other spots in Hawaii, have earned him an invite into the Jaws Big Wave Challenge and the Eddie Aikau. From his Hawaiian base, he’d also do strike missions to Mavericks, where through a mix of balls, respect, and sheer time in the water he has gained a respected spot in the line-up.

When the Northern Hemisphere season wrapped, he, his wife and their young son would head back to his Kommetije, where increasingly Dungeons has become his big wave focus. “I used to think the line-up was totally random and basically just a glorified reform,” laughed Bromley. “But the last few years I’ve been trying to map the reef in my head and can see the patterns starting to emerge.”

Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.

Apart from his research, Matt has been delving into the internal hard drives of Dungeons OG’s like Simon Lowe, Andrew Marr, Mickey Duffus and his godfather Glenn Bee, who have been towing the wave on every winter storm swell for the last decade. Grant Washburn, the Mavericks surfer and cinematographer, who spent a few winters in Cape Town when Red Bull’s Big Wave Africa was held in the 2000s, also sent him his self-drawn maps and oceanography notes on the huge line-up.

Identified on Washburn’s maps, and now in Bromley’s sights, is the Back Peak. Here fingers of reef extend from a ledge, (hopefully) providing a chip-in to the biggest waves that hit the square kilometre of reef. Bromley says it is these waves that then square up on the ledge, doing what he says is an impersonation of The Right in Western Australia. Just bigger! Seeing them is one thing though, getting them is another.

Watching the lip fold endlessly 

In 2023 he had a session at Dungeons, 15 years after his first, where again he saw the potential of this incredible, but fickle, big-wave freak show. Instead of a 20-strong pack of big-wave legends, it was just him and a mate surfing. Unlike most big-wave spots in the world, Bromley’s issue at Dungeons isn’t the crowds, but finding willing surf buddies. Calling the waves 40 to 50 feet, the biggest he’d ever surfed it, Bromley spent the last 45 minutes before dark surfing alone, dodging these giant peaks in the raw, wild ocean and environment and gathering his courage to catch a bomb.

“Core surfing to me is when those types of big days come around and you stick it out for the whole day,” finishes Bromley. “You have to push through the fear and the tiredness and challenge yourself to get that life-changing wave. It happened to me when I was young at Dungeons. I’m sure it will happen again.”

Watching the last few sets roll through as the sun finishes its shift.
Words by Ben Mondy
Images by Alan Van Gysen