Swimming With The Everyman

Swellnet, 2022 by Josh Bystrom

Swimming With The Everyman

Swellnet, 2022 by Josh Bystrom

As I sit to write this – sunburned, with bloodshot eyes, and if I smile anymore my bottom lip will crack – I reflect back on what truly was an incredible few days of surfing.

I’m in Nabila, a Fijian village on the Coral Coast surrounded by mountains and palm trees, a far cry from neighbouring Nadi.

The air is filled with the sound of children playing, animals grazing, and a gentle trade wind rustling the palm trees above. A vastly different contrast to what is going on a twenty minute boat ride away at Cloudbreak. I sit beside Waqua, a local tribal elder who has graciously welcomed me into his home which has hosted a plethora of surf royalty over the years. Many of whom have shared similar traits: cuts, scrapes, great stories, and a lighter board bag upon departure. On this occasion there’s no shortage of limes being used for alternate purposes and our plates are piled high each day with traditional Fijian food.
Che, a local surfer, was one of the only Fijians allowed to ride the private waves of Tavarua and Namotu during their ownership, shares his knowledge with me on Cloudbreak, describing where he sat in the lineup, what the best waves looked like, and how they broke. Having witnessed it first-hand throughout the swell, I have no doubt in his ability to ride waves of consequence.

By now you will all have seen the clips and images of the pros at Cloudbreak during this swell event, but until today you may not have heard of the people I’m about to mention. For mine, they’re the unsung heroes of the swell, the people who’ve put their lives and professions on hold to chase the wave of a lifetime.

They’re the sort of surfers you’ll see swinging late on the bombs, getting destroyed, or maybe holding the line ducking and weaving under the lip. They may not have the prowess of a pro, and they often ride unorthodox yellowed boards while wearing old season surf wear, but they most certainly aren’t afraid to have a go.

Following is a selection of photos from the swell, plus two interviews with the Everyman of Cloudbreak.
Matt Grainger, is a 53 year-old father of three from Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Matt’s the kind of guy who often wears a huge grin paddling back up the lineup. Who will give you a modest recap of his last wave even though you heard the maniacal cheering from the boats. Here are a few things he had to say:

Has age brought you more confidence or wisdom surfing these kind of waves?
I think age has really helped me to surf with no expectations and to always stay present.

Tell us about your game plan that day in the Cloudbreak lineup?
I try to be in the right take-off spot, have zero negative thoughts, and paddle as hard as I can to get into each wave. If I make the drop I then assess what’s in front of me from there – one step at a time kind of thing.

Any surf etiquette advice out there?
To share waves and say hi to everyone in the lineup.

Did you fly in for the swell? And do you chase big swells at home?
I try to surf every swell at home. I actually just surfed the same swell in Sydney for six hours a day for five days so I’m pretty mentally and physically drained at the moment!

What board did you ride?
A 7’0″ Christenson mostly.

Word among the boats is your wave was among the best ridden at Cloudbreak that swell (stay tuned to Swellnet for the full sequence), how does that feel given that you were out there with some of the world’s best surfers?
I never expected it and I’m totally stoked. Thanks to Nathan Hedge for pushing me out there!

Sam Schumann is another, a humble 31-year-old Forster native who spends most of his time on the tools at home.

When did you first decide to pull the trigger on the trip? Was it an easy decision?
I pulled the trigger four days before the swell. All I’ve done is work the past three years so it was an easy decision – and also the best travel decision I’ve ever made.

How did you feel grabbing the tow rope to catch the first few waves of the peak of the swell?
Grabbing onto that tow rope was a boost of adrenaline and happiness, and to catch one of the first waves of the day was amazing.

Tell us a bit about the boards you brought with you?
I bought two shortboards, a 6’6″ and 6’8″ by Simmo Surfboards which I hardly used [laughs]. I ended up breaking both, but the board that really let me into those waves was a 7’10″ Dylan Shapes. It was my 30th bday present – the best present ever and it felt amazing out there.

What was your game plan in the Cloudbreak lineup?
My game plan out there was just to have fun while tackling a few bigger waves. Surfing in boardies was also a great novelty.

How did you feel surfing solid Cloudbreak on your backhand?
Sometimes I almost favour my backside. I love it. Cloudbreak definitely makes it difficult with how different every wave is. My advice would be to watch someone like Julian Wilson, who takes clean lines, stays low and has one hell of a backhand bottom turn.

On their forehand it’s hard to go past the locals, Che and Tevita.

No doubt reality will shortly set back in and the weekly grind will resume. I can’t help but feel encouraged by the Everyman. As talented as they are humble, their eagerness for waves of consequence often overlooked, but these surfers are the ones who deserve accolades; who put work, family, and sometimes, financial security on the line in the hope of catching the wave of their life.

Long live the Everyman!