Swimming With The Everyman

Josh Bystrom
Swellnet Dispatch

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 neighboring 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, 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 professionson 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 surfwear, 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 Everymen 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.

Matt on a beautiful wave - we'll run the full sequence on Swellnet shortly

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!

Nathan 'Hog' Hedge points to the one he wants

A beautiful wave rolls through unridden

An unidentified surfer deep on a majestic wave

'Another surfer whose name I didn't catch. Everymen, everywhere.'

One last unknown surfer. Check the technique, with his leading ankle rolled over so the front leg makes contact with the wave face, while the arms are splayed - one grabbing the rail, the other finessing the face. 

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 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.

Sam riding a small board on a very big wave

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.

Sam, subtle weight shift towards the inside rail on his 7'10"

A similar move as Shishkebabs unloads

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.

Tevita operating deep behind the lip

Cheeks puffed, eyes focussed, Che Bula races a deep one

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!



maddogmorley's picture
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maddogmorley Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 6:17pm

Wow - EPIC!.

Totally agree on the yellowed board crew - the owner of the place I usually stay in Indo is exactly like that. Charges. Not flashy - just very solid. Always goes. Nearly always make it. Has a bunch of yellow boards

maddogmorley's picture
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maddogmorley Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 6:09pm

That last unknown surfer on his backhand - fuck wish i could do that. Can just tell he's gonna make it. Doesn't get much better technique than that IMO

garyg1412's picture
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garyg1412 Friday, 24 Jun 2022 at 8:03am

+1 maddog
That is such a skill not many of us average surfers can pull off. It's a far more graceful move than it's Pig Dog tag.

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 6:40pm

Love this. Everymen, but very skilfull crew!

zenagain's picture
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zenagain Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 7:04pm

Who secretly wouldn't love one of those shots of themselves on one of those beauties.

Cool article and epic pics.

DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet's picture
DudeSweetDudeSweet Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 7:11pm

Do it Zen.

Buy the ticket and take the ride.

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Bustard Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 8:06pm

I had the privilege of getting cloudbreak to my self when the breaks were “owned” by the islands … cross over day… 4 to 5 ft so nothing special but the waves in the pics above in some strange way look the exact same shape.
Hard to pick the take off spot when there is no one else out. But once you got your line it felt like you could close your eyes and still come out of the barrel…… amazing place

quokka's picture
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quokka Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 7:08pm

Tevita's come a long way from surfing Leighton, used to see him out there all the time

batfink's picture
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batfink Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 7:18pm

Me, zen, no secret though. Great article. As with those Deadman’s swells, the guys who just do it for fun and to test themselves, against themselves, win more kudos from me than the best pro surfer.

Which just exacerbates the problem of those professional surfers, who, ermmm, don’t go!

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memlasurf Friday, 24 Jun 2022 at 7:43am

Name doesn’t start with an F?

andy-mac's picture
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andy-mac Thursday, 23 Jun 2022 at 9:34pm

Purely for the love of of surfing!

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Friday, 24 Jun 2022 at 8:20am

Epic shots as always Josh and great work for getting those stories as well. Can't wait for the sequence of Grainger.

Cotter's picture
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Cotter Friday, 24 Jun 2022 at 10:11am

Great article, very well written. Awesome to hear some stories from the 'everyman surfer' taking on world class waves.
Pretty sure the unknown fella getting barrelled on the white board with red rails is Billy Kemper.
Still, makes me want to go on another surf trip!

Daltz007's picture
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Daltz007 Saturday, 25 Jun 2022 at 9:22am

Great story and images of what must have been an epic few days.

The local surf culture in Samoa was quite similar, though at an earlier phase and surf level, it still was full of frothers.
They rode anything they could get their hands on, which consisted of snapped boards for the grommets, old clunkers and yellowed gems for the older fellas.
Lucky ones had boards donated by visting surfers.
I learned that things we absolutely take for granted, such as quick and efficient shipping, have significant impacts on the community, but they just roll with it.
My guide told me a simple spark plug for the outboard, which is obviously critical, can cost an arm and a leg and may not even be available, subject to shipping, weather, storms, etc. No plug, no boat, no income, etc. So surf gear is obviously way down the priority list.
Being a national manager for a surf brand at the time, they soon recieved a thank you package of rashies, leggies, booties, fins, flippers, goggles and other stuff...including a spark plug :-)

Werris......you are the maddest frother...yewwwwwwwwww.

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barclay Tuesday, 5 Jul 2022 at 8:05am

Great shots and write up, one of the unidentified is a big wave world champ. Great the little known aussies grabbed the spotlight, and some nerve holding their line through shishkebobs at that size!

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Pete Jovic Monday, 11 Jul 2022 at 10:14am

Terrific Josh.