Big wave contests are fraught with politics and relationship fall out. Over the years contests have caused deep schisms within the very communities that they seek to uplift and honor. On the 23rd of October, the sentinels of Dungeons came together to take part in an event that did exactly the opposite.
The sets were 30ft. Two swells had overlapped, churning the amphitheater into a horrifying spectacle of nature. Each wave was different from the next, never breaking in the same place twice. It was cold, raw and scary. The playing field was enormous and no human being was safe when those set waves came avalanching through the take-off area. A cry of, “somethings coming!” would echo through the line up and the flotilla of small boats would accelerated for the blackening horizon. In their wake, the surfers scratched furiously to get out of harms way. It was a symphony of pure chaos. It was Dungeons, in all her viciously, psychotic majesty. “World wide, it’s the best venue for this kind of an event.” Says Neil Webster. “We don’t have crowd problems because of the Great Whites. The wave is also illusive, not breaking for 6-8 months at a time. I started filming there in 1996 off the back of a fishing trawler. Dungeons had been surfed, but never documented. It was a traumatic day with people vomiting, multiple broken boards, fear of the sharks and huge beat downs. One guy took such a beating that he even moved inland to became a game ranger.”
Over a 10 year period, Webster had a lot of conversations with Gary Linden. “During the years that we did the Red Bull Big Wave Africa together, we watched the big wave fellowship grow, blossom and bloom. Gary inspired me to try and do an event that captured the spirit of big wave riding. We spent a couple of years coming up with the format, it’s the result of years worth of conversations. James Taylor was a primary contributor. He pointed out that heats don’t do justice to the camaraderie and ethos of big wave riding.” Taylor says, “some guys are calculated and sit way out back patiently waiting for the one life changing wave, whilst others just go on anything that comes their way. A 45 minute heat makes it impossible to be yourself out there.” For that reason, the Rebel Session leaders decided to make it an open session. After 7 hours of surfing, all the footage was edited together and shown to a panel of judges. The Rebel leaders also mailed all the participants, to ask them to recommend surfers, who they thought should be honored, in four different catagories.
The event needed a sponsor who’s primary motivation was: “To give back to surfing.” Rebel Media stepped up to the plate, hence the event being called – “The Rebel Sessions.” Webster worked closely with a local organization that represents the big wave riders of Cape Town, which meant that it was the surfers themselves who nominated the invitees. The 20 locals who were invited, had to have put in their time at Dungeons. The Rebel Sessions was created for the regulars. Being included was a way of rewarding the surfers who are most regularly paddling into Africa’s biggest waves.
The ‘top honors’ was taken by 26 year old Matthew Bromley, not only for his performance on the day, but for his complete dedication to riding big waves on a global scale. The goal of the event was tell the stories of the next generation of surfers. A core value the older Dungeons regulars is that riding big waves comes through apprenticeship. Many of them feel that it’s about the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next. Odd Grim Persson (real name) was the young surfer honored in the ‘rookie’category. Elder statesman, Mickey Duffus, says of Odd, “I saw him take a 25ft set on the head earlier this year. He paddled right back out smiling. That’s when I realized that this guy is the real deal.” Also awarded were Mike Schlebach and Dougal Paterson for their ability to come back from huge beatings, whilst riding the biggest waves of the day.
For most of the Dungeons surfers, riding big waves is about sharing that space and watching out for each other, direct competition, isn’t a part of their ethos. This big wave event was about building friendship and trust by rewarding courage and dedication to a lifestyle of charging huge waves. According to Webster, big wave riding is almost a religion. He calls it, “church of the big waves.”