Swellnet’s Surf Forecaster: Craig Brokensha

I grew up in the North Eastern suburbs of Adelaide, 45 minutes away from the anything that resembled a wave, and 1.5 hours away from the more consistent surf surrounding Victor Harbor. As a result, the road trip down to the South Coast was just part of my surfing experience, and I would only head down when I knew the waves would be good. I moved to Sydney in 2009 and live on the Northern Beaches. I’ve been working for Swellnet for nearly 3 years and I’m also interested in photography, documenting my travels when I road trip up and down the coast.

Describe yourself in 3 words: Creative, outgoing, determined.

What is your life motto? There’s no use wasting your life working or doing something you don’t enjoy or take an interest in.

When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? Two and a half years into an Engineering double degree at Adelaide University, I realised that it wasn’t for me and I needed a change.

I was surfing a lot during those years at Adelaide University, and I was naturally interested in the ocean, waves and other physical aspects of the coastal environment. I looked into whether there were any Oceanography courses on offer in Adelaide, and Flinders University offered exactly what I was looking for.

I transferred University’s at the start of 2006, enrolled in the Ocean and Climate Sciences degree and did Honours in 2008. During those years at Flinders University I would go on surfing trips all around the South Australian coastline, documenting my travels with a camera.

When back home I would upload a small blog like post to a forum detailing my trip, the waves I surfed and commenting back and forth with other forum posters. One of those posters was my current boss and owner of Swellnet, Ben Matson.

I was always interested in trying to predict the surf myself – for my road trips, and after meeting Ben in person; a forecasting position came up. This was my window of opportunity to work for Swellnet, predicting the surf, and I took on the South Australian forecast while finishing my Honours. Once Honours was finished I was offered a full time job to work for Swellnet, and didn’t think twice about moving to the head office in Sydney.

How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? It’s hard to say, as I didn’t ever think I would end up or find the pathway to forecasting for Swellnet when I changed University degree’s. This was a pipe dream, and it just so happened that everything fell into place at the right time, like it was meant to be. If you include all the hours, surfing, road tripping, taking photos and scouring the weather maps it would have to be in the thousands.

Describe how difficult the business really is? Predicting the surf, like the weather is not quite an exact science. I use a lot of different forecasting tools including weather models, wave models as well as an acquired knowledge from looking at the weather charts every day for nearly three years. There’s a bit of pattern recognition that comes into it as well, and you build up this knowledge base every day.

I am accountable every day of the year, so every morning I wake up and either I’m correct in my forecast, slightly off, or wrong. Luckily the later doesn’t occur that often. In saying that sometimes a swell may act in a way you didn’t expect and that does affect me personally; as so many people plan their day, week or even month around a swell forecast, and if they are let down, I feel the same way. These events come down to learning experiences and add to knowledge base for use later down the track.

The other aspect that makes it tough sometimes is there are no hard and fast rules to predicting the surf. Every storm, swell and wave is different, and it’s really subjective. Even if I forecast a swell spot on, the subjectivity between different surfers and their idea of wave size is a characteristic of our sport. You could get a room full of surfers, show them a picture of a wave and ask them to put a size on it, and they’ll all give a different answer. For the most part though, surfers using the site know the convention I use and know what to expect at the beach.

What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? Every one interprets what you say and write differently in all aspects of life. In knowing this, I have to make sure that I try and cover every aspect of a swell, including caveats in my surf forecast notes. 

What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? When I was thinking of changing degree’s, my best mate, Shane Hill told me, “If you’re not happy with what you are doing and where your life is heading, then why keep doing it, change to what you’re interested in”.

In your mind, is formal training essential? A background in meteorology and oceanography is nearly a must in my profession, as well as being a surfer. Without this background it would be hard to grasp the different phenomena that occur in the ocean and atmosphere from a technical point of view, and being a surfer myself, it helps to convey the science in layman terms to the general surfing population.

Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Ben Matson would be my biggest mentor. He has taught me so much invaluable information and helped guide me over the past few years regarding how different weather systems evolve as well as some finer details regarding the art of forecasting the surf. I would say having a mentor is very important when starting out, to help mould the way you interpret the weather and ocean.

Because we are in such a niche industry, and there are only a handful of forecasters world wide, so it would be quite hard to find a mentor if you weren’t already in the industry.

What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? A start would be studying some form of oceanography and meteorology course, as this knowledge base is almost a must if you want to start predicting the swell emanating from particular weather systems. Also a keen interest in waves, surfing and keeping an eye on the ocean day to day, rain hail or shine is a must. 

What kept you going when you felt like giving up? There is a feeling of content and accomplishment when a real tricky forecast pans out exactly as you predict. This can also be mixed in with relief when so many people are relying on what you say and write. I also love helping people score great waves if they are going on a long road trip based on a forecast, especially when they’re investing their own money in petrol, accommodation and other things. This feeling of content keeps me motivated when things go pear shaped or turn out opposite to what you expect.

Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? I touched on this briefly above, mentioning that everything seemed to fall perfectly into place at the right time for me. In saying that though, I believe in making your own luck, and while I never thought I’d end up in my dream job when changing degrees from Engineering to Climate Sciences, there was always that pipe dream in the back of my mind.

This, almost, subconscious want and ambition at the back of my mind, seems to have lead and driven me to where I am today, but I believe that timing has played a big part as well.

Check out Swellnet for Craig’s forecasts on the latest surf conditions and surf news.

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