The ESM Q&A with Brett Barley
By Dick “Mez” Meseroll @mezapixels
If you surf, this man needs no introduction unless you live in a digital communications black-out cave. If and when you ever decide to venture forth from under that rock just go to the nearest library computer room, Google search “Brett Barley Namibia” and you will find out all you need to know – along with our exclusive ESM Q&A interview below – about one of the worlds best tube riders and his romance with Skeleton Bays endless, kegging pits with the bonus addition of Barley’s recent drop of his Namibia Part 2 video blog.- Mez –
1) Tell us about the effort to get to Namibia and Skeleton Bay starting from the time you decide to pull the trigger until you drop into that first wave.
Namibia is one of the hardest trips to pull the trigger on… Even though I know what swells I’m looking for, the South Atlantic is such a small ocean, you HAVE to wait till the last second to decide, because things can change fast (typically in the form of forecasts downgrading). It makes it one of the most stressful trips I’ll ever do. It’s super expensive, so it’s nerve racking. Then you worry about your boards not making it, or your flights getting delayed, and if either of those things happen, you might miss the wave all together! It only breaks for a day, sometimes 1 and 1/2 days on the right swell, so if things don’t go smoothly you could very easily miss the whole swell or be stuck riding a borrowed board. When it all comes together… there’s no experience in surfing like it though!
2) Total transportation (gas, tolls, parking, airfare, car hire, buses, taxis ) travel cost round trip approximately?
About $4,500 from leaving my house, to coming home.
3) You are in a bit of a different position as a pro surfer now that doing video blogs has become a huge part of earning your keep. What additional items are you now packing besides a bunch of boards and a wetsuits?
I’ve always carried a little bit extra in my bags when it came to trips, compared to other surfers. I’ve always had external hard drives, and GoPros (plus accessories), but once I started documenting every trip, my suitcase got heavy quick. It varies from trip to trip, but for Namibia specifically, aside from surf gear, I took…
– Sony a6500 Camera + SELP 18-200 Lens + Rode VideoMic + Joby Gorilla Pod (that setup is on my hip the whole time)
– 2 GoPros + multiple mounts + 4-6 Batteries + 2 dual Chargers
– DJI Mavic Air + 3 batteries
– 2 Soloshots + Tripod + Extra Armbands
– Goal Zero battery charger
– 3 International Converters + Surge Protector
– Laptop + Mouse
– Hard Drive
– Small Camera Bag to organize all of that stuff
– Tons of cords to charge all of the above
4) How’s going through customs with all that gear and has there been one reaction, incident or encounter with an agent / agents that’s memorable?
I’ve actually never had an issue going through Customs. I keep some of the stuff in my carry on and some in my checked bag. It is a PAIN going through security now though, because you have to remove any electronics bigger than a phone. So, I’m emptying most of the contents of my backpack every time – haha.
5) Can you approximate the miles you travelled from your driveway in Buxton NC to the town you stay in to surf this wave?
It’d honestly take a WHILE to add all that up. haha. Hours wise… it’s 40 something hours from the time I leave home till the time I get to Africa and the wave. Longer if flights encounter issues, or long layovers.
6) How about a little micro geography? Can you give us a breakdown of the break itself and are there different sections, do they have names like at J-Bay with Supertubes, Boneyards etc.?
I mean, it’s such a long wave, and all of it is pretty similar. You’ll just refer to parts of the wave as Top, Middle, Bottom.
7) What’s the pullback view topographically of the break? Where is it on the world map and what landmass causes / shapes / creates this natural surfing wonder?
It’s just a random sandbar… that’s the beauty of it, and the cause for concern. There are multiple places along the West Coast of Africa that have sand points like Skeleton Bay. They shift and change, and some years are better than others. The beauty of it is it’s so random that it exists, and the worry is that at any moment it’ll change and never be the same. It’s actually less perfect now than it once was, which is a bummer, because the wave seems to get more difficult to make each year I go.
8) Can you approximate the length of your longest ride, ditto a singular barrel?
I had a Trace tracker on my board the first year and caught a wave 730m in length, but it didn’t barrel – haha. I’d say your average wave there is 250-300 meters, and the good ones go 400-500m. The exceptional ones, like ones Koa Smith gets, go 700m+… but getting one is hard.
My longest barrel there was this year, at 24seconds… the first year I went I never got a barrel more than 7 or 8 seconds long, which seems odd for the longest barreling wave in the world. Then last year I had a few double-digit barrels, with one hitting just at 20seconds. But your average barrel length is anywhere from 5-8seconds, and then more if you get the right wave.
9) How about a little history lesson for us? Who the heck found this wave and rode it first and about what year?
I’m not exactly sure who found it, and guys had been bodyboarding it before anyone surfed it. My friend who lives near there for the last 15years said they tried bodyboarding it before anyone surfed it but it was often too fast for them. Cory Lopez and those guys were the first ones to surf it, so the local guys in the area claim. I believe that was 2007?
10) As a veteran world traveler where do you rank Namibia in your top five and please give us that top five in order- assuming it’s in your top five?
Namibia is number ONE without a doubt! Top five would be…
11) I caught a session with you last September at the Lighthouse groin and shot a 135 frame, single wave of yours ( click on the edited down, 85 frame GIF below ) that included 3 deep barrels, do you ever get flashes of surfing Skeleton Bay at the wave where you first learned to surf?
The first time I went to Namibia, I was riding waves thinking “this is just like the Lighthouse”! They really are similar in how they break, the way you takeoff, and how you pump & read the wave. The colors are all similar… Skeleton Bay is like the Lighthouse on the best day of the year, but 30x longer haha!
12) No “tail block cam” on this trip?
I wanted to so bad! My tail mount board is a 6’10” though, that way you can scoot up on the board to get away from the camera and get a better image. None of the airlines in that area allow more than 6’6” bags, so I left it at home.
14) By the obvious leaps and bounds in the technical and creative qualities of your vlogs the past 12-18 months, along with the bettering of the story telling each episode, do you see doing video blogs as a step to something else once the pro surfing career winds down as they all inevitably do?
For sure! I think my Vlogs have given me a greater audience as well, so my career can become less defined by the surf media, and more defined by the general population. My goal would be to develop a YouTube channel that enough people follow, I can turn it into whatever I want. I love generating content, and sharing life with people, and the ones who write in so stoked on getting to join along virtually are the ones who keep me coming back every week with an edit. And even if my YouTube never grows to a point that it can sustain my family financially, I can take everything I’m learning and continue doing video work for a job, and I love that. I’m excited for where things are headed regardless of the direct path.
13) Where do you imagine yourself 10 years from now?
I honestly haven’t even thought that far ahead… I set yearly goals and go from there. I have backup plans for any curveballs life may throw, but no 10 year goals really.
14) Your favorite video blogger and why?
Jon Barzacchini aka “Jon B” who runs a fishing channel on YouTube. I came across him a few years back and loved his style of editing and storytelling. He was just a kid filming himself fishing, and sharing his adventures, but also VERY creative in the editing department as well. I appreciate anyone who excels behind the camera and editing, and have been following him since he had 200-300k subscribers… he’s now at 1.1million, and watching his channel grow gave me the idea of “hey maybe I could do that with surfing and editing”.
15) Anybody you’d like to prop for their help, inspiration, mentoring in both your surfing and video career’s?
There’s so many to list in that realm haha. Jesse Hines took me under his wing as my career was really getting started and taught me a lot, both in surfing, and in how to manage it as a job. Cory Lopez kinda filled that roll as Jesse stepped away from surfing professionally, and I can’t thank either of those guys enough for all they have taught me over the years.
Watching Ben Graeff take off over the last 2 years has been incredibly inspirational. He’s one of the first guys to show that you can make a career in surfing, even if the big companies and media outlets don’t back you. I’m so proud of him and what he’s accomplished, and it definitely fueled the fire in getting my Vlog started. He also provided a lot of encouragement back when i was debating the idea, and can’t thank him enough.
Film wise… I get inspired by guys like Patrick Rhea (from Florida, films fishing), who has an incredible ability behind the lens, and with his editing. I get sucked into everything he creates, and just desire to be able to create content like that, that gives other people the same feeling. Also Peter McKinnon (big youtuber in video/photo) is a huge inspiration, cause there aren’t many people that can film and edit the most MUNDANE things and make them exciting and engaging. Both of those guys have been huge inspirations in how I shoot and edit content… not that what I do even comes close to their work!
In case you missed it – or just want to watch it again ( recommended ) – check-out Part 1 of Brett’s Namibia vlog below….