Craig Brokensha - Predicting Low Pressure & Climbing High Mountains
With the first sizable blob of Winter about to hit the East Coast of Oz this weekend, the team here at Movement HQ thought it would be the ideal time to sit down with of one of Australia's most respected swell forecasters, Craig Brokensha.
With over ten years of daily weather data analysis at the helm of "Swellnet", the online blueprint of surf predictions, it was extremely interesting to listen to the key factors he considers whilst forming his weekly theories on how Huey is going to behave.
Have a geez below and soak in the priceless tips that can make your next trip to the coast a favourable one.
Craig "Crangle" Brokensha, what does working at Swellnet mean to you?
Working for Swellnet means working for the best surf forecast and surf content provider in Australia, if not the world. It's a great and flexible working environment with early starts but that opens up the day to fit in a paddle between office hours. We've been a close knit team for over 10 years now, Ben, Stu and myself and recently with the addition of our developer Jono.
As an insider, how on earth did every punter take it when the gang at Swellnet erected that pay wall mid 2018? Any battle wounds still present to this day?
Some of the reactions where quite hilarious. Along the lines of "we've had this service for free for a decade, how dare you charge for it now". Seriously? We put in a lot of effort daily to keep the country informed and with the dwindling advertising market across all industries (not just surfing) we had to transition to subscriptions at some stage. The services we provide are expensive to produce, and we've gotta pay the bills somehow.
Talking about weather patterns, whats your take on this years warming in the tropical Pacific? Can we expect an El Nino or La Nina?
We've been on El Nino alert since late last year, but the indicators and thresholds for a full blown El Nino are yet to be met. Current forecasts have any possible El Nino event in the coming months weak and short-lived, returning to neutral by spring.
If you had to lay down your cards and choose two prime stretches of coastline that will pump this year, Australian and internationally, where would they be and why?
Ha, well this is akin to throwing darts blindfolded, especially at this time of the year as the seasons transition between hemispheres. There are many different global weather patterns and phenomena that come into play, like for example when we see strong El Nino years, the North Shore offers much larger and persistent XXL swell events, much quieter during La Nina. Around Australia I'd avoid the East Coast and focus on Western Australia. They've been getting good swells and winds for the reefs and slabs around Margaret River. Internationally I don't think you can really go wrong with a trip to Portugal or France during their autumn and winter months. There's always a quality wave to be found.
On the topic of swell chasing, how did you end up on a backcountry split board tour with modern hell-man Shane Ackerman in the Aussie Alps? It was incredible to watch the "Tension" reenactment on your gram when Shane took to the boog for a slide down an open mountain face on that very trip, how did that all transpire?
I've known Shackers for years, I think we met through social media discussing the crazy swells he chases and with the winter season over we planned a big spring camp out in the Kosciusko National Park while there was still snow about. We've got a few mutual friends and invited him out there to see what might happen. Well never have I seen something so outrageous than Shane carrying in a bodyboard and flippers to the mountains. We found a natural feature which he could use to line up a couple of hundred meters further up the hill and boost off. We then got him to climb up one of the steeper slopes which ran down into a glacial lake. The sight of Ackerman scrambling up the snow in flippers and then shitting himself saying he'd "rather go straight at The Right" was priceless. He nailed it though and launched off this mini snow cornice into the cold water. All time.
Ive got a confession Craig, I've guiltlessly reread your article "Long Wave Trough: The waves that make waves" numerous times. I loved the fact that science continually pushes the pursuit of wave forecasting perfection, hence why I really enjoyed your well written article.
That leads me to my next question, what weather charts, models and platforms do you rely on to construct your "Forecaster Notes"?
Without giving too many trade secrets away, we've got out own in house data and models to form the base off from, but for getting down to the nitty gritty regarding hi-resolution local wind forecasts Weatherzone's Layers platform is the go to. You can compare multiple model forecasts in a map format, that and also the BOM Marine Wind Forecast charts.
When constructing a surf forecast you have to take into account multiple weather forecast models as they usually don't agree and you'll have one showing a big filthy low and large swell, while the other models are benign. This is where your knowledge base as a forecaster over many years comes into it and helps make a decision on which way the models will eventually go.
Hows the Northern Beaches vibe been lately? Many interesting interactions with the local "rent a crowd" surfing culture that seem to consistently nest up on the Manly shores?
The Northern Beaches vibe has been good through the week, but come the weekend I usually evacuate out and up the coast to escape the weekend crowds and get better waves. With the lack of swell some of the beaches have sanded up, but if you know the right tide and swell, you can still score great sessions with just the local crew. Most of the "rent a crowd" just float around in any case so it's easy to get your waves if you pay attention to the flow of the ocean.
I've recently been stalking your insta and I had the pleasure of stumbling across those double tap worthy images from your trip to the "Great Sandunes National Park" in Colorado, USA. That would have been an experience high on your bucket list, did it live up to expectations?
Colorado was insane! Such an in your face, beautiful state and it blew my expectations out of the water. My mate and I got to travel around in his van, hiking off road passes into the backcountry and scoring knee to thigh deep powder all to ourselves. The trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park was very special. Being able to forecast the weather and also the wind at altitude allowed us to camp overnight in calm conditions, and this is one of the windiest places in the state. We watched the full moon rise over the mountains during the spring equinox while drinking Fireball rum and making new friends on top the dunes. They left for the night and we woke the next morning to a mars like landscape with not a soul to be found. The juxtaposition between the sandunes which sit higher than Australia's highest mountain and the surrounding snow covered mountains which push above 4km elevation is just indescribable. I highly recommend a trip to this area if you're ever in the states.