Portrait of the Surfer as a Young Man

Full speed, no brakes (except for a few snapped bones and a broken heart) with the conflicted old soul of Harry Bryant.

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Harry Bryant is cruising in his 78 series Toyota Land Cruiser, only 15 minutes out from my place, when he sees the red and blue lights flashing in his rearview mirror. It’s no surprise. His mud-splattered, kitted-out four-wheel drive makes an easy target for the police. And on this stretch of highway, with its steady stream of holidaymakers and gray nomads, the law hands out fines for fun. He pulls over to the side of the busy country road, wondering what this latest transgression might be. While he might attract attention with his setup, Bryant also knows the rules and regs. He keeps his rig in check. 

Still, the highway patrolman spends the next 40 minutes carefully inspecting the vehicle, looking for infringements in any of its various modifications. “He only got me for $100 in the end,” says a dejected-looking Bryant once he finally makes it to my house. He points to the empty fishing-rod holders jutting from the truck’s generously proportioned bonnet guard. “For having these illegally attached to the bullbar, which is bullshit.” 

It’s an unseasonably warm afternoon on the mid North Coast of New South Wales. The low winter sun is just beginning to dip below a bank of clouds and the mountains. Bryant’s driven eight hours to get here, his truck stacked with boards, clothes, camping gear, and his loyal border collie, Baz (or Barry, in full), who’s now darting across my yard with the frenetic energy usually associated with his owner. 

Bryant’s barefoot, wearing a brown bomber jacket over a bright-red tee. Blue denim shorts sit below the knee. His notorious hair hedge is trimmed, though no less fecund. As he paces around the car, he has the overall affect of a ’90s American dad mid–road trip, changing a tire or stealing a smoke. 

Photo by Thomas Robinson.

Barry and Harry are on a road trip of sorts. It’s the final leg of a multi-thousand-mile zigzag that’s crossed halfway across the continent, then traveled halfway back. Nearly three weeks straight, living out of a truck that looks more ready for the apocalypse than for the genteel highways of eastern Australia. 

In many ways, Bryant’s schedule is his own now, for the first time in 10 years. Nobody to report to. Just a man and his dog on the open road. But he needs the fine like a hole in the head. Another wasted hour from a life in transit. 

“I’m so sorry I’m late, hey,” he says. “Hopefully it hasn’t stuffed you around.” If there’s one thing Bryant apparently dislikes more than traffic cops, it’s not keeping his word. 

He pauses, as if the weight of the world is momentarily on his shoulders. He’s been thrown a few twists and turns as of late. Some of them major. But this one? Fuckin’ fishing-rod holders? He shakes his head. Then maybe he calls on some of the meditation training he’s been practicing. A quick centering of his breath. Recognition that the moment will pass, just like those clouds drifting overhead. 

Baz barks. The moment indeed passes. They always do.  


We were supposed to meet at Bryant’s South Coast home, but a string of polar lows sweeping across South Australia derailed that plan. He’d been shooting the final few segments of his upcoming feature-length film and thus made the aforementioned last-minute beeline to the red-desert coast with his videographer, Dave Fox. Two weeks in the outback shitting in a pit, eating canned beans, and trading tubes as wide as churches. It was a fruitful trip. 

Whether it’s on four wheels, a rattle-canned blade, or while sussing out consequential waves, “I love impact,” Bryant says. Photo by John Respondek.

“We were surfing these waves which were, like, 10 foot and about as gnarly as it can get to paddle,” Bryant says. 

There’re few rules in his charmed life, but this is one of them: When the isobars tighten, you drop everything—meddling surf writers included. So, profusely apologizing for the broken promise, he offered to come to me about halfway between his adopted home of Ulladulla, on New South Wales’ South Coast, and his paternal digs of Noosa, Queensland. He had some time booked in with the family before heading off on his next trip to Indonesia, which helped the arrangements. 

“I’m constantly driving or sitting on planes,” he says. “And then it’s, like, surfing for 10 days straight, then getting in a car and driving for 26 hours. I get out of the car and my back feels like I’m 70.” 

We settle onto my deck to chat. It’s a distinctly Australian setting. The dusk the color of a deepening bruise. Din of a holiday town on a Saturday evening wandering up the hill from below. The sharp, smoky scent of winter backburning punctuates the scene. 

Bryant does look tired. Red-eyed. His sore back no doubt protesting another cramped seat. But across the next three hours he’s an interviewer’s delight. Articulate, vibrant, insightful, his delivery littered with laconic ocker mannerisms. 

This is the Harry Bryant we know. Age: 26. Sponsors: Vans, Drag, Monster, Octopus. Sun sign: Libra. Shoe size: 10. Height: 6’1″ in socks. One of the most popular, in-demand surfers in the world today. 

He’s lived his life in the spotlight and forged the archetype for the modern-day surfer, or at least its antipodean version, in the image of the blue-collar antihero. He’s the bowl-cut bon vivant—as Australian as the smell of bushfire in the evening air. 

For Bryant, surfing’s a blood sport and slabs are his cage. There’s no backdoor entry too deep to attempt or lip too thick to augment. In the process, he’ll roll with the punches for multiple rounds until something snaps, cracks, or pops. Photo by John Respondek.

In the late-stage social-media era, where the cult of personality sits equally alongside talent, Bryant delivers both in Monster-stickered spades. As a result, his career to date has been one hit after another, an existence in ascendancy with no cause for reflection, or any time for it. But social media—any media, for that matter—gives only the illusion of intimacy. Curated glimpses. And, as his breathing exercises hinted, it hasn’t all been roses for Bryant of late. 

“A lot of people have been looking at me, and all my friends are like, ‘Shit, is he going to do okay? Are you okay?’” says Bryant. “And I’m just like, ‘I’m sweet.’ But I’ve had all these life lessons in such a short amount of time,” he adds of his last 12 months. 

Some of them are already on the record, but others are not: broken bones, broken plans, broken hearts—the vexed dilemmas that constitute everyday existence. How we handle them is a test all inevitably confront.

This, then, is a portrait of the surfer as a young man. 


Bryant was born in Noosa, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Eldest progeny of Brett and Emma Bryant. Older brother to Milly. The Bryants moved to the area in the early ’90s, chasing hospitality work. They bought a house at Sunshine Beach, a leafy hamlet on the back side of Noosa Heads. It was a time when a working-class family could afford a home there. Brett ended up running his own metal-recycling business. They’re still in the same house today.

Bryant was an empathetic, switched-on kid. Brett, an accomplished surfer in his own right, recounts his wisened, old-soul son holding adult conversations with the local crew at the beach at 5 years old. “He was just this loveable little character,” says Brett. “Always on for a chat with anyone.” 

Photo by John Respondek.

Bryant was tenacious, too. Imbued with his parents’ working-class spirit, which played out in his earliest surfing exploits. “I definitely had a bit of go in me from an early age, no matter what it was that I was doing,” he says. “That Australian mongrel. I just always tried to push myself. Nothing seemed too big or too hard.” 

Bryant was raised on a steady diet of ’90s Australian power surfing. If he wasn’t in the water or skating, he was watching old videos of Luke Egan and Mark Occhilupo. “Dad would point at them and say, ‘That’s good surfing.’ So that’s all I wanted to be. Basically, I wanted to surf to impress my dad. If he thought I was cool and that I was ripping, that was all that mattered.”

His talent soon became apparent. Bryant was picked up by Rip Curl when he was 10 and reached fair heights on the junior WSL series, followed by a second to Kanoa Igarashi at the Hurley Australian Open in 2015. But contests weren’t the path for him. After almost a decade with Rip Curl, he was ready to call his career quits and take up an apprenticeship with Dad. Then a left-field suitor emerged: the Mad Hueys. 

The Gold Coast surf and fishing brand gave Bryant a simple brief: Be yourself. Surf where and how you want. Put out videos when you can. For a 19-year-old kid, it was the dream assignment. With his bristling talent and ease in front of the camera, he soon built a healthy rep. Rusty came knocking next with a bigger deal. 

“And then people were hitting me up to go on trips,” says  Bryant, including invites to travel with the likes of Craig Anderson, Dion Agius, Noa Deane, Creed McTaggart, Beau Foster. Web edits like Bio Haz and Rust established Bryant in the upper echelon of the new-wave Australian movement. 

While Bryant lives by a code of respect that discourages cursing in public, there are undoubtedly expletives caught in his throat during moments like this. Photo by John Respondek.

Another sticker change followed. He’s now one of a handful of surfers worldwide sponsored head to toe by Vans. And his contract, while considerably healthier, still aligns with the same template as that original Mad Hueys brief: Go surf. Have fun. Be yourself. For Bryant, being himself has been good business. “I guess I just kind of have this character that people are interested in,” he says, reflecting. 

Over the last few years, there’s been a post-ironic embrace of the blue-collar, hi-vis social class in Australia. In surfing circles it’s manifested as an idolization of the no-nonsense, egalitarian ethos that has defined a significant part of the Australian surfing scene for the past 50 years: living fast, surfing hard, speaking truth to bullshit. It’s a knowing nod to the wild old days. Fuck the WSL, if you can’t rock and roll, don’t fuckin’ come, et cetera. Along with surfers like Deane, McTaggart, and Vans teammate Holly Wawn, Bryant has emerged as a talisman of the culture. 

Yet he’s no passive agent in the equation. He is acutely aware of his image. Not to suggest it’s contrived, but Bryant understands we are in the era of personality as a brand. And if he can harness his natural charisma, make it part of his appeal, why not capitalize? 

“I just like taking the piss,” says Bryant of this larrikin identity. “Where I grew up in Noosa was perfect because there were so many yuppies around there to make fun of. And then in surfing I see so many people who take it way too seriously. Surfing’s not meant to be like that. So I just like revving people up—in a loveable way.” 

Bryant’s as known for his moves on land as he is in the water. There was the infamous Waco security guard body slam, and almost being arrested for swimming across a packed Sydney Harbor with a steak inside his boardshorts. 

Everything he tries has that full-bore approach that either ends in comedy, shredding, or utter annihilation.

He knows how to have a good time. But his character runs deeper than stunts. 

“Harry has a special energy to him,” says his housemate, photographer Tom Robinson. “The first time I met him, we were talking like we’d known each other for years. I’ve seen it happen with a bunch of people. He has a genuine interest in them, and loves social interaction.” 

“Dad always said to me, especially when I started going good in comps and stuff, that no matter how good you surf, if you’re a wanker, no one’s going to want a bar of you,” Bryant says. He’s got a few more life rules on the list: “Shake people’s hand, look them in the eye, be respectful, and treat women with respect. Don’t swear in front of people, be aware of your surroundings, and just be a  good person.” 

It’s a simple code to live by. 

“Surfing is great and I’m happy that people recognize me as a good surfer,” he says, “but I really hope that people speak highly of me and think that I’m a good person as well. Because that’s all you want, really.”


And yeah, he rips.

In the water, Bryant regularly proves that old axiom: The equipment is the rider, not the board. He works with a range of shapers on an even wider range of craft, from performance shortboards to ’90s blades and big-wave quads and everything in between. It’s an anarchic approach. He loves to bodyboard, too, and even has his own boog model, the Drag “Gunt.” (Ask an Australian friend for that translation.) 

Further example of the internal/external dichotomy of control and aggression in Bali. Photo by Thomas Robinson.

“Harry’s talent and approach to surfing is really unique,” says Fox. “I’d say he’s more of a balls-to-the-wall ’90s power surfer than a lot of other crew I’ve shot with. Everything he tries has that full-bore approach that either ends in comedy, shredding, or utter annihilation. It’s always entertaining to shoot.”

He has no set training regimen. No professional athlete’s build, for that matter. But then there’s that preternatural talent. His kinesthetic sense and pure physical ability overrule what his core fitness might otherwise dictate. His photographic résumé looks like the cartoonish scenes scribbled on the back of a high school math book. A Stab magazine reader poll recently ranked him as the 14th most popular surfer in the world, nestled between Nathan Florence and Asher Pacey. Like so many rare talents before him, hypothetical “what could’ve been if he’d knuckled down” questions abound. 

“I’ve still got a competitive drive,” says Bryant. “But it’s all in myself and basically pushing myself to be a better surfer and push myself in waves of consequence. I have people I’m really competitive with, and if we’re sharing a lineup with each other, I want to be better than them. I want to get a better wave. I want to be deeper in the pit. I want to do a bigger air than them.” 

For a kid who grew up surfing the soft points of Noosa, Bryant has a remarkable level of comfort in heavy surf. He puts this down to the amount of time he spends in the water on the South Coast with the Drag crew. Bryant made the move from the Sunshine Coast about 10 years ago and found the South Coast is everything the Sunny is not: cold, uncrowded, and dripping with reefs and rock ledges. 

“I’d never really surfed slabs and waves like that before,” he says. “So I was studying these bodyboarders, watching where they would sit and seeing what lines they would take. I was just like, ‘I’m going to push myself and try and go on the waves that they’re going on.’” 

 Surf check and rap with a Moroccan elder. Photo by Thomas Robinson.

He’s also a keen skater. “I love impact,” he says. “I love sliding across the concrete and ripping all my skin off. There’s something about being all bloody that pumps me up. I like hitting the reef, bleeding and getting stitches and shit. I’m attracted to the adrenaline. I find myself in the craziest situations sometimes. I know I need to tone it back, otherwise I’m going to get seriously hurt. But then things give me such an adrenaline rush [that] I just keep doing them. It’s not necessarily something I like about myself.” 

Recent events have slowed Bryant down some. The snapped fibula last year from an air landing gone wrong has been well documented. Ten weeks out of the water, though it was initially feared to be much worse. The enforced stillness was anathema to Bryant, someone so used to a life of constant motion. 

“I pulled myself up in a little camp chair out the front of my house,” he says of his time recovering, “and I just blocked everything out, and I’m like, ‘Look, there’s nowhere else to be. This is me now, and my focus is getting this leg right.’”

And so he did, staging a miraculous recovery to surf in the Vans Pipe Masters only months after the injury.

But broken bones aren’t the only healing he’s had to work on. 


It was one of those things. Harry and his partner, Kayla, had been together for a decade. The two met when they were 15, introduced through a mutual friend. She invited him to come and spend some time at her home on the South Coast. He never left.

Due to be married April Fool’s Day, 2023. Only something was off. The details don’t matter. Do they ever? Just two lives heading in opposite directions. After an honest discussion, a decision was made to pull the pin. They were only a month out from the wedding. 

“We were going to have this amazing, fairy-tale day,” says Bryant, “and pretend that our lives are incredible. Or we were going to call it off.” 

It led to an intense period of self-reflection for Bryant. “It was really crazy,” he remembers. “I felt like I grew up, like, five years in five days. I went from just being kind of carefree, life’s good and everything’s sweet, to realizing this is potentially the biggest conversation you will ever have.” 

It’s a significant event in anyone’s books. And for somebody in Bryant’s position, it could have been easy to turn outwards and tap into every vice. 

Bryant’s heavy indoctrination of ’90s Australian power surfing via his father is hardwired and channeled each winter on the North Shore. Hellbent on re-creating Tom Carroll’s Pipeline snap, he’s got the right tools and skill set for the seemingly futile endeavor. Photo by Nick Green.

Instead, he called his dad. “I laid it all out, and he just basically struck the right chords,” he says. “He said, ‘You’ve both got to put yourself forward in these situations. And this whole wedding, would this just be for everyone else? You’ve got to do what’s best for you, and not for other people.’” 

It was hard advice to process. Honesty often is. “For a while there [after the split], I was confused and upset,” he admits. “I was angry. The whole thing was so bizarre.” 

Did they make the right decision? Time will tell. But, with time, Bryant’s also deepened the relationships that remain. 

“There are so many more people in the world that are doing it a whole lot tougher than me,” he says. “I’m 26 years old. I’m happy and I’m healthy. I get to travel the world. I have great friends. I have family that have their head screwed on. I’ll never have a bad word to say about Kayla, and if she’s happy, I am happy. I feel like letting go of one relationship has made all my other closest, most valued relationships even stronger.” 

It’s an impressive perspective for a 26-year-old to hold, let alone one with as privileged a life as Bryant’s. But it’s testament to the people he surrounds himself with. When I asked whom I should speak to for this story, he immediately nominated Robinson, 35, Fox, 43, and his dad. 

Not the usual coterie of hangers-on and yes-men a kid like Bryant could be turning to. These are the people whose advice he values. 

He’s old enough to know that he’s not old enough to know everything. 


In listening back to the audio of our interview for this story, it’s difficult not to notice parallels between Bryant’s experiences and my own. Maybe you do too. These are the situations we all encounter in life—the decisions we navigate, the relationships we build. Bryant’s living life like we all do, pushing through one choice at a time. 

A rediscovered connection with the simple act of surfing helps. 

Southbound and down in the dez. It’s the Aussie mongrel mentality that keeps Haz road worn yet well covered. Photo by Thomas Robinson.

“When I was feeling like shit and I was upset, I’d just paddle out, and no matter what the waves were doing, I’d just sit out in the water and stare into the horizon. I’d just close my eyes and take deep breaths and turn around and look in. And my little dog’s on the beach, looking at me. And I’m just like, ‘You know what? Everything is all sweet.’” 

The moments pass, Bryant is learning. They always do. 

For now, there’s also much to look forward to—like his new film. It’s a cult-classic-inspired surf horror movie: “I’m stuck in a hallucination where I keep appearing, and basically I’m, like, walking into a pub or a venue and asking for a drink and getting a glass of milk and having a swig of it. And it takes me to my next destination and I can’t get out of it.” 

It will be a nod to those ’80s and ’90s surf films he was raised on, a riposte against the fire hose of content we’re flooded with on a daily basis. “We really wanted to push back and try and put a bit of that magic back into surfing as we see it,” says Fox, who is also directing. “Hopefully we can rock the boat a little bit.” 

It’s enough to keep both of them busy in the lead-up to its release. “I just want to be proud of it,” says Bryant. “I want to watch it when I’m older and show my kids and just be like, ‘Look at my life here. This is just insane.’” 

In the meantime, there’s more surfing, more driving, more flying, more sitting. His leg’s still giving him grief, too. But it seems there’s only so much advice you can take when it comes to healing. 

“It definitely still feels weird,” he says. “I’ve got 10 bolts and a plate and a pin in there. I got drunk not too long ago and fell into a table, and I think I may have, ah, like—bent one of the bolts.” 

The young man is still just that. 

[Feature Image by Nick Green]

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