Courtney Brown has probably spent a higher percentage of his life on (and in) the ocean than just about anyone on the planet...
He grew up in a fishing/surfing family and now has an adventurous family of his own, along with wife Imogen Caldwell. The pair are based in Kalbarri, WA, but manage to live the dream, traveling and balancing work at home too. Courtney also chases monstrous swells with his brother Kerby - tow surfing some of the most challenging waves on the planet. We caught up with Courtney, while he and Imogen were driving to catch a plane to Fiji, to chat about his love for the ocean, and some of the wild things he’s seen while on the water.
You spend pretty much 24/7 on the ocean, working and having a good time. What is it about the sea that’s so appealing to you?
I guess it’s all I’ve ever known really. I started surfing when I was 7, but my dad has been a cray fisherman for like 40 years. There’s photos from when I was tiny, holding up a cray which I can’t even remember. When my older brother Kerby started surfing I just wanted to do everything he was doing. Since then, it’s just been a huge part of my life.
What does a regular day look like when you’re working?
Pretty much we start anywhere between 2am and 4am, and normally we’re done by lunch time. So you have all afternoon to go surfing or do whatever. But it’s hard sometimes when you’ve been on the water all day to get straight back out there and find the motivation. Winter is the exception. The surf is so good up here at that time of year.
What’s does it look like when you have a ‘day off’?
Same thing but we’re not on the boat haha. Our son Rambo is up at the crack of dawn. We’re lucky enough to live on the ocean, so we have breaky and coffee and head down to the beach. 99% of the time it’s based on an ocean activity. If you didn’t like the ocean you wouldn’t live in Kalbarri, there’s not much else going on. So you’re either fishing or out on the jet ski or surfing.
Are there any challenges of balancing work and pleasure when it comes to the water? Or does it all just blend into each other?
It all blends in. I absolutely love going to work every day. Sometimes you get as much enjoyment out of that as going surfing. The hard thing is giving maximum time to the kids. Luckily it’s quota fishing now. Before, you didn’t even get Christmas off. It was hardcore back then.
What’s something most people don’t know about working on boats?
It’s pretty funny when I tell people I’m a cray fisherman, they think I’m out on some wooden boat getting a couple of crays. These days they’re state of the art, high speed fishing vessels. It’s hard to explain until you show them the photos. It’s a totally different thing now.
There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it still, so when you have a good day out there it’s pretty rewarding. It’s pretty extreme weather we work in a lot of the time, so it’s definitely not an easy job, but it’s all I’ve ever known. I remember as a kid going onto my dad’s boat and stealing biscuits from his biscuit jar. Now Rambo does the same to me. It’s pretty cool to pull up to the jetty and see them there ready to help unload each day.
Do you get to surf (or fish) for fun when out on the cray boat?
They used to always stop and catch a fish for dinner, but there’s so many rules now that the fisheries department won’t even let you have a single hook or line on the boat. We’ve been fighting to have the same rules as recreational fishing, but we can’t, so a bummer.
Saying that, there’s whales out there to spot all the time. There’s the odd fun wave up there too. If there’s something worth stopping for we usually do and take a break.
What's the wildest thing you've seen happen in the ocean in the last few years?
My dad jumped on the boat in Feb to give us a hand, which he doesn’t do often now. But he came along, it was a normal day. We were a long way out, about 70 miles away from Kalbarri. He was just putting up a curtain on one of the windows and the boat came off the back of some slop and dad got airborne and then landed wrong. He broke his ankle in 3 places and fractured his leg. It took us about 8 hours to get in because the conditions were terrible and I was trying to drive smoothly and slowly because any movement or jolt caused him so much agony. He reckons it was the worst pain he’s ever been in. You have huge medical kits on the boat, but you’re not allowed a green whistle for pain relief and that’s probably the only thing we needed. So yeah, that was pretty wild.
What other gear is essential when you’re out on the open sea?
Safety gear, wet weather gear. Obviously you wear sunglasses a whole lot because there’s so much glare coming off the ocean. Coffee is vital too (laughs). We do some pretty radical hours sometimes.
Which sunnies do you most use out on the water and why?
My favourite are the Strike Sport. They’re my general day-to-day glasses. The LIT lenses are incredible too on the water. They actually freak you out sometimes, because your visibility looking down into the water is so good it makes you think it’s shallower than it really is. It’s soooo good to be able to see all of the bits of reef, especially on the jet ski. You’re often working in just a few feet of water.
What’s the next frontier you’d like to explore? Any new adventures planned?
Because we’ve just travelled around surfing all of our lives, we really enjoy going to the snow now. We got to go to Japan a couple of years ago and Falls Creek in Australia each winter here. It’s so completely different to what we normally do, living in the desert and next to the ocean. To be able to take Rambo will make it even more fun again, so can’t wait for that.
We’re also going to France for a movie premier with my brother and I, tagging in my mum’s 70th too. We’re all going for a week. Paris, then Biarritz, then Geneva in Switzerland. It will be a whirlwind but should be super fun. I’ve never been so that’s always an adventure!
To follow the Brown-Caldwell’s adventures head to their Instagram pages: