Like many young adults who’ve recently finished school, Tom Broadbent is figuring out where he wants to head in life. There are three things he knows for sure he wants in that journey though: travel, surfing and Christ.
From his hometown of Busselton WA, Tom spent 2020 merging these three passions – with some limitations to the ‘travel’ part – through a yearlong diploma in leadership through Christian Surfers Australia and Alphacrusis College, based in Sydney. In what could be described as a ‘gap year’, has been a chance for Tom to build his leadership skills, share the gospel and live in the present on some of the world’s best beaches.
The course originally planned its students, hailing from all over Australia, to travel to Indonesia, America, Coffs Harbour and Philip Island, but these trips were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. The first planned trip did go ahead prior to COVID though, in Tom’s hometown region of Busselton and the South West of WA. While this wasn’t as exciting as a trip to Indonesia, he still appreciated the opportunity to meet others doing the course and to build friendships early on in the year.
“I’ve made heaps of friends through the course and I’ve got a bunch of travel planned out that I want to do with some of my mates,” he said. “I thought 2020 was going to be the year of all years, I was frothing for it… and it’s absolutely flopped.”
On top of study, Tom also works in disability support services.
“I’m making the most of it. I’m just working and saving up money and there’ll be better times ahead.”
While surf-related travel was a major appeal to studying this course, its main purpose for Tom has been to learn how to share the message of Jesus throughout the surfing community in the South West.
“We [Christian Surfers Australia] see in the surfing community in Australia that there’s a big gap between Christianity and the whole community and culture of surfing,” Tom said. “Everyone doing the course absolutely loves surfing, loves the culture of it and loves everything about it, but we see the gap and we’re trying to use surfing as a way to reach other surfers and tell them about God.
“The course is teaching us leadership skills for the best way to do that. We’ve got two semesters and four units in the first semester and five in the second. Some of those units include youth ministry and handy tips on how to do our jobs right.
“We’re all wanting to be Christian Surfers leaders, so we’re wanting to learn how to run our Christian Surfers groups in our home towns. And the course is a guide to give us the right knowledge and skills to run those camps and groups.”
Tom was introduced to surfing as a kid by his surfing dad, Rev Andrew Broadbent. At the time, the family were living in Perth, but they moved down to Busselton when Tom was in his early teens, when Andrew became the minister at Busselton Uniting Church.
“When I was younger I was really into surfing,” Tom said. “My dad was about to enrol me into a local board rider’s club, but he didn’t really like the culture of it, so he and a couple of his mates made up a Christian Surfers group. At the time is was Christian Surfers Micro-Grommets – a grommet is like a young surfer.
“That’s what got me into Christianity I guess. I used to love every Saturday; we’d meet up for a surf down at the beach and cook up bacon and eggs after. I’d have all my mates there and new kids would come along. It was pretty cool.
“As I got older, I started meeting some of the older teenagers and young adults involved in Christian Surfers and they sort of had their own thing going on. I became friends with a lot of people involved.
“Christian Surfers has always been my youth group in a sense. Growing up in the Uniting Church there wasn’t many kids my age. I don’t love going to church every Sunday, I find it pretty boring. But having that Christian community around you is so important I reckon; it keeps you solid in your faith.
“I love the values of the Uniting Church and what they do. I absolutely love all the older people at my church and I love what our church is doing. I choose to go to the Uniting Church because I’m super happy with what they do and I want to be a part of that, even though there might not be many kids my age.”
Tom’s involvement with Christian Surfers Australia grew and he started going along to camps and conferences. Now he’s hoping to build up a branch in the South West of WA.
“At the moment there’s nothing really down here in Busselton. There used to be a big Christian Surfers group, but it died off and there hasn’t been anything in ages, so at the moment we’re building one up,” he said. “I’ve been talking with other Christian Surfers leaders about how people who’ve never had anything to do with Christianity in their life before, them going to church for the first time would be a huge culture shock. This is a good way to build relationships with people through surfing and then once they’ve got an idea of Christianity, then you can start taking them to church.
“It’s a great way to bridge the gap. Surfing is just a tool that God’s given us to use to teach people about the gospel.”
Growing up as a minister’s child is not always easy, but Tom focussed on growing his faith as an individual. He didn’t want to continue life as a Christian simply because of his upbringing, but wanted to explore the journey himself. He was encouraged to grow and work his way through his own questions, doubts and thought processes throughout his adolescence.
“In year 12 it was a classic case of I said I was a Christian, but I didn’t really put in much effort. I was a nice person I guess, but I didn’t spend much time looking into being a Christian. High School is super tough, especially when you’re the only Christian at the school. It’s super easy to do the wrong thing and get caught up in the antics of Year 12.
“Going through High School with your dad as a minister, I wasn’t one of those minister’s kids who went off the rails, but when kids asked what my dad did I was always pretty embarrassed. I found it hard saying he’s a minister.
“I came out of Year 12 thinking I actually want to own my Christianity and start looking into things myself instead of just drifting away from being a Christian.
“I think heaps of kids who have grown up in Christian homes are in the same sort of boat. There’s an age where you’ve got to own it yourself and think, ‘is this actually really what I believe?’ And that’s what I wanted to do.
“Now, like every Christian, I still have my doubts sometimes, but I try my best to keep God at the centre of my life in everything I do. I try to pray regularly and intentionally put in effort to try and learn about God and get people to help me read my Bible.
“I grew up in a Christian family and I’ve had a super blessed upbringing. I’m super lucky.”
Whether they believe in a religious faith or not, surfers are passionate about their beach culture and that feeling of getting out in the ocean and riding waves. Most surfers will build their lives around accessibility to the waves – where they live, where they work, and where they travel. When Tom adds his faith to this mix, he finds himself in awe of God’s creation.
“It sounds pretty hippy, but you’re just one with the ocean,” he said. “You’re out in the wild elements, out in God’s creation just riding a bit of fibreglass on a wave and gliding along the surface of the water.
“When you simplify it, it’s just fun. It’s the funn-est thing in the world I reckon.
“Some people love the adrenaline rush of pushing themselves and surfing huge waves. I’ve got a bit of that, but I don’t push myself as hard as some of my mates do, I know my limits. It does feel good when you take a risk; when you accomplish something and get over your fears and surf the spots that you were pretty scared of. The feeling of gliding across a wave, it’s just the best I reckon.
“You’re spending time in God’s creation and it’s pretty amazing. When I’m out in the water, out in the ocean, it’s one of the places I feel closest to God.”