Branson, Matt

Loud, brash, tattooed heavy-metal regularfooter from Western Australia; a middling world tour competitor in the 1980s and early '90s; better known as the the first pubically self-outed gay male pro surfer.

Born (1969) and raised in North Beach, a suburb of Perth, Branson began surfing at age 10, won the junior division of the 1985 Australian Titles, and three years later joined the ASP pro tour. Branson kept his sexual identity a secret for the duration of his surfing career, but it was a struggle, and in 1991, three months after recovering from a stabbing at a North Sydney bar, he quit competing. "No way in the world did I have the strength to be a gay man on tour anymore," Branson explained in a breakthrough Stab magazine profile in 2007, in which he also admitted that as a teenager he and his friends would regularly "bash" gays cruising at a local public bathroom. Homophobia, Branson continued, touched all aspects of his career. "I was sponsored by Rusty, and they were promoting me. But imagine if the fucking hammer comes down and someone finds out I'm gay. What would that do to these companies?"

Retired from competiton, Branson moved to Sydney, began playing drums in local punk bands, and settled into a surfboard factory job. While there are a number of openly lesbian female surfers, including a handful of former professionals, Branson remains the only gay male pro to frankly discuss his sexual identity. Homophobia in surfing, meanwhile, has ebbed at a rate more or less consistant with the culture at large; the public response to Branson's Stab profile was mostly positive, or indifferent.