The third annual Byron Bay Surf Festival was a sunny success this year, bolstering itself as one of the best surf culture events on the calendar and leaving the town stamped in stoke.
The three-day “Surf Culture Now” festival spanned across four venues downtown and at the beachfront, manifesting in a mind-blowing display of high quality art, fashion, food, music, demonstrations, presentations, programs and every kind of ocean play from bodysurfing to tandem and ancient Hawaiian Olo. Attendance was huge this year and it came in a color and diversity reflective of Byron Bay’s creative and unique community. The high vibe and glowing spirit of the festival was oozing from every facet and people were blown away by the cultural exchanges, quality and organisation of the event. Jack McCoy told the festival directors afterwards, “This was an amazing festival spoken from the heart to the community. There was so much Aloha, you really did the community a service which was felt all around town.”
The magic began with the opening ceremony under the stars at Main beach by blessing and well wishing from elders of the Indigenous Bundjalung tribe, original custodians of the Rainbow region. Carrying on into the night was an outdoor screening and Australian premiere of Bella Vita, opened up by Dave Rastovich and Lauren Hill, co-stars of this Italian surf odyssey featuring Californian freesurfer Chris Del Moro. A line-up of nationally renowned music acts Wolf and Cub followed at The Beach Hotel. Well over a thousand people showed up to the ceremony, bringing piles of colourful couches and cushions into the pulsing audience. Tom Wegener believed that this was one of the biggest crowds he had ever seen for a surf movie premier. The film was lyrical and fun to watch in such a setting, it was certainly an amazing night to remember.
The Saturday of the festival kicked on with a sprawling Surf Art Market and pop-up tipi precinct at the beachfront which lured the curiosity of surfers, non surfers, young, old, visitors, families and all sorts of ocean aficionados. Many were surprised again by the great turnout and especially by the mix of cultures with people joining from all the over the world—Brazil, Spain, Italy, Japan, the Pacific and US. With yoga sessions, helidrome demos, art/photography show, surf forecast presentations and an entire surf literature lounge schedule of book talks, signings and readings, there was a lot to see and do in the day. These were all bedded in amongst gourmet food, crafts, delectable fashion and shaper stalls, accompanied by live music acts from around the country. The stalls, brands and shapers at the markets were given a great audience to make new connections and promote their wares with a constant flow of inquisitive people, the right crowd asking the right questions. Some of the attending brands and major sponsors included Patagonia, Brixton, Sanuk, Corona, AllPress Espresso, The Beach Hotel and Ballina Airport. Shapers such as Ryan Lovelace, Joel Fitzgerald, Thomas Bexon, Mick Mackie and Ryan Burch haunted the tipi precinct talking with curious customers, onlookers and design junkies. Most of the festival events were free activities and in the evening there was a number of greatly anticipated high-profile ticketed events including afternoon discussion panels and films with Keith Malloy, Rusty Miller, Derek Hynd and Belinda Baggs. Also this night was the Surf Shorts Film Comp, which saw local and national filmmakers take out the winning prize of a mentorship by well-established filmmaker, Nathan Oldfield. An exclusive screening of Unchartered Waters, featuring Wayne Lynch who lent a most humble and profound dialogue afterwards alongside producer Craig Griffin and Patagonia sponsor Glen Casey rolled on into the night.
With further luck, Sunday brought a southerly turn from the light northerly winds of days prior and a perfect little swell to Wategos beach and the remaining events of the festival. Here down at the tip of the tip of Australia’s most easterly point the waves pulsed in blue and shimmering and hosted a handful of wave riding events. Most interesting was the bodysurfing and tandem demonstrations and also the Freestyle n’ Stoke competition and Corona Party Wave Invitational cash dash which landed one lucky guy, pro-surfer Harrison Roach, one thousand bucks prize money. It was a blissful experience, especially for bodysurfers that normally never get to surf with more then one other bodysurfer—there were over 20 of them frothing together with Keith Malloy who was delighted to see such a great turnout for this event. You could see the glow and stoke in people’s eyes. The grass at Wategos was littered with an amazing array of new and old boards and the ancient Olo presentation was blessed by a pod of whales very close by, waving their tales for hours to send their salute to Dave Rastovich, Howie Cooke and the rest of the Surfers for Cetaceans gang who were raising funds for the foundation. The final evening of the festival rounded up with a brief closing ceremony and prize giving at the Beach Hotel and a stellar late night gig by The Delta Riggs which raged on all night.
It’s unquestionable that everyone who attended wholeheartedly enjoyed the festival and with an audience triple to last year’s festival, it looks to be even bigger next year. Directors Mike, Vanessa and Jimmy are committed to keep the festival running and for it to remain true to the sport and spirit of surfing. More then anything, the festival is about having fun and celebrating our unique oceanic culture in all its diversity. Get there next year—you’d be a kook to miss it.
For more info and photos of the festival, go surfing at byronbaysurffestival.com
Words by Taylor Miller – Photography by Ming Nomchong