Byron Bay Surf Festival

The Byron Bay Surf Festival is about so much more than surf. It brings together some industry heavyweights for a long weekend of beachside community unlike any other we’re familiar with. We talked with organizer Mike Jahn for a feel for how it went in 2013 and what to expect from the festival this year, complete with tons of photos and a couple of videos featuring different people and events at the fest. Thanks to Jennifer Alliston Lewis for the video and festival photographers Ming Nomchong, Craig Parry and Kuni Takanami for the photos. 

This year’s festival takes place from Oct 24-26, 2014.

How long have you been hosting the Byron Bay Surf Festival?

The three of us, Vanessa Thomson, who had the initial idea, James McMillan and myself, Mike Jahn, started putting ideas together for this community based festival around four years ago. The 2013 festival was our third annual and most successful event yet.

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It’s not just about films? What else goes into the festival?

The Byron Bay Surf Festival is a community driven “Surf Culture Now” festival. You can find all aspects of a diverse global surf community showcasing a mind-boggling display of surf culture in three jam-packed days in October at one of the most historically rich surf towns in Australia, Byron Bay.

Besides surf film premiers and short film competitions there are surf art and photography shows, live music, surf history, surf art markets, fashion and lifestyle, craftsmanship, surf literature, presentations, workshops, surf fitness, vintage cars and motorbikes, shaper exhibits, swap meets, youth art and busking events, surf demos, freestyle surf sessions and so much more.

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Why host a festival like this?

We wanted to create a special meeting place to celebrate and share what’s so addictive for young and old about the surf and ocean lifestyle. The festival is a unique gathering of people who contribute something extraordinary to our surf community. They come from various countries around the world and want to share their passions in art, design, fashion, film, music, lifestyle, new and innovative creations, health and fitness, sustainable and ecological developments in our surf industry, as well as making a difference to our environment and coastlines.

I believe that’s what makes the Byron Bay Surf Festival so rare and wonderful, that it’s not about who is better or who can compete on a higher level, who has better stamina or wants to win. This surf culture festival is about our purest form of creative expressions in and out of the water, a meeting place for key players, influencers, lifestyle and culture addicts, an exchange platform for old and young, boosting any surf level, abilities or surf crafts, an historical gateway for stories, fundamental milestones and new beginnings to be exchanged and brought into perspective.

The Australian surf icon Wayne Lynch, who came and introduced his documentary “Uncharted Waters” this year, acknowledged on the night: “the best part of the festival is it brings the people together and it’s real nice for older guys who start to get displaced to have…a place to come together.”

This was awesome to hear, as we wanted to create a platform for these individuals who rarely gather together to connect and/or re-connect with surfers and non-surfers alike who share similar passions in and around the world’s oceans.

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So you just finished up with the 2013 edition. How did it go? Was there anything different about this year compared to other years?

The third annual Byron Bay Surf Festival was a sunny success, bolstering itself as one of the best surf culture events on the calendar and leaving the town stamped in stoke.

It was a personal milestone that really set the stage for years to come. We wanted to take the festival to a new level and we can’t even describe how grateful and stoked we are that this was achieved with outstanding recognition well beyond our expectations from surf elders, businesses, and all involved.

Hosting more than 5,000 people who came from all over the world to participate and visit our ever-growing surf culture festival was a incredible experience not just for us but especially for our little surf town.

Attendance 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 organization of the event. Jack McCoy told us 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.”

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What were some of your favorite workshops?

Amongst the more than 30 festival events, the wooden board building workshops were certainly stand-out gigs. They were very popular with a perfect fit for the festival as we focus a lot on sustainability and alternative surf crafts. Tom Wegener is one of the festival’s ambassadors and this year he held a belly board workshop that was busy all day with people shaping boards under Tom’s guidance right at the beach under his homemade bamboo hut. As Tom described it: “it was possibly the best weekend of my life…”

He had so much fun and seeing people ride the boards at Wategos Beach, which they made together the previous day, just completed his excitement! At the same time, master craftsman Rodrigo Matsuda who came over from Brazil hosted a wooden hand plane workshop next to Finish surfboard builder Bjorn Holm who specializes in crafting hand planes and surfboards out of pre-used recycled skateboards . It was incredible to see the interest and joy of people learning how to make their own handplanes out of recycled and sustainable materials under the guidance of international, master board builders.

People could try out their newly shaped handplanes on the last festival day, Sunday at the “Torpedo People” bodysurfing contest. This event was headlined by the purist master and Patagonia ambassador Keith Malloy, who joined us from California to spread some simple stoke. The thrill in the more than 20 bodysurfers’ eyes, who came from all over Australia and usually never get to enjoy a surf in a larger group of like-minded individuals, was enormous. Surfing together in perfect little offshore peelers at Wategos with one of the masters of the sport, they just couldn’t wipe the smiles and joy off their faces. It was an absolute pleasure to witness with Keith Malloy confessing that this was one of the best festivals and experiences he had ever had.

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Have you already started planning for next year? Anything you can tell us about it?

Oh yes, there is not much of a break between festival organizations any more. We are in full swing planning for another year filled with new events and surprises.

We will certainly keep our core aspect with the unique style and community atmosphere right in the heart of town and next to the beach, but we are always planning for new events. There is so much more we want to integrate with ideas overflowing but it is about being patient and growing organically.

Sponsorship support is absolutely crucial as about 90% of the festival events are completely free to visit and participate in. Therefore, we strive to find sponsor partners that can see the benefit in such a unique and fast growing festival, attracting such a wide range of beach culture addicts. We want sponsors who can mature with us sustainably, into the biggest gathering of surf culture in the world.

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Keep an eye on www.byronbaysurffestival.com and our social platforms Facebook and Instagram for 2014 event highlights, special gigs and new beginnings.