There is a certain magic about Byron Bay that can’t be quantified. The stickers that once emblazoned the back of Kombis declaring ‘Magic Happens’ had a certain ring of truth, especially if you were one of the many drifters who found themselves joining the informal surfing tribe of Byron.
Mike Jahn, director of Byron Bay Surf Festival, is one such character. Originally from Germany, Mike moved to Byron nine years ago ‘because of the surfing! I was always chasing the surf,’ he said ‘and trying to make a living out of it.’ Not just a surfer, Mike had a sports tourism degree under his belt, and it seems that here in Byron he has managed to combine work and play with his Surf Festival.
According to Mike, it’s not just about standing on a board and carving up a wave, although that is the spiritual pinnacle, but it’s about ‘the culture behind the festival, the creative aspect – so we are focusing on the art and the photography. It’s all about the art and culture show at the Byron Brewery on Friday night. We have quite 25 different artists from different parts of the world: Hilton Dawe, Kuni Takanami, Justin Crawford, Ozzie Wright, Michelle Lockwood (NYC) Karlee Mackie and Heather Brown (Hawaii).’
This will be featured on Friday night at the opening ceremony at the Brewery and Surf Bar, with Bob McTavish and Rabbit Bartholomew speaking with Phil Jarratt as MC. ‘They will talk about surf culture – about professional surfing, and Bob, as the laidback surfer shaper and the forefather of the shortboard revolution, will also be having his say. What’s key to this event is that the festival is non-professional and non-competitive; we are focusing on community and kids’ events, and using surf and the culture to bring the community together.’
For Mike, the vision of the Byron Surf Festival was simple. ‘We wanted to take that whole carpark talk that you have with surfers, that quick talk that you have with each other when you are strapping your board onto your car, and with the festival take it to another level, and to connect with different parts of the world, we want to showcase how its developed in California and Hawaii and Japan and here, and how people have created that.
‘On Saturday another highlight we have is a surf short-film competition. The finalists have just been picked this week; they’ll be shown on the night, and the judges are pretty much surf era from the 60s – they will be judging the finalists and there are great prizes to win.’
Saturday sees the Surf Market at Railway Park with live music from midday until 9pm. ‘There is an environmental heart – it’s a big focus. One of our biggest sponsors is Patagonia and they are one of the most sustainable global international brands there is, and we wanted to highlight what they are doing – as an outdoor company that got into surfing. For example, they have a project where you hand in old clothing to their stores and they give it to charity – and their wetsuits are made of recycled materials.’
‘On Sunday,’ says Mike, ‘there is the event at Wategos Beach, a surf swap meet, where people exchange, swap boards, and engage in expression sessions called freestyle and stoke. There are 10 surfers in four different categories: there is the old mal, the twin fins, the finless boards, and mermaids all craft (all-girl event). There is no contest though. We have Hawaiian shirts so it’s fun – it’s about being evaluated for fun and funkiness on the waves by the crowd!’
Mike believes that surf culture is alive and well in Byron Bay. ‘Its a bit of an international mecca of creativity and laidback surfer vibe.’ And alongside our surfing patriarchs like George Greenough, Alan Ridge and Rusty Miller he believes a whole new generation is well on the way to one day filling their shoes.
‘We are definitely making new surfing characters – just look at Johnny Abegg. He will be showing Taylor Steele, one of his new films. We have such a great history. Talk to George Greenough – and Alan Ridge who lives in Ballina, who’s made significant films in the 60s. We have so many people here who don’t get a chance to shine – we want to connect generations, to get the older guys and the younger generations involved.’
Be part of the tribe. Byron Surf Festival Friday, Saturday and Sunday, on the beach, in the park and at Byron Brewery.