Byron Bay Surf Festival directors James McMillan and Max Tischler spoke with The Echo about their upcoming event and who’s who in the surfy zoo.
What are your titles for the festival?
James: I’m the founder and creative director plus jack of all…
Max: I’m the co-director.
How would people know you best in the Byron Shire? The rest of the world?
James: Author of best-selling book Blue Yonder and as an artist, and in the 90s as a surfer and snowboarder
Max: Probably as the guy lucky enough to be married to Mahina Mermaid.
How long have you been here in the Byron Shire?
James: 11 years.
Max: 16 years.
Why did you move to Byron?
James: In 2002 I was on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii hanging out with Jack Johnson and the Malloy brothers compiling stories and photos for my book Blue Yonder. Early one morning I was out surfing at Waimea Bay. I dropped in to a wave, made it through, and coasted in to the channel to a welcoming hoot from the only other haole in the water. Dan was living in Byron Bay and running a surf biz. After a few days hanging out and surfing together he told me there’d be a job waiting for me if I ever made the move north from my hometown of Cronulla. Between 2002 and ’05 I made two road trips to Byron, visiting George Greenough and Dick Hoole. Those two legends of surfing, where they live and the lifestyle they live, was enough to lure me north for good right after my book was published late in 2005.
Max: Probably like many other people – I was chasing a girl.
What keeps you in Byron?
James: Lifestyle, the waves and the community, and now my growing family.
Max: It’s the kind of community I want to raise my kids in.
What is it about Byron Bay that you love so much?
James: The diversity of waves and the diversity of people and culture. My first love is surfing and second is my art practice. With so many different artistic influences moving through town there’s a constant source of new inspiration. And I love the generally positive and accepting attitude of the people, and there’re some crazy people whom I dig. Byron gives a sense of freedom, and from that people are naturally liberated.
Max: The diverse mix of coastal and country living.
James: How did the festival come about in the first place?
In the winter of 2010 I was spending many days fixing surfboards in an old shed on Skinners Shoot Road just outside Byron town. I was thinking about new projects a lot and how surfing and art had played a big part in my life and livelihood. I was showing my art in Japan quite regularly around that time and I’d just returned from a festival there in Tokyo, where I was part of a show with Thomas Campbell, Taylor Steele, Andrew Kidman, Hanai Yusuke, Alex Knost, Joe Curren, and local filmmaker Mick Waters. It was a blast, and I thought the idea of showing cool stuff, as a way of sharing the things I loved and believed in, to a mass of people was great. There was no shortage of surf culture out there, but this niche that I was a part of, which was a bit more underground at the time, was definitely worth sharing. And I was naïve enough to actually try to do it.
James: Can you give me a timeline summary from idea to today?
The festival got really big and really popular, really quickly!
2010 – James came up with the idea in a shed while fixing surfboards.
2011 – So I asked a friend Vanessa Thompson to help me get the ball rolling. First festival is in October. It works!
2012 – Second festival happens with growing team. Fest grows by 55 per cent.
2013 – I have new idea to hold fest on Byron foreshore and include tipis. It works. Fest grows by 110 per cent.
2014 – I have new idea to add free outdoor concert on foreshore. It works but is a little messy with people everywhere. Fest peaks out at 175 per cent growth and everyone is frothing!
2015 – The other founding partners decide after four years of crazy growth that it’s time for them to go back to their normal lives. There’s no doubt the festival is becoming a full-time labour of love for everyone involved. We all basically agree it is time to take a breather, step back and reassess what my original idea has become. The other two decide to leave and, even though I know it is a big risk to keep going on my own, I know in my heart I can’t let this amazing community event disappear. That’s when I look for a new partner. Max turns up and buys in.
2016 – Max and I meet. I change date of fest from Oct 2016 to Feb 2017 to maximise chances of better summer waves and favourable winds for the surfing element. Also we place the fest just before the Quik Pro and the Noosa Surf Fest so as to give the people attending those events a chance to come and experience our little creation. In effect this looks like we have missed two fests but it’s really only one as the Feb 2017 fest replaces the Oct 2016 fest.
2017 – New festival launches…
How did the festival end up returning?
James: After the previous two partners departed, I knew I couldn’t raise the next festival solo. The festival as a vehicle to present and maintain the culture of surfing, as an expression, art and lifestyle, is something I’m passionate about. I believe in surfing and art as positive lifestyle choices. They both saved my life… but that’s another story. Determination and finding the right partner and team were crucial to birthing another festival.
What did you know about Max/James before you met?
James: I knew Max had worked extensively with Jack Johnson on both national and international tours as a road manager and as the environmental manager to make sure all Jack’s concerts were waste free and green. Both of these things we had been doing at BBSF and both were something that I wanted to push further and incorporate in to the event on a bigger scale.
Max: I’d been given a copy of James’s book Blue Yonder years ago, and had always admired his art when exhibited at art shows and previous surf festivals.
Max – why did you join James on this festival?
Max: A close friend was quizzing me about the festival during one of her visits from the US, and (considering my background) had suggested I offer to become involved with the production of the event. Oddly enough, about six weeks later I got the call from James asking whether I’d like to take a role as director! Go figure – manifestation or coincidence?
What does each of you do on the festival this year? How is the work load divided? Responsibilities?
James: I basically look after the creation and direction of the whole thing. What events we put on, whom we invite, how it looks and what we stand for. And I do too many other things to list here or anywhere. It’d be too boring.
Max: Both of us have young families, so we try to proportion the workload to suit each other. Essentially, James oversees the creative side of the festival and I take care of the production and logistics.
What excites you about BBSF 2017?
James: The time of year – surf should be pumping! And we have some amazing guests coming who do amazing things that anyone who comes will experience. That’s a really cool thing to be able to offer to the culture and to share with the community.
Max: The groundswell of anticipation within the local community has been so welcomed. Having taken the year hiatus we were hoping people missed the festival, and the response thus far would indicate the town is excited to have it back.
What are some world firsts about the BBSF 2017?
James: First time the McTavish Trim is in Byron. First time Bob and Ben McTavish, father and son, will sit under the same surf brand name. Australian premiere of movie Given. World premiere of Lauren Hill’s film Pear Shaped, and more firsts to be released as the weeks go by.
What are some unique initiatives about the BBSF 2017?
James: We are aiming to achieve a plastic-free event.
Max: We are really proud to have become a member of 1% For The Planet – it’s an amazing program that empowers companies, businesses and their patrons to give to grassroots environmental initiatives.
What is your hope for BBSF 2017?
James: That it is fun, that it educates and brings happiness. That it proves to be financially sustainable so we can continue doing it.
Max: We hope that people feel inspired by the festival, personally and professionally.
Tell me about the guests you have coming this year who really excite you. Why?
James: Very stoked to have G.love coming to play. He is an exceptional and diverse musician who has been involved in surfing and surf culture for a very long time. I respect him. Also the Goodwin family. I am very inspired by the life message they constantly put out there and the movie they have created. Also Jack McCoy, highly revered and respected, and for what he has offered BBSF: his 25th anniversary of Bunyip Dreaming and The Green Iguana. So stoked that we get to host this event of his favourite clips being shown and live scored by some of surf culture’s most noteworthy musos.
Max: We are so stoked with the diverse array of talent involved with the festival, and I am especially excited to see G.Love again. I have toured with him in the past and am a huge fan of his music.
Who should come to BBSF 2017?
James: Anyone who want surf, arts, shapes, fashions, yogas, eats and loves the beach.
Max: Everyone and their mums.
Why should people come to BBSF 2017?
James: You should come to change your life and meet beautiful people.
Max: Because their mums will love them for it.
24–26 February, 2017
Byron Bay Surf Festival: visit www.byronbaysurffestival.com.au.