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Byron Shire
June 1, 2023

Everybody’s gone surfin’, surfin’ Byron Bay.

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Wategos turned it on on Sunday: a little swell with perfect off shore conditions.  Longboards ruled.

Byron Bay’s three-day, Surf Festival, drew thousands, with an outdoor cinema on Friday night as well as a huge beach side market, workshops, forums and food on Saturday.

And the weekend was capped off with a day of wave sharing fun and feats of derring-do on Sunday.

Byron Bay Surf Festival Directors James McMillan and Max Tischler have confidently declared their event a success.

‘We are both overwhelmed and delighted and so happy to see how the weekend unfolded’ Max told the Echo. ‘It was a great weekend and it really exceeded our expectations!’

The two admit now that they were a little nervous about how they would be received when the fledgling festival took a year out last year. Coming back after a two year hiaus can be a challenge for an annual event. But their fears of being forgotten by the local community were definitely allayed on Friday night at the Sunset Cinema when close to 3000 people assembled on rugs for the outdoor screening of Given.

‘We were humbled by the turn out’ said Max who said it really sent the message to McMillan and himself ‘that we are on the right track with the Byron Bay Surf Festival.’

The Byron Bay Surf Festival was not a ‘ticketed’ or ‘gated’ event. Many of the events were in public spaces such as the Beach side markets on Saturday or the Sunday surf events at Wategos and were free. The ticketed events were held at the Beach Hotel and the Byron Bay Community Centre. All events over the weekend, including the opening Surf Art exhibition experienced full to capacity attendance.

Sunday’s surf events at Wategos also saw hundreds line the beach throughout the day, although Max felt that the new parking restrictions did make holding the event their more challenging for local attendance.

‘It’s logistically difficult to get people to Wategos now and I think we lost a few people because of that. Although we did have shuttle buses from the Pass and even though it was a hindrance we still had hundreds of people lining the beach over the course of the day.’

‘Sunday at Wategos for us was a great way to wind the festival down,’ Max went on to say ‘with everyone in the water. We had teenagers surfing in events alongside some of our elder statespeople of surfing like Rusty Miller.’

Response from the wider surfing community was positive for this unique event.

‘Everyone was so positive and supportive, there aren’t many surf festivals around the world that present surfing culture and lifestyle like we do, one in part because Byron Bay has that ethos of surfing as a lifestyle as opposed to a sport.’

The Byron Bay Surf Festival is back. And as Max Tishler the benefit for Byron was obvious. ‘You don’t have to be interested in surfing to feel the excitement.’

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  1. Congratulation on those organising this great event. As a snorkeller, not a surfer, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing so many local stallholders who are making interesting locally made products and developing projects many of which had an environmental theme. The videos were great I particularly enjoyed Mono’s talk, the “adaptive surfer’ (actually it means disabled and in Mono’s case a one legged surfer) which was an inspiration for the very large crowd of people who listened to him.

    As someone who has become increasingly despondent about our Shire being taken over by a large minority of thoughtless tourists who trash our region with noise, rubbish and disrespectful behaviour, I came away re-enthused with the challenge of its uniting us locals to truly make our Shire somewhere special, rather than somewhere to tick off: ‘to be seen and see’.

    I heard that online people saying the foreshore had been a mess after the Festival was over. So a friend and I at 6.30 on Sunday evening went with a camera to see the damage. Well the site was actually immaculate. It looked as if someone had taken a vacuum cleaner from the Surf Club to just before Clarke’s Beach.

    The sad bit was looking at the parking area next to main Beach and the grassy area behind the beach. Littered with abandoned bottles, rubbish, broken glass and people off their heads on either alcohol or drugs.

    This is the challenge for local residents and Byron Council. To persuade these unwanted visitors to be respectful of where they have come. The slogan “Don’t spoil us, We’ll spoil you” needs to be fleshed out with a lot more detail as to what is expected of tourists who visit here.

    So well done to the organisers of the Surf Festival for taking a lead.

    Jim Beatson, Byron Bay


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