Interview With James McMillan, Director of the Byron Surf Festival

Surf’s up for Byron Surf Festival’s James McMillan

Byron Bay Surf Festival

Byron Brewery  |  14–16 Feb

James McMillan is the Festival Director of the Byron Surf Festival. Now in its tenth year, the festival has paddled out to the Byron Brewery. The Echo spoke with James about what’s in store.

Why have you moved to the Byron Brewery?

Well, they do have really good beer and quality food. Also their venue offers all the space opportunities that BBSF needs (besides the beach) including the cinema, band room, exhibition walls, markets area, and a spacious room for special events during the day. And it does not matter if it rains – which is just so great. I hope it rains so I can laugh out loud and not (nearly) cry like last year.

Tell me how things have changed for the festival now you are in your 10th year?

What has changed is how I understand a culture… the social behaviour and manifestations of a particular group. It’s huge. I have always wanted BBSF to nurture and share with people the surf culture that I fell further into while writing my book Blue Yonder, in 2002. It’s not just about riding waves and making surfboards, although the inspiration for all creative manifestations and pursuits within the culture, that we share through BBSF, could certainly be linked to those acts.

What is it about surf culture that aligns with Byron and your festival?

Byron is no doubt one of, if not the, hub of surf culture in Australia. There are others for sure, like Coolangatta and Torquay, but Byron Bay brings so many aspects of it all together. It’s a total melting pot of creativity, springing from surf lords, surf bums, rich dudes, legendary and first time board-shapers, start-up and established surf brands, learners and pro’s, and all these people potentially surfing the same waves and having a beer at the same pub… seems anything could be possible if you time it right, or just get lucky. Dreams are possible here.

How do you try and innovate and change the program each year? What are some of the unique events?

I create all the events based on my experiences in life and what I feel would be fun or interesting to share with people. The ideas will come at random times. I might be in the jungle in Java, or about to bight into a vegemite sandwich, and boom, a few things that I have previously thought of will all line up and then I’ll attempt to engineer that into something tangible and hopefully achievable. My thing with creativity is that I’m naïve enough to think a small idea (in reality a big idea) is totally achievable, so after I’ve run it by my wife and sons, I’ll put it in place, and then pull out all stops to achieve it. We have a unique event this year called Wategos Wizards a logging comp for Blokes and Mermaids, and also the WaterPeople live podcast will be something to see. During Sunday’s Freestyle & Stoke Surf Sessions the Yin/Yang (surfing couples on one wave, Cosmic Crafting, Mermaids, and Gliders events are definitely unique. I feel that everything abou BBSF is unique in its own right, and very rarely are any events repeated in the same way or with the same people.

How do you minimise your event footprint? Do you have ocean conservation as a key theme?

Our event footprint is minimised in a few ways. We advertise 80% via digital. We use local suppliers for merch’ and any print, and this year 75% of our events are in the one venue.

A big thing for BBSF has always been about education. We care a lot about the ocean, and that is why the main policy we push is No Single Use Plastics, and when you have 150 market vendors who have to abide by this, we feel it does have an impact, and in a few ways… suppliers and vendors either have to change how they do things in their business, or they don’t get in. When a brand applies online via the BBSF website they get this message; Fair trade, ethical, recyclable, re-usable and environmentally friendly and/or sustainable products and services will receive priority… which basically means that if you don’t do any of those things, you most likely will not be accepted.

Is there anything about this upcoming event that you want people to know?

I want people to know  everything  that’s on and everyone  who’s coming, so I personally put a lot of effort into putting all our events and guests clearly on the BBSF website. It’s a challenge to put out so much information in the short amount of time that you might get people’s attention, so the website is where it’s all at for casually taking it in and scheduling what you want to do and who you want to see. We have worked hard this year on bringing more live music and more surfing to the festival, so as well as our popular Freestyle & Stoke Surf Sessions on the Sunday, we have the first ever BBSF Surf comp on the Saturday. For live music we have worked with the brewery to bring some mega favourite surf rock acts like Goons of Doom, popular singer/songwriter Didirri and the fast-growing-in-popularity psych-rockers Psychedelic Porn Crumpets. Those three nights are no doubt going to be massive.

Do you have to be a surfer to get into the BBSF? What should we expect for the Byron Surf Festival?

No you totally don’t have to be a surfer. BBSF is an all-inclusive festival… all welcome! People come to have fun, learn, participate, and to connect with the culture of surfing, and also to see some of the most prolific and popular brands and creators of surf culture. If you’re not a surfer you might be inspired and think about giving the shred a go after the festival. Surfing is the secret, but the secret’s out. Come and have some fun!

Byron Surf Festival is at the Byron Brewery, 14–16 Feb. For tix and info go to

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