Interview with Jack McCoy

Jack McCoy is one of the many featured guests at the Byron Bay Surf Festival, Friday–Sunday

Keeping Surfing The Real McCoy

Byron Bay Surf Festival  |  Byron Bay Brewery and Beach  |  Friday–Sunday

Jack McCoy is a highly respected elder of the worldwide surfing tribe.  Originally from Hawaii, he settled in Australia in 1970. He was at the first Byron Bay Surf Festival, and this year he returns to open it with some of his very entertaining stories and the screening of a tribute film to the father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku.

As a director and cinematographer, Jack is known for some of the most loved surf films of all time; like Storm Riders, In Search Of Tubular Swells and A Deeper Shade of Blue. For McCoy, surfing isn’t a sport, it’s an art.

‘Today the industry has driven surfing into a competitive sport, and even though the Hawaiians were into competing, for them surfing was mostly for pleasure as it was a pastime. Surfing is like ballet, or diving, or one of those activities – you can’t really put a sport tag on it – it would be like trying to judge ballet.’

Although, Jack is aware that’s just his point of view. ‘I’m not one to tell you what’s cool or not cool – the art of surfing in the environment is to express yourself however you want to ride.  Surfing is this incredible dance – on moving water, on a piece of plastic!’

As a film maker it’s almost doubly challenging for Jack, as he has to find a way to get into the water, to capture what happens in the water – without being consumed or clobbered by the water in the process!

‘As a kid growing up in Hawaii, wanting to be a water man, you learn from your friends, cousins, and uncles as a grommet – they’re all willing to help you – that enabled me to understand the ocean well enough to get the ocean to work with me. I have jumped in a rip with a 20 pound camera – I let the ocean do the work for me, but you have to know what to do – you have to be comfortable in the ocean. The ocean has been my life and I feel very comfortable in it – in fact I feel weird when I don’t get in it. It’s healing and soothing and gives a connection to nature that surfers really appreciate. I think surfers really know how to focus on all aspects of nature. Like, I know what phase the moon is in right now – what the swell is doing, what the tides are… we are custodians of the sea. That’s how we look at it.’

Jack will be sharing his story about the spirit of Aloha and honouring Duke, the man who ignited surf culture in Australia. Jack is really looking forward to coming to Byron and being part of a festival that embraces the philosophy he shares.

‘I was at the first festival – 10 years ago, and I have been back many times – I have been here for about half of them. When I came to Australia in 1970, one of the places I went to was Byron Bay – there were like six surfers there then, and I knew every one of them – the festival is trying to rebuild the alternative to competitive surfing. The focus is about bringing the tribe together to tell stories, to catch up with friends – you ride a wave that lasts for ten seconds, if you get an exceptional one, you can’t wait to get back on the beach to tell friends about it in a 20 minute story – that’s the beauty of surfing.’

And hey, according to Jack, ‘it doesn’t matter if you body board, or boogie board, or surfboard – you are a surfer.’

Jack McCoy is one of the many featured guests at the Byron Bay Surf Festival, Friday–Sunday at the Byron Brewery… and of course at the beach! For more information about music, art exhibitions, surf markets and some of the signature fun surf events, go to

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