Surf Culture is vast and by no means limited to the obvious realms of just art and surf history, but has reached beyond into almost everything else possible. The Byron Bay Surf Festival well embraced this concept four years ago and just last week, again successfully pulled off three days of ‘Surf Culture Now’, with actual surf competition long gone out the window and recreational, lifestyle surfing the focus. And all the little bits in and between.

The Byron Surf Festival is a unique and well-attended event held right at the Main Beach waterfront, in town and at the illustrious Wategos beach. The festival is geared by innovation, points of difference that honor good-doing and embrace the distinctive cohesive community which makes Byron Bay. While it is hip in décor, colorful in spirit and rich with creative flair – the festival puts no price on its head. Almost everything is free and open air.

This year the festival held its indigenous Bundjalung opening ceremony and Australian film premiere of ‘Beyond the Surface’ under the stars at main beach where almost 2000 onlookers lounged on couches and hay bails into the night. This sight came alive again the following day with strands of tipis, stalls and big yurt spaces, which hosted speakers, craftspeople, thinkers and artisans from all over the world. International stables brought unique individuals from the Japan, Europe, India, USA/Hawaii and yonder. Weird wetsuits, funky jewelry, hand made goods, delicious, organic food and gorgeous acoustics filled out the site and it was a world to get lost in for an entire day. Fun fringe events like the release of Clayton the Sea Turtle or the local council’s collaborative Laneway Activation project really turned on the town like never before.

Again, cinema at the festival drew enormous crowds and on the Saturday night festivalgoers were treated to the power of film felt through the final selection round of the BBSF Surf Shorts Film Comp presented by GoPro. A solid panel of judges including film makers Jack McCoy, Nathan Oldfield and Dave Homcy joined by pro surfer Harley Ingleby crowned the heartfelt doco ‘A New Generation’ by Japanese film maker Keita Ikawa as the overall winner with artist Josh Rufford’s little surf animation ‘Saturday 6:27am’ a close second and ‘A Rising Tide’ documentary placed 3rd. India’s first female surfer flew over for the occasion as a star of the opening night film and in ‘A Rising Tide’ and dozens of other surf notaries roamed the streets and checked out events, reasonably shocked by the mass of activity and good energy taking place, enhanced by a powerful northerly wind that tore through the weekend.

The surf had good push and made for a testing canvas for the tens of shapers boards on display and available for test-riding on the Sunday of the festival. A day of non judged ‘fun’ categorical events saw all sorts of equipment ridden – timber, glassed, finned, finless – and by every kind of surfer under the sun. This day brought surfers out of the woodworks and it came interesting to see what sort of talent lurks.

The festival hopes to gather speed and repute as the festival that inspires all others and by the looks of what is happening already, it is something with a great bright future ahead. Be aware of it rapidly reforming over and over and producing dangerously cool, new ideas. If culture is indeed its theme, then surfing has a lot to look forward to with this festival on the charge. Keep an eye on

Photography by Ming Nomchong, Carly Brown and Bethany Ryles.