A swim through of heats, commentary and sunburn, these festivals have about as much in common with the Byron Bay Surf Festival as Kermit the Frog has with Brad Pitt.

Having hijacked a Spaceship campervan for the mini road trip from Sydney to Byron (yes it was actually called a spaceship, cue a weekend of puns) we landed (see…) in Byron on Friday full of expectations and ready for the opening night. The Byron Bay Brewery kicked the weekend off with the opening ceremony and ‘Surf Culture Now’ Art & Photography show.

The exhibition was impressive with everything from cartoon like frangipanis to Fifties-style photography, and an onslaught of international artists chatting happily with everyone and anyone enjoying the show. Things calmed down and gradually an impressive crowd settled in front of the only panel of the festival – an all star surfing cast made up of Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, Bob McIntosh and host Phil Jarratt. It was all friendly banter, laughs and an enraptured audience as the three argued pedantics, re-lived surfing history and enjoyed shared stories.

Yes, I am well aware of the gushing factor here and I solemnly swear I am a cynic at heart, but believe me when I say the good vibes were flowing faster than the brew, and if the hangover was anything to go by, the brew was definitely flowing fast enough.

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Day 2 began with scenic bike ride to North Byron’s Clarke Beach Café for a chat with two of the festival organisers, Mike Jahn and Vanessa Thompson. Both Mike and Vanessa were emphatic about the festival being a celebration of a culture, not a sport. It was impossible not to enjoy the duo’s enthusiasm as they talked about a culture of expression, music, art and nature.

Next up was the Disabled Surfing Association Demonstration. It’s hard to describe how rewarding the experience was, and even harder to determine who was enjoying themselves more – the volunteers or the young down-syndrome man lapping up the waves.

The feeling kept flowing throughout the day, with the ‘Kids stART me up’ art workshop plastering stupid grins on our faces. Artisan markets full of surf paraphernalia, handcrafted leathers, clothes – you name it – providing the perfect backdrop for the local live music. Kicking on into the evening, the markets proved to be a meeting point for people heading across the road to the community centre for the short film festival and premier of Taylor Steele’s latest film, This Time Tomorrow.

A slight oversight meant we missed out on the films (Hollywood premier eat your heart out, it was standing room only and we still couldn’t get in!) so naturally we made a beeline for the brewery to wait for the incoming crowds and get our groove on.

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Well our groove came in a big way and Sunday morning had us heading to Watego’s beach with our heads in our hands and a years supply of Powerade in the Spaceship.

Luckily there was probably nowhere else on earth as chilled as the surf meet and demonstrations at Watego’s. The day was full
of floating between custom board shapers, second hand sellers, artist stalls and a sausage sizzle.

Chilling out on the hill the tandem surfing demonstration simultaneously gave us vertigo and a challenge for later, while the only surfing competition in the festival had happy surfers scoring points for freestyle and expression on their waves (and not a rashie in sight, hawaian shirts were the call of the day).

Above all else it was this last day that really drove home what Mike and Vanessa had been describing as surf culture. There’s
something pretty special about being surrounded by people with so much love for the ocean and the peace and perspective that
surfing offers.

Concluding surfing should be classified as a religion, we dragged our feet back to the Spaceship making solemn oaths to
come back to keep the spirit alive. With the 2013 festival shaping up for another big year it’s safe to say a pilgrimage is in the

The Byron Bay Film Festival was held from October 26-28 2012. See byronbaysurffestival.com. Special thanks to Spaceships Rentals Australia for the wheels. See spaceshipsrentals.com.au

Photos: TNT Instagram, Byron Bay Surf Festival.