The much-loved Byron Bay Surf Festival has a fresh team behind the scenes, feverishly working around the clock to bring the Bay the most diverse, thought provoking, art packed, soul enriching celebration of all things surf culture that they can. Before things get super crazy busy for our festival directors – founder James McMillan and new director, Max Tischler – we thought we’d get them down to the beach for a chin wag.. and a wave.
What are your titles for the festival?
James: I’m the founder and creative director plus jack of all.
Max: I’m the co-director
What do each of you do on the festival this year?
James: I basically look after the creation and direction of the whole thing. What events we put on, who we invite, how it looks and what we stand for. And I do too many other things to list here or anywhere. It’d be too boring.
Max: Both of us have young families- so we try and proportion the workload to suit each other. Essentially- James oversees the creative side of the festival, and I take care of the production and logistics.
What excites you about BBSF 2017?
James: The time of year…surf should be pumping! And we have some amazing guests coming that do amazing things which anyone who comes will experience. That’s a really cool thing to be able to offer to the culture and to share with the community.
Max: The groundswell of anticipation within the local community has been so welcomed. Having taken the year hiatus we were hoping people missed the festival- and the response this far would indicate the town is excited to have it back.
How would people know you best?
James: Author of best-selling book Blue Yonder and maybe as a surfer and artist.
Max: Probably as the guy lucky enough to be married to Mahina Mermaid.
How long have you been here in the Byron Shire?
James: 11 years
Max: 16 years
Why did you move to Byron Bay?
James: Between ’02 and ’05 I made 2 roadtrips north to Byron for Blue Yonder, visiting George Greenough and Dick Hoole. Those 2 legends of surfing and culture, where they live and the lifestyles they lead was enough to lure me here for good right after my book was published late in 2005.
Max: Probably like many other people- I was chasing a girl.
What keeps you in Byron?
James: Lifestyle…the waves, the mountains and the community, and now my growing family.
Max: Same. It’s the kind of community I want to raise my kids in.
What is it about Byron Bay you love so much?
James: My first love is surfing and second is my art practice. So apart from the diversity of waves, with so many different artistic influences moving through town, there’s a constant source of new inspiration. And I love the general positive and accepting attitude of the people, and there’s some crazy people here too, which I dig.
Max: The diverse mix of coastal and country living.
James – How did the festival come about in the first place?
James: In the winter of 2010 I was spending many days fixing surfboards in an old shed on skinners shoot road just outside of Byron town. I was thinking about new projects a lot and how surfing and art had played a big part in my life and livelihood. I was showing my art in Japan quite regularly around that time and I’d just returned from a festival there in Tokyo where I was part of a show with Thomas Campbell, Taylor Steele, Andrew Kidman, Hanai Yusuke, Alex Knost, Joe Curren, and local filmmaker Mick Waters. It was a blast and I thought the idea of showing cool stuff, as a way of sharing the things I loved and believed in, to a mass of people, was great. There was no shortage of surf culture out there, but this niche that I was a part of, which was a bit more underground at the time, was definitely worth sharing. And I was naïve enough to grab a friend and actually try and do it.
How did the festival end up returning?
James: After the previous 2 partners departed, I knew I couldn’t raise the next festival solo. The festival as a vehicle to present and maintain the culture of surfing, as an expression, art and lifestyle is something I’m passionate about. I believe in surfing and art as positive lifestyle choices. They both saved my life…but that’s another story. Determination and finding the right partner and team was crucial to birthing another festival. Somehow I walked through a rainbow, and it happened.
What did you know about Max/James before you met?
James: I knew Max had worked extensively with Jack Johnson on both National and International tours as a road manager and as the environmental manager to make sure all Jacks concerts were waste free and green. Both of these things we had been doing at BBSF and both were something that I wanted to push further and incorporate in to the event on a bigger scale.
Max: I’d been given a copy of James’ book ‘Blue Yonder’ years ago, and had always admired his art when exhibited at Art Shows and previous Surf Festivals.
Max – why did you join James on this festival?
Max: A close friend was quizzing me about the Festival during one of her visits from the US- and (considering my background) had suggested I offer to become involved with the production of the event. Oddly enough, about 6 weeks later I got the call from James asking whether I’d like to take a role as Director! Go figure- manifestation or coincidence?
What’s your opinion of each other now?
James: We’ve been working on this 2017 event for over a year now and Max is a good bloke and he writes a bloody good email. Nothing is too hard and he enjoys surfing and a good chai tea.
Max: James and I have become close friends sharing many life philosophies and common interests. James has a sincere desire to make positive and long-lasting contributions to his community (and the world more generally)- which certainly resonates with me. He has a great sense of perspective- we both know the festival won’t solve third world poverty- but it can be a potent vehicle to nurture and inspire change within the surf industry- and perhaps beyond?
How is BBSF different to previous years?
James: It’s very different because we are holding it in February which is surf season…that means we’ll probably get decent waves with favourable south winds, and no northerlies!! We are also incorporating the McTavish Trim event in to our freestyle&stoke surf sessions. Our Saturday Slide event is new and our closing party is also new, plus we have stepped up our artshow by partnering with the Loan Goat Gallery and inviting a solid group of highly influential artists.
Max: The 2017 festival has a very deliberate focus on sustainability- within the surf industry as well as outside of it. Whilst this ethos has always been part of the festival- we are really presenting it front and centre this year. It’s what we believe in!
What are some world firsts about the BBSF 2017?
James: First time the McTavish Trim is in Byron and that Bob and Ben McTavish, father and son, will sit under the same surf brand name. First time we host ‘the woodshed’. Australian Premiere of the Goodwin family’s movie, ‘Given’. World premiere of Lauren Hill’s film ‘Pear Shaped’…and more firsts to be released as the weeks go by…
What are some unique initiatives about the BBSF 2017?
James: We are aiming to achieve a plastic free event.
Max: We are really proud to have become a member of 1% For The Planet….its an amazing program that empowers companies, business’ and their patrons to give to grassroots environmental initiatives.
And what is your vision for the future of the festival?
James: Not telling yet…
Max: To grow the festival as a vehicle for positive change, innovation and sustainability.
Tell me about the support from sponsors. How does it make you feel to have their support?
James: Sponsor support is very much appreciated and needed for the running of this festival. But it also has to be the right sponsor with the right business direction, either culturally, ethically or environmentally or hopefully all three. We have been approached by some big brands with lots of dollars, but it wasn’t the right fit. I have been in this position before with big corporations waving cheques in my face when I wrote my book, and I kindly declined to keep creative control. If it’s not the right fit and for the right reason, the money means nothing, but if it is the right fit and for the right reason and purpose, then amazing things can be achieved and what’s meant to come, will come, and it will come with good healthy vibes.
Max: We have tried to align with partners that share our festival ethos…..and feel so grateful to have such a stellar group of sponsors.
Tell me about the guests you have coming this year that really excite you. Why?
James: Very stoked to have G.love coming to play. He is an exceptional and diverse musician who has been involved in surfing and surf culture for a very long time. Also the Goodwin family, I’m very inspired by the life message they constantly put out there and the movie they are a part of. Also Jack McCoy, highly revered and respected…and for what he has offered BBSF…his 25th year anniversary of Bunyip Dreaming and The Green Iguana with live music score.
Max: We are so stoked with the diverse array of talent involved with the festival….and am especially excited to see G.Love again- I have toured with him in the past and am a huge fan of his music.
Tell me about the team you have on board this year.
James: The team is the engine room and Max and I are probably the engine block. Our team are professionals, or emerging professionals, and all have a heart for the community and what the surf festival represents. They are giving, hard working and determined people that love surfing and the lifestyle. We love them for believing in us and for giving their time, creativity, knowledge and patience.
Max: Wow…..the team of people we have working on the festival are such a dedicated bunch- everyone is working more than they should for less money than they should.
Who should come to BBSF 2017?
James: Anyone who surfs, arts, shapes, fashions, yogi’s, eats, lurks, laughs and loves the beach
Max: Everyone and their mum’s.
Why should people come to BBSF 2017?
James: To soak in the vibrations of creations
Max: Because their mum’s will love them for it