Can you spot the melon among all the mermaids? Photo by Katie White (Salty Hearts Photography)

Last week, I was surfing at The Pass and per usual, saw a few familiar faces. However, I had to do some double-takes, because these familiar faces weren’t just friends from Australia... the Californians had arrived! Surfers from all over begin to fly into Australia around this time every year, kicking off with the Byron Bay Surf Festival which was this past weekend, and staying around for the Noosa Festival of Surfing, which begins in two weeks. I’ve always wanted to participate in these events, but school always got in the way, so I am super stoked to be here now!

There were events for boards of all shapes and sizes at the festival.

As I mentioned before, last weekend was the 6th annual Byron Bay Surf Festival, a gathering for art, film, music, yoga, sustainability, and of course surfing and surfboards. The festival ran from Thursday through Sunday, chock full of activities during the days and evenings. Unfortunately, the weather did not want to cooperate with the event, as sunny beautiful Byron turned into rainy dismal Byron. As we all know, the show must go on, so the festival organizers did their best to keep things moving despite the inclement weather!

In my 15 years of competitive surfing, this may be the first time my last name was spelled right.

On Sunday, the rain finally stopped, just in time for the majority of the festival’s surfing events at Watego’s beach. There was the McTavish Trim event, in which surfers rode gliders over 10 feet, and were judged solely on length of ride. This was the only division of the day that was actually a competition (however it was still just for fun!), and California’s own Alex Knost took the win! The rest of the divisions for the day were part of the “Freestyle & Stoke Sessions,” and there was a finless board heat, body surfing (Torpedo), a timber board heat (Woodsniffers), a females only expression session (Mermaids), a heat just for foamies (The Extra-Terrestrial Softboard Experiment), a logging exhibition, and the Ying / Yang, in which surfers would go out in pairs (but on their own boards), and could only catch waves together. There also was the beloved Party Wave event at the very end of the day, which had a pretty simple objective: first surfer to catch a wave all the way to the beach wins!

During his Trim event, legendary shaper Bob McTavish held a flag up to mark the spot where the longest ride of the heat had gone.

I sneaked my way into a couple heats, but the highlight of the event was definitely the Mermaids session. 24 women from at least five different countries lined up on the beach and paddled out for some all-girls fun! Many of the ladies involved are the usuals from the professional women’s longboarding scene, and it was so fun to be able to enjoy surfing with one another without the stress or pressure of competition! We caught a bunch of party waves and had the best time ever, even though conditions were tiny and onshore. At the end of the day, there was an award ceremony, but the results were based on a peer-vote, and there was only a winner for each division (as opposed to the usual ranking style awards). Longboard royalty Kassia Meador won the Mermaids, making California proud once again.

The Byron Bay Surf Festival is unlike any other surfing event, and I am so proud to have been a part of this year’s festivities! No matter where I’m living, I will definitely try to make it back for this event every year!