Byron Bay and surfing – a special combination that resonates with surfers around the world, tempting them to the idyllic coastline of Northern NSW.
With its natural geographical advantage, Byron Bay uniquely offers reliable surf and diverse challenges to engage all kinds of surfers, every day of the year.
From the experts riding big swell at Tallows to the beginners enjoying their first stand-up successes on world-class longboard waves at The Pass, Byron is a place to fall in love with surfing.
Back on land, surfing has also played a major role in making Byron the alluring destination it is today. To discover why this is, we sat down with Blake Whittaker from Let’s Go Surfing to get a local expert’s perspective.
Let’s go surfing in Byron Bay.
Byron Bay’s Natural Advantage
Byron Bay seems like it was created just for surfing.
This short stretch of coastline has a geographical advantage that has few equals anywhere in the world. This landscape is a near perfect surfing invitation, offering up reliable, world-class waves, whatever the swell or wind conditions.
And while it may not have the huge swell found around smaller islands like Fiji or Hawaii, Byron’s variety is what truly sets it apart, as Blake explains.
“It’s the waves that have led to Byron Bay becoming a world-class surf destination. The unique shape of the bay’s geography means you can catch 400m longboard waves—that would make many peoples’ list of the best waves in the world—and, only a few hundred metres away, visit the swell magnet of Tallows.”
The protected bay is perfect for beginners, with many learning to catch their first waves here.
“The bay faces north, which is rare along the east coast, and the waves have to wrap around the cape. That leads to smaller, easier waves in Byron Bay, making it one of the easiest places to learn to surf. It’s also really reliable, so it’s incredibly rare that we have to cancel a lesson because of the weather.”
But this protected surfing nursery is not just for beginners.
“Those easy waves are also world-class long-boarding waves: the bottom part of the wave is easy, but the top part of the waves is very advanced. So, that leads to a really great mix of surfers out there every day”
Beyond the bay, it’s the wide variety of surf found along this short stretch of coastline that keeps experienced surfers like Blake interested.
“You can surf world-class waves every single day here. Beyond the protected bay and The Pass you can head south to Tallows and Lennox Head for exposed beaches that are the total opposite of Byron Bay. You can surf a reef break and then a point break and then a beach break all in the same day – Byron has a bit of everything.”
The proximity of such varied surf is what really sets Byron Bay apart. While a change of wind can lead to days on end with no surf in other locations, here in Byron the surfers only need to shift a few hundred metres to discover the best surf.
A surf trip to Byron Bay means lots of surfing, not sitting hoping for the winds to change.
A Brief History of Byron’s Surf
Since surfers first found the waves of Byron Bay, they have unfailingly populated these waters. There is anecdotal evidence as far back as the 1920s, when local lifeguards are said to have headed out to ride Byron’s surf breaks.
With the expansion of Byron Bay’s alternative culture in the 1960s and ’70s, surfers began to arrive more often and hang around a little longer. It was the realisation of a natural affinity – the hippy culture that arrived here during those hedonistic decades meeting the ultimate laidback leisure activity, in a destination perfectly suited to both cultures’ needs.
Attracted by the waves and the warm welcome, surfers have arrived here in their masses ever since.
You’ll find some of surfing’s pioneers still residing in the bay. Bob McTavish, a ‘shaper’ (surfboard maker) respected around the world has been innovating surfboard design here since 1969. Blake has a couple of his boards and pointed out that most surfers here will have ridden McTavish creation.
“Bob’s an internationally-renowned shaper. Head out to The Pass and every third person is probably surfing one of his boards. He’s changed the face of surfboard design, right from his warehouse in Byron Bay.”
And you can still discover his work today. Wander down and browse through some iconic boards while sipping a coffee in his store in Byron’s Art and Industrial Estate.
Of the younger generation, some of the world’s best pros have chosen to make Byron Bay their home. At the time of writing, Matt Wilkinson calls Byron Bay home, a surfer currently considered in the upper echelons of the surfing world. Asher Pacey and Dave Rastovich live nearby too, along with countless other pros who visit throughout the year.
Future of Surfing in Byron Bay
So, how does the future of surfing look in Byron Bay? Blake’s view is entirely optimistic.
“The future’s bright and colourful for surfing and Byron.”
This optimism is not unfounded. The key to Byron Bay’s surfing attraction —those endless waves—is well protected. That’s thanks to the protected status of Cape Byron Marine Park, a stretch of coast from the Brunswick River to Lennox Head carefully managed by National Parks. There are also a number of designated surfing reserves too, which reflects the importance of this activity to the region.
Back in town, every year it becomes easier for visitors to discover surfing in Byron Bay.
With regular lessons available from any of Byron’s surf schools—such as Let’s Go Surfing—and numerous board hire shops, visitors who arrive looking to catch a wave usually succeed in doing so.
It’s not just the art of surfing that’s on offer. Stand Up Paddle boarding (SUP) is one of the fastest growing water sports in Australia. It feels like walking on water and is a fun way to spot turtles, fish and more and get in a workout at the same time.
You’ll find private or group lessons for traditional surfing or SUP boarding on offer. Sessions cover all the basics from warming up to board control and proper stroke and turning techniques.
Often, one lesson leads to another, as the surfing passion gets passed from teacher to student, as Blake tells us.
“Lots of people will be in Byron Bay for a few days, not planning to take lots of surf lessons. Then, all of a sudden, they’re taking a lesson every morning and talking about buying a surfboard and going back home and continuing to surf. It’s my hobby and passion, and I love to share this passion with all my students.”
There is also a rich creativity and invention here in Byron Bay, and this feeds the vibrancy of the surf culture. Blake points out that Asher Pacey and Dave Rastovich will often be seen riding unique boards, though it’s not just the pros who push the limits of what’s deemed a surfboard.
“Go surf The Pass and you’ll find people surfing asymmetrical boards, finless boards, bodyboards or a new design made in someone’s backyard. There’s a strong spirit of creativity here: as long as it floats, someone will be testing it out in Byron.”
With thousands of surfers of all experiences drawn to the promise of waves and vibrant surf culture in Byron Bay, it appears that surfing will remain part of this place’s DNA for many years to come.
And with passionate people like Blake helping to introduce more people to the water, it’s an experience few visitors will want to miss out on.
Surfing in Byron Bay – a perfect marriage carved into the coast.
For more adventurous inspiration, check out our Adventure and Adrenalin Guide to Byron Bay.
Want more inspiration for things to do in Byron Bay? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Byron Bay.