Surfers Ride the Planet’s Waves at Byron Bay Film Festival

Learning to Float

The Byron Bay Film Festival recognizes that surfing is the No. 1 passion for many of its local audience and this year is screening 11 films on the sport, hobby, obsession, lifestyle that capture some of its joy, exuberance and madcap adventurousness – and its ability to bring positive change to disadvantaged corners of the globe.

Joy illuminates the World Premiere of Learning to Float, about an overweight African American boy from South Central LA whose life – and waistline – are transformed when he discovers a love of surfing. He now mentors the sport for others from the same background.

Similarly, exuberance spills out from the Brazilian feature-documentary 1970 Something, which is having its the Australian Premiere. This “ode to the surfing, music, fashion and counter-culture scene of a romantic period” shows how Brazil has come to the attention of the global surfing community.

In the follow-up year to Gabriel Medina’s historic win in the final year of the ASP before its World Surf League (WSL) rebranding, this is a film that shows one view of just how Brazil has come to the attention of the global surfing community. Self-described as “an ode to the surfing, music, fashion, and the counter-culture scene of a romantic period”, it truly is an expose` of “the surfing and beach culture in Brazil during the 1970’s, as seen from the perspective of the present generation”.

With a mixture of unseen film and photo archives, present-time action video clips and exclusive stories from the main players of the day about surfing between the oppressive political atmosphere and the environmental degradation of the day, it’s a quick lesson in Brazil’s rapidly rising surf status.

Sally behind the smile
Sally: Behind the Smile

If evidence is needed that surfing can bring a surfer joy, then look no further than Sally Fitzgibbons and the World Premiere of Sally: Behind the Smile. Everyone in the surf community knows Sally’s smile can light up a small continent, but this film also shows her tears and her unfailing determination to be the best.

The driving inner spirit of Ms Fitzgibbons, one the brightest lights on the 2015 WSL Women’s Championship Tour, can’t help but be inspiring as she challenges herself again and again, pushing her limitations as she attempts to overcome some of the biggest hurdles of her burgeoning career in pursuit of that all-encompassing goal, a surfing championship world title. This is a film that every aspiring and professional athlete can take something from

Similar but different is Nothing Too Serious, about Dean “Dingo” Morrison’s love of the big waves. Morrison won the Gold Coast Quicksilver Pro a dozen years ago but chose a different path – and here we see some breathtaking footage of him doing what he does best: charging.

So surfing can change the mindset of those who surf, but can it change the world? One film shows how the international surfing community can bring financial aid and hope to those who need it most. A Surfer’s Legacy, another World Premiere, follows an Indian girl born into child slavery with one arm, one leg and a dream. Her life is changed forever when surfer and prosthetist Pete Farrand and his team of Australians create a limb for her, a “new leg” using recycled parts from Pete’s workshop bins.

Grass Roots is another demonstration of how surfing and surfers can change the communities of remote places, when surfers set out to bring hope to a village in Papua New Guinea. It happens to have an awesome surf break, and in collaboration with the elders and with financial investment from ecological sensitive surf tourism, this village feels the positive ripple effects surfing can bring.

Oney Anwar
Oney Anwar

In the Australian Premiere of Oney Anwar Chasing the Dream, we see how Rip Curl, through its sponsorship of Indonesia’s first professional surfer, influences his life and community. Anwar grew up in a remote and impoverished area where no one went surfing – – not because of a lack of waves, but due to a lack of basic infrastructure – things like housing, sanitation, and a reliable healthy food supply. As he chases his dream of becoming the first Indonesian to qualify for the world championship tour, his village feels the benefits of that sweet surf break at its front door, now being visited by a major international surf company and a bunch of folks keen to surf at his local. It’s a transformative experience for everyone involved.

Similarly, What the Sea Gives Me is a gorgeously filmed love affair with the ocean. It explores our incredible relationship with the sea and dives into our hopes for the future. It’s not just about surfing. Every one has a unique and valuable perspective – the artists and fishermen featured, the people doing research on massive great white sharks, as well as those riding the waves.

The footage is epic.

The Cradle of Storms is a very cool Australian Premiere about a few dudes going for a surf in a wildly remote location in Alaska. Why? Because they can. It’s a high performance surfing adventure with no one else out there.

The journey continues with the Australian Premiere of Tierra de Patagones, an Argentinian film about two brothers wandering through Patagonia to surf in one of the southernmost areas of the world: the Isla de los Estados. With a ute, a tent, six months and not much to do, they leave their urban lifestyle behind and discover new surf spots, new people, and a whole new way of looking at the world. They meet “gauchos” (cowboys), algae workers, and old-school farmers.

They eventually climb aboard a boat to sail across one of the most dangerously narrow seas in the world, never losing sight of their goal: To surf in the freezing waters off the coast of a little uninhabited island at the southern most tip of South America. It has something to do with ‘the journey being more important than the destination’. Full of subtle power, their gentle quest and brotherly surf adventure is alluring and illuminating.

Lastly, there’s the World Premiere of Journey On about Shane Herring – a hugely talented surfer who gave it all up 20-odd years ago. Amazing archive footage and close-up interviews with Herring and those closest to him make for a complex and candid portrait.

Byron Bay Film Festival runs from March 6-15 in Byron Bay, Murwillumbah, Ballina and Lismore.

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Tickets also at the venue