Byron Bay


Bucolic, New Age-loving Australian resort town located 500 miles north of Sydney on the wave-rich North Coast of New South Wales; home to several first-rate sand-bottomed surf breaks, and a proving ground for the late-'60s shortboard revolution. Byron Bay, as surf writer DC Green noted in 2008, "has for decades been regarded as Australia's most 'out there,' town: the most progressive, the one closest to America, the dream destination of Nat Young, George Greenough, and many other famous and freakish surfers, seekers and wannabes."

Cape Byron is the easternmost point on the Australian continent and divides the town's eight-mile coast into two distinct surf zones. The north-facing beaches include the Wreck, a two-way peak just steps away from downtown Byron; Main Beach; and the Pass, a mostly-gentle, beautifully tapered right wave that can spin along for up to 300 yards. The southeast-facing beaches include the aquamarine peaks of Tallows, the only Byron break protected from the dreaded summertime northeast winds, and the transparent right-breaking tubes of Broken Head.

While Byron has surf all year, the best waves generally arrive between April and October, as South Pacific storms broadcast dependable three- to four-foot swells, along with the occasional six- to eight-footer. December-to-March cyclone storms can produce good waves as well. Average daytime air temperatures in Byron range from the upper 60s in winter to the mid-80s in summer. Water temperatures range from the low 60s to the low 70s. Hazards include sharks—local surfer Marty Ford was killed by a bronze whaler shark at Tallows in 1982; a visiting Japanese surfer died from a great white attack in 2015—and bluebottle jellyfish.

The Byron Bay surf was first ridden in the late '20s and early '30s by members of the local surf lifesaving club, then further explored in the 1050s and early '60s by Graeme Timperly, Max Pendergast, Algy Reid and Keith Anderson, among others. American surf filmmaker Bruce Brown gave Byron its first international exposure by filming Phil Edwards and Paul Witzig at the Pass for his 1962 release Surfing Hollow Days.

In the late '60s, Queensland shaper Bob McTavish and 1966 world champion Nat Young of Sydney were among a small group of Australians who used the Pass—and other nearby waves, including Broken Head and Lennox Head—as a test track for their new shorter, lighter board designs. By the early '70s, Byron had become the hub of Australian surfing's short but influential back-to-nature "country soul" movement, an era beautifully captured in Alby Falzon's 1972 surf movie classic Morning of the Earth. It wasn't just the waves that drew people to this corner of Australia. "Byron Bay," McTavish later wrote, "was the friendliest town on the coast." In years to come, Byron continued to welcome alternative board designs. The Pass was a favorite among newly-revitalized ranks of longboarders during the '80s, and 25 years later it became a hot spot for finless surfing.

The Byron Bay Surfing Championships debuted in 1963, the Bay Area Surfboards shop opened the following year, and the Bay Area Boardriders Club was founded in 1972. The Byron Bay Easter Classic surf contest debuted in 1976 (with the juniors division won by local soon-to-be-pro ace Gary Timperley), and remains a cherished local event. In 2010, the first annual Byron Bay Surf Festival took place, featuring surf art, music, film, fashion and crafts.

As of 2012, Byron Bay (population 30,000) was home to about 20 surf shops, a dozen or so learn-to-surf camps, and two surf clubs. Top Byron surfers include pros Danny Wills, Kieren Perrow, and Brenden Margieson. Among the hundreds of Byron Bay transplants are 1966 world championships competitor Rusty Miller, and pro surfer-environmentalist Dave Rastovich.

The Byron-area surf is detailed in a number of books, including The Surfing and Sailboarding Guide to Australia (1993) and Mark Warren's Atlas of Australian Surfing (1998), and is featured in more than two dozen surf films and videos, including The Hot Generation (1967), Sultans of Speed (1987), and Gestation (2000), an all-Byron video. In 2008, Byron Bay was the only Australian location to make Forbes Traveler magazine's worldwide list of "25 Sexiest Beaches."