Pursuing Passion Projects Leads To New Career Path

With an impressive resume that included stints in San Francisco during the dot.com boom and setting up music sharing platforms for Universal Music, Hutchison Three and advertising agencies including Play Communications, Thomas Castets was already a well-established and sought-after web designer. Following a chance meeting with a business coach, which led him to set up his own business and pursue personal passion projects, he’s established an online community for Gay Surfers, produced an award-winning surf documentary and is already working on a second film.


So just how does one go from designing web pages from an office in Bondi to gracing the red carpets at film festivals across the world?

Originally from France, Thomas first travelled to Australia in 1996 to complete a degree in marketing. Thomas recalls it was the first year that an Australian university offered a program for marketing on the Internet.

“I was involved quite early in understanding how the Internet would change our lives. I was really lucky in that first year as the students and teachers were all discovering new things together”, says Thomas.

From there Thomas travelled to San Francisco to start a career building websites, which he did for 12 months before returning to France and working with Universal Music to launch a platform to legally download music (pre-iTunes). He then moved to Australia working for various record labels before he was hired by Hutchinson Three (now Vodafone Hutchison) to create a music store on mobile phones. After Hutchison he worked for Play Communications creating linkages between music and brand.

In 2007, he made the bold move to set up his own company. Shortly after, Thomas met a professional business coach Beatrice Cothenet who was in a need of a website but without the money to fund it. She offered him a trade; coaching in return for building a website. Initially, Thomas wasn’t convinced he needed a business coach but the realisation of the challenges of running a business was soon evident and he took up the offer. The engagement proved to more beneficial than Thomas could have envisaged.

“Beatrice offered really good advice and encouraged me to do two things at the same time – manage a web building business where I could make money and also start projects that I was passionate about but didn’t necessarily generate revenue. That’s how I started GaySurfers.net.”

“It was initially just a web page for me to use to find another gay surfer – I was only looking for one or two people around the world. I put a call out and within the first week 250 people had signed up. I started the site in February 2010 are there are now 51 groups from around the world, including the United States, Brazil, Morocco, Indonesia, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, with more than 7000 people connected, ” Thomas says.

The main objective of GaySurfers.net is to provide a space where people can express themselves, find information and connect with other gay surfers. The second is to make gay surfers visible so that people, particularly in the surf industry can realise and acknowledge there are gay surfers. Thomas says many people felt marginalised and were often scared to come out to other surfers. Creating the site and being out there in the online community has had a major impact on people’s lives.

The success of the site, led to Thomas produce a surf documentary about Gay surfers called ‘OUT in the line-up’, which highlights the struggle gay surfers face in coming out to other surfers. The film took three years to make, funded by $35,000 through Kickstarter and a crew of 60 volunteers who either worked directly on or supported the film. The unexpected career changed proved challenging for Thomas.

“I had to learn a lot new skills, especially in managing and motivating people to keep working on a project with no money to fund it. But from just one web page it’s led to a whole new career in film production and film distribution.”

The film was released in July 2014 and has since been screened at 45 different film festivals across the world and has received 8 awards, including Best Film at Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival, Byron Bay International Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival and London Surf Film Festival. The film has also been released on DVD, iTunes, Netflix and Vimeo among others. 

Thomas is currently working on another film while still building websites and attending film festivals. He recently presented at the conference - Surfing Social: Challenging surfer identities and spaces, organised by The University of Waikato and held in Raglan, New Zealand. 

Where can we find Gay Surfers online?













Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on February 7, 2016
Categories: Interviews