Taylor Miller - Byron Bay Surf Festival

The Byron Bay Surf Festival – an annual three-day event - focuses on the creative aspects of the surfing culture showcasing everything from surf art to swap meets, music to markets and surf films to sustainability, just to name a few. Now in its fourth year, and having recently run another successful event in October, organisers have grand ambitions to see the Byron Bay Surf Festival become an iconic world-class cultural event bringing together a global creative surfing community in a non-competitive context.

So what does it take to run an event like the Byron Bay Surf Festival (BBSF)?

We asked Taylor Miller, Public Relations Director to share some insights about the event and why she believes it’s important to showcase the creative aspects of the surfing culture beyond the water.

Describe your role with the Byron Bay Surf Festival
As Publication Relations (PR) Director for the festival my role is quite multi-faceted. In addition to PR I also manage the SurfLit Lounge, which is an independent event within the festival. The festival runs on the resources of a small team, so I work closely with Director Mike Jahn providing input, as a local surfer, and ensuring we deliver an event that genuinely reflects the culture of the Byron Bay surf community.

I’ve got some humble university qualifications under my belt, including an Arts Degree (Honours) attained at the University of Sydney and surf coaching, which greatly benefit the work I do. Ultimately though, succeeding in this role has had more to do with my background (Taylor is the daughter of surfing royalty and legendary, big-wave rider Rusty Miller), growing up and surfing in Byron Bay and having a passion for surf culture.

How did you get involved?
A few years ago, when the festival was still very much in its infancy, I approached the organisers about selling journals to raise money for Kurungabaa, A Journal of History, Literature and Ideas From the Sea, a volunteer collective publication that I was involved with at the time. White Horses and Surf Safari Active Kids Books who were keen to take part also contacted me and I ended up also selling their publications too. The following year I pitched the idea of a running a SurfLit Lounge during the festival, which would expand on the publishing and writing side of surf culture. The event organisers jumped on the concept and it all snowballed from there.

Tell us more about the SurfLit Lounge
I think of the SurfLit Lounge as a fluid ideas space. The event concept organically unravelled in my head and has since become a jam-packed, full-day exposé of literary discussions, panels, interviews, book launches and as well as some slightly esoteric presentations and readings. It is an independent event within the festival. This year was the third time it’s been run, and each year it is slightly different. During my involvement with the Kurungabaa Journal collective I was exposed to a lot of fascinating, creative people who expressed their relationship with the sea through various artistic means - poetry, prose and imagery. This wasn’t exclusively surfers either, it included swimmers, shell catchers and fisherman, basically anyone who had an affinity with the grace and beauty of the ocean. I thought it would be great to encompass this ocean-themed writing and publishing aspect into the festival, under its tagline ‘Surf Culture’, as it’s not often a part of surf culture that gets much airtime. Surfing is well represented in film, art, music and photography, but I don’t believe there is enough promotion of intelligent and in-depth ideas or discussions in the surf world. That was a big motivation in creating the SurfLit event and providing a space where fresh perspectives could be voiced, ideas shared and people could engage.

This year the SurfLit Lounge was housed in a giant yurt right in the festival hub at Main Beach in Byron Bay. The program line-up featured a diverse range of speakers including the Carroll brothers – Nick and Tom – who candidly discussed their co-written book TC, Phil Jarratt launched his latest book Bali: Heaven and Hell, free surfer Dave Rastovich and local surfer Max Pendergast debated the issue of surf safety with the Byron Bay Mayor, and an insightful discussion with disabled surfer Pascale Honore. We had sessions running all day and the event was really well supported, and it was standing room only for many of the presentations.

Why is it important to showcase a literary aspect in the BBSF?
Surfing is naturally an expressive form that engages so many different people from so many different parts of the world. Capturing the essence of surfing through the written and spoken word can be an equally beautiful experience. Given Byron Bay’s reputation for the alternate and expressive, the festival would always embrace a more creative, written aspect in addition to showcasing art, music, film, shaping etc. There is a lot of academic research (across many fields) and an enormous breadth of history and literature centred on the sea and surfing, but it’s not really accessed or consumed by the surfing masses, so there’s a great opportunity to share this. It’s a fun realm to play in and it brings something new to the festival, which is all about celebrating diversity and innovation. 

What’s the best part of being involved in a surf festival?
The best part is the feeling of inclusion and being part of something that celebrates the beautiful aspects of surfing. My role is dynamic and I have a lot of freedom to express my creativity, which feels good.

Greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge for me is time – there are never enough hours in the day! The greatest challenge for the festival is the red tape and financial constraints involved in running a free community event. It is really difficult to raise sufficient funds and sponsorship to keep it going, which includes having the right people on the ground to deliver the event. We rely heavily on the generosity of volunteers from the Byron community.

Do you have to be a surfer to be involved in surf festivals?
I think it’s a big advantage if you’re already immersed in surfing. This doesn’t mean you must be a surfer and there are plenty of non-surfers with incredible talents who support festival in areas like finance, management, sound and audio visuals. But you do need to really understand who surfers are as your target audience and always keep that in mind. 

What advice can you offer to anyone wanting to get involved in surf festivals?
You should only get involved with a surf festival if you are passionate about its mission. Make sure you know what the festival represents, what its’ higher purpose is and speak with people who are involved before getting wet. Working in the realm of surfing can be wonderful but it can also be quite disenchanting. One of the great things about a career in surfing is that you’re around other surfers who share similar worldviews, or at least have an understanding about the desire to maintain a ‘drop-everything-when-the-surf-is-pumping’ lifestyle. The reality, however, is that it only works if you’re doing things with the right intention - if you’re trying to sell, exploit or flog surfing in anyway, your work will become as shitty as any other regular job can be. Surfing is a growing sport and there are plenty of open doors, especially for well-intentioned and meaningful ventures. For me, working in this industry is really about doing something meaningful, genuine and beautiful, and that makes it the best ‘job’ ever.

Where can we find you online? 


Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on December 2, 2014
Categories: Interviews