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Byron Bay and its surrounding pointbreaks, reef passes and beaches have played a pivotal part in Australian surfing. The combination of warm water, consistent swells and groomed sandbanks means Byron and Australian surfing will be forever linked, a fundamental DNA strain in the Aussie surfing chromosome.
It was here in the late ’60s that the “shortboard revolution” took place, with Bob McTavish and Nat Young cutting down longboards by up to two feet to create radically new maneuverable boards. It represented a whole new way of surfing and a form of expression and surfing aggression that was the blueprint for modern surfing.
The nowToday, obviously, some things have changed and some haven’t. While the hippies, dropouts and draft dodgers of the 1960s have been replaced by TV moguls and Swedish backpackers, the waves — the source of it all — remain the same.
Cape Byron is the easternmost point of all of Australia, meaning it captures all available swell, including the north and cyclone lines that wrap in from the Coral Sea and the south swells that march up from the Tasman Sea.
On the north side of the Cape, right in town, south winds blow offshore, with Byron’s most famous wave, The Pass, providing a 400-yard grinding right-hander dotted with every type of surfer and surfcraft know to man.
Just up from the Pass, The Wreck on Main Beach pops up shifting peaks and tubes off the remains of a sunken ship.
Other wavesOn the southern side of the Cape, Tallows Beach faces due south, stretching from Cosy Corner (directly under the lighthouse) through Dolphins and down to Broken Head.
This stretch captures all available swell and turns the predominant summer nor’easterly winds into straight offshore. It’s also the scene for some of Byron’s hottest young surfers and the place where such luminaries as Danny Wills, Brendan Margieson and Kieren Perrow, to name just a few, cut their teeth.
Moving south, only 10 miles gets you to the small town of Lennox Head and its famous pointbreak. Often included as one of the world’s great waves, Lennox can produce rights 500 yards long that spit and spin down a sandy boulder-lined point.
Breaking at 3 foot and handling 15, one wave out here can change your life. The next point round, imaginatively called Boulders, offers waves of about a quarter the length of Lennox, but also far less crowds. That just leaves Ballina, another coastal Aussie town that provides a mix of world-class beachbreaks on either side of its rivermouth breakwall, plus a few slabby reefs for those in the know.
With the area’s incredible marine life comes sharks. Surfers have always known Byron Bay as a “sharky” place, not helped by the local meatworks whose runoff used to empty into the beach just south of the town. The meatworks are long gone, but the sharks aren’t. Statistically you have a better chance of being killed by a falling pineapple, but avoid surfing on your own, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Out of the waterFor nine months of the year, boardshorts are mandatory, both in the water and in the pubs, bars and clubs that provide cold beers and a mix of locals, blow-ins and tourists having the times of their lives.
“The Beach Hotel — or Top Pub, as we call it — is a Byron institution and the only pub that overlooks the beach,” says local professional surfer Garrett Parks, “while the Railway Tavern is famous for its music.”
The main street sells everything from organic juices to high-end boutique fashion, and out of town you can walk the Cape Byron Track to the famous lighthouse, kayak with dolphins, go whale watching, trawl the markets or indulge in a day spa in a rainforest retreat.
The shortboard revolution was 40 years ago, but in Byron the good times just keep rolling on. “It’s been 50 years since I first rode a wave here,” McTavish told GrindTV, “but it is still one of the best spots for surfing, and living, on the planet.”
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