MINI Presents: Creating Surf Culture.

For the first time, MINI Australia has this year partnered to present the Byron Bay Surf Festival; a four-day-long celebration of all things surf culture.

To celebrate the partnership, we packed our boards and travelled to Byron Bay in the MINI Countryman to meet and talk with festival founder James McMillan, indigenous artist and avid surfer Otis Carey, and pro surfer Soli Bailey about all things surf culture, creativity and Byron Bay.

The pursuit of the perfect wave takes patience and commitment; there’s something undeniably spiritual about the connection between the surfer and the ocean.


The chaotic nature of the ocean and a surfer’s ability to navigate it seems to have helped James McMillan: surfer, artist, author and Founder and Creative Director of the Byron Bay Surf Festival (launched in 2011).

“It was pretty chaotic in the start. If you see my art studio it’s a mess, but when I finish a painting it’s all on the canvas and it’s contained… the festival is a bit like that. It’s chaotic in the building of it but the presentation from then to now is cleaner and lot more organised.”

His goal was to present surfing as a lifestyle, in a creative way.

“Probably five years before I did the festival I had a book that I wrote called Blue Yonder: Journey into the Heart of Surf Culture. Everything I wrote in the book was things I believed in; it was about surfing and art, photography, filmmaking and following surfing as a lifestyle.”

“It was the same with the surf festival, I had been showing my art in a few places in California and in Japan and in Australia and I know a few artists and a few surfers and I thought I could probably get them all together and have a little festival. I didn’t really know what was ahead of me to actually make that happen.”

“I think that sometimes if you believe in something enough you have to take it into your own hands.”

The act of getting to the beach is integral to the experience for James.

“On the water, on the waves is one thing but getting to the beach, getting down on to the beach, surfing and coming in, that’s a whole lifestyle.”

“I don’t check it on my phone - I just go. I like the drive down to the beach - I like to get out of my car and walk down to the dunes. That’s the surprise element, that’s creation - and it changes every single day.”

The festival celebrates everything to do with surf culture - including exhibitions, activities, art, music, film, yoga and environment.  For McMillan, there’s no place like Byron Bay to foster this creativity.

“There something about the area that sprouts creativity. It’s always been an alternative culture in Byron, even before the surfers came it was full of artists and musicians.”



Otis Carey is a professional free surfer and artist (featured in this year’s festival) with an ancestral connection to the ocean and Byron Bay.

“I fell in love with Byron because it’s Bundjalung (ancestral land). I feel connected. Here, I feel at home, I feel at ease. It is a nice calm energy - everyone is open minded, it’s a hippy-based town.”

“That’s why the surf festival is here - because it’s such an open-minded community. Being aboriginal on my Gumbaynggirr side our clan totem is the ocean - so from a very young age I had a connection to it.”

“The ocean has a lot of healing elements, I find it very calming, it sooths me. That calming essence comes into my work that I do with painting. It takes a lot of patience to paint so I channel a bit of that.”

“To me, painting is an expression of a feeling and surfing is an expression of the physical.” 



Professional surfer and Byron Bay local Soli Bailey feels the same.

“When I’m on the water, in the moment it’s so soulful and peaceful.”

Soli grew up in Byron Bay and has been on a surfboard all his life.

“I was three, maybe two years old when I jumped on a surfboard. My family would always bring me to the beach.”

“At nine years old I got a sponsorship and I went full time professional around the age of 16.”

“It’s always been a stress release. It’s the best job when you’re doing something you love.”

“It’s a crazy feeling to think that what I love doing is my job - it’s what I do.”