SOULED OUT: Former competitive surfer Johnny Abegg now prefers the down-to-earth, back-to-nature surfing culture of Byron Bay.
SOULED OUT: Former competitive surfer Johnny Abegg now prefers the down-to-earth, back-to-nature surfing culture of Byron Bay. Kate O’Neill

Surfing at Byron is good for the soul

JOHNNY ABEGG used to dream of being a professional surfer.

In fact, a few years ago he racked up a debt of more than $23,000 chasing his dream.

In 2004, the Byron Bay film-maker and surfer followed the Association of Surfing Professionals World Qualifying Series around the globe, funding his adventure by maxing out four credit cards.

More than four years later, Johnny is still paying off his debt, but has swapped his competitive streak for a more laid-back approach.

“I realised that's not what I was about. It's not the real side of surfing to me,” he said.

Instead, Johnny has embraced the soul surfing culture that Byron Bay is famous for, and that has been highlighted in the new surfing documentary, Under the Sun.

The movie, which screened at Byron Bay this week, was made by US film-maker Cyrus Sutton and is touring the country as part of the Souled Out film festival.

Sutton spent two years on the east coast of Australia making the movie, which features interviews with renowned surfers, past and present.

It focuses on the stark contrast in surfing culture between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay.

Sutton noticed the difference in culture in the two neighbouring areas during his first visit to Australia at 18.

Eventually he realised there were two types of surfer everywhere - the soul surfer and the contest surfer.

He said the contest surfer was started on the Gold Coast in the 1970s by those who wanted to make surfing a sport; while in Byron Bay, people like Nat Young publicised a way of surfing that was about getting back to nature and experiencing surfing for the soul of it.

Johnny Abegg is yet to see the new documentary, but knows where he would prefer to surf. “The Gold Coast is a dog-eat-dog world and is quite aggressive. Byron has a good balance,” he said.

DOES BYRON HAVE BETTER SURF THAN THE GOLD COAST?

Phone 6624 3266, SMS 0428 264 948 or  add your comment below.



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