The Australian East Coast is a haven for female surfers, with almost half of the women on the World Surf League having grown up along the New South Wales or Queensland coastline. World class waves can be found all the way up the coast, but there’s something about Byron Bay that attracts a close-knit community of surfers built on a supportive foundation, connection to natural land and the Bohemian longboard culture of the past half-century.
We caught up with Byron Bay local Cait Miers, professional surf photographer and founder of The Clique Photo, to chat about her hometown and the growing community of passionate female surfers in Byron Bay.
Can you recall your first visit to Byron Bay?
I sure do! It was in 1997, we drove up the highway and we stayed at a little accommodation spot that still stands today and looks exactly the same! My family and I used to come up here for holidays every September for most of my childhood. I think that’s why I gravitated here when I was a bit older, because I’ve always had such a connection and love for Byron since I was little.
Why did Byron Bay stand out as a great place to live?
I always had an inkling I’d move here at some stage or another, I was just drawn to the place. I think it was because of our childhood holidays where we created some beautiful memories that have stuck with me, so when I turned 25 it was time for a change and I knew it was to Byron I was heading.
How did you get started in surf photography, and what inspires you to shoot?
I studied photography at university in Melbourne, and started shooting in the water around 18/19, teaching myself surf photography. I wanted a non-conventional career and loved surfing and taking photos, so it was a natural progression. I’m definitely inspired by the women on tour and in the surf industry just chasing after their dreams. I get inspired by women working hard and chasing after what they want. Ambition is something I admire in anyone.
How does surfing in Byron Bay compare with other places you have visited?
Where I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, surfing is a pretty different experience to what it is up here. It’s cold, there’s wetsuits, huge cliffs, big open beaches with dunes, and pretty wild surf marching in from Bass Straight. I loved growing up there and surfing, but I always wanted more gentle waves and the chance to surf in a bikini in winter! Byron gives you that, and not to mention the fact that there are so many women surfing up here which is amazing to be apart of.
Have you had to overcome many obstacles as a female In The Surf Industry?
Not so much obstacles, but definitely just navigating working in an environment predominantly with men. It is different, but I also just think that’s life. There are always going to be industries that have more females than males and then others more males than females. As long as there’s mutual respect for everyone and equality in the opportunities, then I see no problem!
With so many passionate surfers in Byron Bay, does it ever get nasty in the line-up?
I haven’t had too many experiences of this but it really is different for everyone. The Pass is such an incredible wave, but it’s like a circus out there. I think people write it off pretty quickly because they think it’s a scene and too busy. I just surf there because I think it’s one of the best point breaks in Australia, and it’s right at my doorstep. It’s a long boarders dream! I think people forget that’s why it’s so popular, because when it’s on, it’s actually a bloody good wave!
What advice would you give to travellers visiting Byron Bay who have never surfed before?
Go and get a lesson and give it a try. Even though my dad surfed and taught me, he encouraged us to take lessons as they really do take you through all the steps to getting started.
Do you have a favourite surf spot in Byron Bay?
Wategos is definitely my favourite beach and surf spot here.
Tell us about The Clique Photo. What inspired you to start it?
The Clique is definitely my little baby! I started it in Jan 2019 and started with in-person surf photography workshops. It’s now grown into an online course, workshops plus a new platform I’m busy creating now and will be ready to launch in a few months! I basically was just getting so many questions about how I had the career I have and how to get into surf photography, and found there was such an opportunity to help women chase after their dreams. It was definitely a moment of “If I can do it, so can anyone else” and I have a lot of things to share about the industry and how there’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
What is it about the female surf community that you love most?
Everyone’s just so encouraging. When you see other women in the surf I’m always so stoked for them, it’s like a mutual love and respect because you know they’re out there for the same reasons as you are.
Do you have any advice for girls pursuing their passion?
Go for it and don’t hold back. And believe in yourself, every step of the way.
Photography and words by Cait Miers.