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Flotsam Festival rides the waves of success

Updated: Jun 13

✦ Story by Mattea McKinnon.

For a country home to some of the most famous surf breaks in the world, it seems perplexing that up until the last few years, there was no existing surf film and photography festival in Australia.


In 2022, after the restrictions of lockdown lifted, this took a turn and Flotsam Festival launched on the Gold Coast, devised by local filmmakers and photographers. 12 days packed with ocean-inspired exhibitions, pop-up film nights, live music, live panels, work-shops and more.  This year, the festival took place from 1st to 12th May.

Masters of Surf Photography | Brilliant Online Australia Singapore UK | Brilliant Online
From left to right - the 'Masters of Surf Photography': Nathan Smith, Jason Childs, Erik Regnard, Ted Grambeau, Josh Bystrom, Ted Harrington, Peter ‘Joli’ Wilson (International Masters of Surf night)

The name is taken from the early 17th century Anglo-Norman French word ‘floteson’, from ‘floter’, meaning ‘to float’. Appropriately chosen for its ability to convey that despite life’s twists and hurdles, we will float, even if we’ve been washed overboard. Of course, water and surf photographers also spend a large percentage of their life bobbing up and down in the big blue. 

Photos: Mattea McKinnon

This year, world-renowned surf photographer, Ted Grambeau, curated the International Masters of Surf exhibition which featured more than 40 of the world's surf photographers.

Award-winning filmmaker, Taylor Steel was among the guest panellists joining Ted to recount their adventures shooting documentaries on surfing champion, Mick Fanning. | Brilliant Online Australia Singapore UK | Brilliant Online
Award-winning filmmaker, Taylor Steel was among the guest panellists joining Ted to recount their adventures shooting documentaries on surfing champion, Mick Fanning. (Photo: Mattea McKinnon) 
Ted says, "I’m pretty stoked to celebrate photography and local creatives -  Southern Gold Coast is home to some of the world’s best image creators in the genre of ocean sports. Sometimes the outstanding work that emerges in this area is not appreciated. The athletes, particularly in the surf industry, are rock stars and earn a good living. The equally gifted artists that make athletes look good are often unsung heroes. In an industry built on image it is somewhat ironic. Flotsam is a great platform and is now recognised by our peers internationally which is fantastic."

The festival also featured a water-photography workshop with Nat Geo and Disney photographer, Craig Parry, live boarding shaping at Burleigh Boardmakers and panel conversations with high-profile guests such as author/athlete, Bonnie Hancock. 

Nat Geo and Disney photographer, Craig Parry | Brilliant Online Australia Singapore UK | Brilliant Online
Nat Geo and Disney photographer, Craig Parry

Festival goers could enjoy Flotsam’s signature outdoor photo exhibition ‘Focal Point’ and admire the work of Simon Williams, Tony Harrington and Fran Miller to name a few. The photos were installed along Coolangata’s foreshore - one of the most documented sections of coast in the world.

Event Director, Carolyn Emge, says, "This event always seems to create a conduit to creative collaborations, and the feel-good factor dials up to 10." Her favourite part? "It’s usually (Surf) Girls On Film event as it's exciting to see the depth of talent emerging in this space. In my younger years as a women's surf mag writer and editor, there were only a couple of female surf photographers in the world shooting at getting published, and similarly very few female surf film-makers. Now there are countless amazing surf film and photo creatives just in our backyard."

Photographer, Nathan Smith, who was featured in the International Masters of Surf exhibition says, "Having my work exhibited was a huge honour. When I was a young competitive surfer most of these guys who were present at Flotsam were guys I wanted to have photograph me as a surfer - they were and still are the main guys, so to have your image taken by one of them kind of meant you were being noticed."

He adds, "When I got a call up from Ted who is pretty much one of the Godfathers of Surf Photography, it made me feel like ok, my work is noticed and noticed enough at a level in which somehow I was accepted into this really tight fold. It’s a validation thing, hard work over many years being rewarded in some way. They are all the guys we looked up to and I'm sure the next gen do also. Having an image I felt was good enough to show and perhaps help a charity and someone that is not in perhaps the best position in life, feels really special."

Nathan says, "This shot came about only minutes before sunset, as the sun was going down and streams of light would filter... we would both swim and paddle down to that section, chasing the light. I had in my mind what I could get, but with so many variables dealing with the ocean and weather, this simply doesn’t always happen. But having the idea in your head and knowing your settings etc increased the chances a little more.
"Surf photography is always challenging, moving surfers, moving ocean, changing winds and tides, and dealing with the sun and clouds means a lot has to line up for what we would call a great image. All those factors is probably why I love it so much. The chase!"

One of the previous exhibitions included Bystrom x Bystrom which took place at 4 Pines, featuring the work of local photographer, Josh Bystrom and his Dad; late Californian film-maker who helped cement the area’s reputation for world-class waves. 

Josh said, "‘The event incorporated video from my dad’s film archive spanning over 30 years. In addition to that was my own exhibition showcasing some of my best work on the Gold Coast. I was so grateful for the great turnout! What inspires me to shoot is the thought that my best photo may be right around the corner. I just need to keep putting myself in the right spot in the water and putting the time in. Big waves excite me so I’m looking forward to further pushing my abilities in that realm in the not so distant future."

Josh was awarded the first prize for the Home Grown Photography Competition, along with Travis Johnson. 

The festival is a true testament to the raw talent that the area has to offer, whilst also providing a platform to nourish the creatives to come. 

Ted shares his advice for budding creatives, "Follow your passion - it may very well take you to places you have never dreamed of. It's like life, it is a journey of learning and creating, do it for the right reasons and it will be an awesome journey.’"

Learn more about the Flotsam Festival

Contact Mattea McKinnon

Find out more about the photographers in this article

Josh Bystrom  @bystrom_photo

Jason Childs @childphotos  

Nathan Smith @nate_smith_photo


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