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This Is Northern New South Wales

Emiliano Cataldi – on a Gypsy’s tale…

Emiliano Cataldi, lives in Byron, procures his passions, surfs his dreams, and prefers the paths less trodden. He was happy to share his adventures, and contagious passion with us through his photographs and story. Interview by Johnny Abegg.

Emi, tell us a bit about your journey to now live in Byron Bay?

I’m from Rome, Italy, and moved to Byron Bay about three years ago. Back home I was a civil engineer, and I also had a few sponsors that have funded my surf trips over the years. I was lucky enough to have a flexible schedule at work, so in between projects I could leave and do my surf travels. But the more I got to see the world the more I got disillisioned about my own country, and that was even before the mess that it is now…so with my girlfriend at the time we decided to move down here. It was a bit of a step into the unknown for me at the time, and I knew close to nothing about Byron back then. But I liked it that way. I just wanted to see it with a fresh mind and free from preconceived notions. We were thinking “let’s go and have a look at it, and if we like it we’ll stay”. Needless to say we liked it (a lot!) and decided to stay…and that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me! Got to live for the first six months at Broken Head with a lovely family (the Birchs) in a house overlooking the point, and that was just unreal. I fell for the place and the lifestyle straight away. Now I live in town and work for Byron Bay Ballooning, and of course I try to surf as much as I can..


What lures you and others to keep coming back to Byron for more?

I’ve always been fascinated by the small Australian surf towns, so Byron sounded like a good starting point to me. And when I got here I soon discovered that it’s a unique place, really. There’s a good vibe  and a lot of creative people around, a constant influx of international travelers, students, artists, writers, musicians, film makers and surfers. And a lot of that creativity stays in the local community, which has a thriving music, art and surfing scene as well. Plus the area is beautiful, the surf is good and the lifestyle pretty hard to beat…there’s a lot to love in and around this town.

You’re quite the traveller, can you tell us a bit about your adventures?

Yeah, surfing has taken me to visit about 50 countries or so. Since the early trips I’ve been around all sorts of creative people all the time, writers, photographers, cinematographers, artists…so I guess that sparked an interest in all of those things, and I started writing travel articles for surf and travel magazines, shooting a few pictures here and there, and ultimately filming the trips I was going on. Over the years I’ve formed a strong bond with an eclectic group of international surfers, Sam Bleakley from Cornwall, Erwan Simon from Brittany (France), American photographer John Callahan and Hawaiian legend Randy Rarick, which led to a project called The SurfEXPLORE. We travel to some of the most remote areas on the planet looking for surf and immersing ourselves in the local culture, and because of the nature of the places sometimes you get down to the very basics, eat what the locals eat, sleep where they sleep and travel the way they do…as I said most of the places I usually go to are qu­ite off the beaten path or almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. So because of the radical nature of those places you have to adapt to what is available and do what the locals do, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep. Whether that is island hopping in the Mozambique channel on a rusted ferry stuffed to the roof with all sort of goods, animals and human beings; or dodging landmines and eating bread and sardines for two weeks in the Mauritania desert to surf perfect and empty pointbreaks; or  camping in the jungle in front of perfect waves in post war Liberia; traveling to Haiti before and after the earthquake; seeing women and kids doing forced labors in Myanmar; surfing a category five super typhoon on an island off South Korea, sneaking through customs in Ghana and Tanzania (no passport stamps!), smuggling camera equipment in photophobic countries, sneaking past military checkpoints to surf dredging righthanders in the Western Sahara. Or discovering a series of reeling pointbreaks in remote Gabon or getting surprised by how fun the surf gets in China. I feel so privileged to have been able to experience all that. As a surfer there’s nothing sweeter than when you lay your eyes on an empty lineup knowing that you’re probably one the very few people that has ever seen or surfed that wave.

So we get to document all these interesting experiences with stories, photos and videos. Sam and John have published a surf travel book with stories and photos from past SurfEXPLORE trips called Surfing Brilliant Corners, and are working on a second one right now. I’ve been focusing more on the video side of things lately and have directed a travel documentary called MAYUMBA, that we filmed last year in Gabon, Africa, and premiered last June at the Amstel Surfilm Festibal in Spain and is now touring various film festivals around the world.


What are your top 5 favourite things to do/see/eat, whatever?

Traveling is probably my favorite thing to do. When I get into gypsy mode I could be gone forever…art and photographs are the things that enjoy watching the most. I could eat Indian food for the rest of my life and die a happy man…that, bananas and Parmigiano cheese from home. Juice of choice would have to be Babancourt, the Haitian Rhum. But if you take it all out early morning barrels or lazy sleep-ins with a loved one would definitely make my day.