How to become a surf instructor
If you'd like to spend more time in the surf and help others have fun in the surf, why not learn to become a surf instructor and chase the waves all year.
Clayton Nienaber of OMBE Surf is probably one of the coolest, most chill, and most innovative surf coaches out there. Therefore, it's only natural that after hearing him talk about surf coaching in podcasts or following his courses here, you want to become a surf instructor yourself, too. And know what? It's a dream worth having!
However, before becoming a master surf coach like that, first you need to get some basics out of the way. For example, just because you're an experienced surfer doesn't mean that you can start a career as a surfing instructor. For that, you need to take surf instructor training courses and become certified.
It's the same with surf schools. If you want to run a recognized surf school one day, you need to have it certified by the International Surfing Association (ISA) as well.
That being said, we can move on to the other questions that might arise on your path to realizing your dream. One of these questions might be about the skills required from a surf instructor. Another could be about which surf instructor courses you'll have to take. Or, you might even ask if there is a surf instructor course where you live and/or want to coach.
Let’s start with the first one.
What Skills Are Required in Surf Coaching?
If you're worried that your humble barrel riding skills can present an obstacle to your career as a coach, let's relieve you by saying that it's not one of the surfing skills required to become a surf instructor.
What skills, then? Well, for one, you're expected to paddle out back to the shore safely after riding head-high waves. In addition to that, you need to be able to turn right and left on green, unbroken waves, and pull off top and bottom turns toward both sides. Also, since a competent and confident surfer knows when to quit, you're assessed on your ability to opt out of a wave you already started riding.
If you already possess these basic abilities that are taught in intermediate surfing sessions, there is nothing that can prevent you from becoming a surf instructor. So, you can continue your journey and learn about the certifications you need.
How to Get Surf Instructor Certifications
There are two main surf instructor certifications you need and you can get them from almost all the surf instructor courses all over the globe: the ISA Surf Certification Level 1 and the ISLA Lifeguard Certification.
If you already have the skills mentioned above, you can have the former in under a week. Getting the surf lifesaving certificate might take a bit more, but it won't take more than ten days either. Then, you might be required to do some supervised coaching in which you have to offer a surf lesson or two.
The ISA Level 1 Certification is the most popular surf coaching course in the world as it allows you to deliver lessons and assess beginners in beginner and intermediate level surf locations. For instance, beginner-level surf locations are those where you can surf up to 1½-foot high waves, while intermediate ones have 3-foot tall waves.
A surf lifeguard course (or lifesaving course), on the other hand, includes both surf rescue and first aid training. This one’s absolutely crucial since you'll spend hours working alongside beginner surfers of all ages including children, and the ocean doesn't have mercy. Therefore, you need to practice CPR and have at least one of the current first aid certificates.
In some countries, additional certificates are required as well. For example, to become a surf instructor in Australia, you need a certificate for working with Oxygen. In the United Kingdom, if your dreams include teaching surfing to children, you need to hold a "working with children background check" as well. Even though only a few countries mandate these certificates, you can understand why they're important.
Where Can You Get the Best Surf Instructor Courses?
Not all the inspiring surfing instructors have become what they are after having only one surfing lesson. Actually, the best of them found an experienced coach and underwent a thorough education and an actual surf assessment just to make sure that they're qualified surfers as well as instructors.
To that end, certain surf instructor courses around the globe offer 8–12-week training programs that don’t only make you a highly competent surfer but also acquaint you with other surfing-related subjects as well.
One of those courses is Solid Surf House, which has great surf camps in destinations such as Indonesia, Portugal, Morocco, and Sri Lanka. Their Bali Surf Instructor Course based in Canggu is one of the most popular in the world and is totally worth recommending.
Besides Solid Surf House, Ticket to Ride has many training programs under the heading of Sri Lanka Surf Instructor courses. They offer courses in different lengths, starting from one week and going up to 13 weeks, depending on your demands and progress. If you don't want to stay stoked in one location, they can also take you on surf adventures, in which you're trained by different surf coaches on different shores.
Indonesia and Sri Lanka are popular spots for those who aspire to be surf instructors and you can find lots of surf camps there because they entertain the cheapest options for such practices. But if you want a course in South Africa or Australia, Stoked Surf Adventures in Cape Town or Mojo Surf in Byron Bay might cover you.
How to Find a Job as a Surf Instructor
You have completed all the courses and have all the necessary certificates, you can ride unbroken waves like it's a walk in the neighborhood, and now you want to gain some experience teaching surfing to super stoked pupils. So, what do you do?
Well, you do what anyone who's looking for a job does. Put together a nice CV (by telling only the truth, we shouldn't need to warn you), seek surf camps or schools looking for ISA level coaches, and apply to them by sending a heartfelt email.
The minimum age for becoming a surf instructor is 16, but we should warn you that you're not allowed to deliver lessons without the presence of an adult instructor until you're 18.
Moreover, if you're in this for the money, we should tell you that the pay might disappoint you a little bit. But if surfing is a passion for you, if you love the ocean, the sun, and the beaches where the two combine in the most beautiful way, and if you love seeing the light in the eyes of a student when you open their mind, there's no chance that you'll be disappointed with the lifestyle that accompanies a surf instructor.
It's also the perfect opportunity for applying to jobs abroad, having a breather away from home and a lifetime of habits, and opening yourself up for new experiences.
You might already be a confident and competent surfer who supports beginners in their local break and think that you could make a great surf coach or instructor if you only knew how. Well, here's how: as long as you get your ISA certificate and complete either a lifeguard course, there's no reason you shouldn't start a career in surf instructing and return to your local break after years as a coach.
It's a dream worth having and pursuing, especially considering the opportunities it automatically presents: spending a lifetime on the beach, traveling the surfing hotspots around the world, and becoming a renowned surf coach who can perfectly assess beginner-level surfers and discover hidden gems. We can only wish all the good luck in the world to you on this wonderful path.