The real truth about being a surf instructor

What lies behind the thick sunscreen and sunglasses of your average surf instructor? Is this the perfect career setup for a surfer — or mundane, low-paid employment for those who can’t do any better? Do they do it for the love of the ocean — or for the fleeting affections of a Swedish backpacker?

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GrindTV talked to a group of experienced surf instructors on the condition of anonymity and found out what they really think about their “dream job.”

Unfortunately, many students just aren’t cut out to surf

For some, it’s just not meant to be. Photo: Courtesy of Surf Camp Australia
Many students come to classes with the dream of getting to their feet, cutting across a smooth wave face and finishing on the sand with a shaka and a smile. However, in the first 10 seconds of a practice session on the beach, surf instructors can usually tell whether you will be able to stand up or not.

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In the majority of cases, the answer is usually in the negative. Instructors will do their best, but even their most focused efforts will often never overcome the inherent physical limitations of many would-be surfers.

The great outdoors ain’t all sunshine and cool breezes

Surf instructors doing it tough in Lahinch, Ireland. Photo: Courtesy of Lahinch Surf School
Few jobs are spent out in the elements as often as that of a surf instructor — which is a good thing, right? For those stuck in a neon-lit office from nine to five, sure, but instructors do get battered by the wind, sun and sea.

Depending on the location, they can spend whole weeks freezing in thick wetsuits or burning to a salty crisp in the equatorial sun. Surf instructing might be great for the soul, but it’s terrible for the hair.

There are a lot of questions

“No, I have never ridden a 50-year storm.” Photo: Courtesy of Cornishwave.com
Will I get a tube? Have you met Kelly Slater? Is my wetsuit inside out? Can you carry my board? Have you been to Hawaii?

Can I kneel first? What’s a duck dive? Will I be too cold? Will I be too hot? Does my bum look big in this? What’s a shaka?

Surf instructors need to answer many questions, often while holding a straight face. And no, your bum never looks big in this.

You don’t surf as often as you think you might

A surf instructor instructing, not surfing. Photo: Courtesy of Up2U Bali
Most surf instructors got involved in teaching so they could spend as much time in the water as possible. However, while they do indeed log a lot of hours in the ocean, it is mostly knee deep in the shorebreak as they herd a class of 20 beginners around a swirling lineup.

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It hurts even more when the waves are great and the instructors are forced to watch from close proximity.

But it all can be worth it

Pure stoke! Photo: Courtesy of Central Surf School
All the surf instructors emphasized that the so-called stresses of the job melt away when they teach someone to surf. It’s a privilege, they say, to get someone hooked on surfing, sometimes for life. The smiles and stoke of someone standing up on a surfboard for the very first time provide a real sense of job satisfaction.