Surf instructor course underway

How Well Do You Have to Surf to Be a Surf Instructor?The answer may surprise you...

Chris Bond

8 months ago in LIFE

For a lot of people that is one of the first questions they have, or doubts rather! How can I be a surf instructor if I haven’t done much surfing, or if I’m not very good?

There are a few different levels to this answer, which depend on what your dreams are. In its simplest form, the majority of surf instructors are teaching people how to stand for the first time in waist-deep white-water waves that are at the easiest beach in the area to surf.

How good a surfer do you have to be to teach this? Not very, you may in actual fact be a better surf instructor if you haven’t done much surfing! We’ll look at this in a little more detail. Here is a little story of Lily who got a job coaching surfing in Nicaragua after just 5 months of surfing.


Traditionally there is the view that surf instructors need to be good surfers. There are some valid reasons for this, the two most obvious of which are keeping their surfers safer in the water and to teach better technique. This is true, but shouldn’t rule out surfers who are newer to the sport. You might be very surprised if you got all the surf instructors to go for a surf themselves, they might not impress as much as you’d hope.

On the other hand, the newer you are to surfing you are, the easier it is to put yourselves in the shoes of that person learning to surf. You know the fear they feel when a ‘big’ whitewater is coming towards them, or going out the back for the first time. The ocean is a scary and intimidating place for many and for good reason, it is a dangerous place. For that reason there needs to be a line drawn in the sand somewhere.

In terms of surf coaching that line actually comes more from the lifeguard side of things, if you have the ability to keep someone SAFE in the water, the chances are that you’ll be able to teach a first time surf lesson perfectly well. A good friend used to help out with surf lessons at birthday parties for kids even though he didn’t surf at all! Would I call him a surf coach? No, but the kids really liked him and they had fun, a big part of surfing.

Back to the lifesaving course, what you learn there is the skills you need to keep people safe, the number one focus of any surf lesson. Number two priority is that the people you are teaching have fun, right? I mean people want to enjoy what they are doing, surfing is seen as a fun ‘sport’ and therefore want to enjoy it, as a surf instructor that is largely your responsibility. Number three of course is to get people to stand up on the board. If you can combine the three of those in any beginner surf lesson then you are doing a good job, easy right?

Surf instructor course underway

Ticket to ride legend, Chris Bond showing how it’s done.

Back to how good you have to be? Well, the best description we would get for the ISA Level 1 surf instructor course, are surfing requirements as follows:

  • Be able to enter the water safely and paddle out through the break and impact zone successfully and competently negotiating the break and impact zone.
  • Be able to sit out the back, siet up on the board, turn the board and paddle onto green waves (unbroken waves)
  • Do a basic bottom turn to the left and traverse the wave
  • Do a basic bottom turn to the right and traverse the wave
  • Safely exit and dismount from the wave
  • Safely return to shore (we would certainly hope so)
  • Not only must the participant be able to complete these basic skills but they must be completed competently
  • These skills need to be shown in gentle small-medium surf which is approximately 2-3ft (waist to head high)
  • Hmm they didn’t mention patience!


And that is it! You need to be able to paddle out the back, ride the face left and ride the face right, and do it with control, and stay in the pocket of the wave, oh and you have a time limit! Some of the better surfers I have seen do the course have really struggled because of the pressure. However, if you are teaching a lesson you have to be able to do demonstrations under pressure, so you better be confident in what you teach.

90% of surf lessons are beginners, take your job seriously, do it well, enjoy what you do and you can do it. Don’t start expecting to be coaching guys how to hit the lip if you can’t do it yourself, but the beginner stuff is the most rewarding, and you get to spread the stoke of surfing! If you are a beginner and want to become an instructor there are various courses which will help you achieve this. If you want to be a good coach, learn as much as you can from the experienced coaches around you and make sure the people you are teaching are having FUN.


For more info on our surf instructor course in South Africa click here.

To train as a Surf Instructor in Sri Lanka click here.