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Running a surf school and teaching surfing classes is a lifestyle with a dedication to the ocean water. It has the requirement to live on the coast of a country. The best places in America are the west coast of California and the islands of Hawaii. You may also find some decent surfing in other parts of the world such as Australia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and even in exotic places like Fiji and the beach areas of Sanya, China. No matter where you decide is best, you need to love the ocean water, work in a nice surfing spot, and want to teach people how to surf.
Who is this business right for?
Surfers are people who enjoy the surfing lifestyle. Every day is a day at the beach when the waves are good. Surfers who want to teach others are even more special because they need to have patience when being an instructor for first-time learners. The best surfers enjoy daily surfing and catching good waves for them is a spiritual experience.
If you find yourself in the ocean water every day looking for the next great wave, you are a real candidate for this business as long as you also like working with other people to teach them how to surf better.
What happens during a typical day at a surfing school?
Check the weather. Be sure to know the surf conditions. Get the surfboards ready for your surfing students by waxing them and making sure there are no problems with the boards like broken fins, cracks, and missing tethers. In places where the ocean water is cold, you will need to check and maintain the wetsuit equipment as well to look for tears and repair them. Check the schedule for the students that have reservations and contact them as a reminder of their appointment time that day.
For an online business, which does not operate a surf shop, online marketing is essential. Online marketing includes having content on your website and distributing it to your email subscription list. Examples of this content are surfing articles, blog posts, and newsletters, which make good use of keywords and phrases for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). You may want to run a pay-per-click advertising campaign as well to attract traffic to your website. If you are not able to do these things yourself, you will have to hire freelance workers to help you and each day check their work.
If you run a surf shop, you need to make sure the store looks nice and you need to maintain a nice inventory of surf-related things for sale. In tourist areas, you may get customers that buy something from the shop as a souvenir and do not necessarily take surfing lessons.
What is the target market?
Tourists are great and they are the mainstay of this business. The first hour is a lesson on the beach and teaches the first-time learners how to balance on a surfboard. College students are good customers as well.
Most surf schools have lessons for beginners as well as lessons for advanced students. Retail customers for surfing-related items such as beachwear, can be almost anyone. You do not have to be able to surf to enjoy watching it from the beach.
How does a surfing school make money?
Every surfing student pays per hour for lessons. A good surfing instructor has about four to six students for each hour-long lesson and no more. The instructor gets paid per hour, so if the class has the maximum size of six students, the revenue for the school is six times hourly school rate minus the pay for the instructor. If the instructor also brings the students by his or her efforts, some schools have a 50/50 revenue-sharing program.
If the instructor is a world-class champion, the rates are much higher for the individual training sessions. These advanced courses are for good surfers who desire to become professional surfers. If the school has a shop, additional revenues comes from making sales to in-person retail customers and online retail customers.
What is the growth potential for a surfing school?
A surfing school business, which concentrates on giving lessons, is limited to locations with the proper conditions of ocean waves and climate. There are about twenty great areas in the world with enough visitors to make establishing a surfing school worthwhile in those places.
More established companies of this type generally do not increase in size, but rather by the demand for the surfing lessons. The limits include the rental equipment available, the number of instructors for the school, and the maximum number of students permitted for each class. This results in waiting lists for popular surfing schools.
Some very successful surf shops, such as the O’Neill Surf Shop make millions in annual revenues from selling items in their shops and online that relate to their surfing brand. This is a much larger revenue stream than the money coming from giving surfing lessons.
Offering surf lessons is still important and that is how the O’Neill Surf Shop started and then gained its international brand recognition. Being near Santa Cruz, California, in the little town of Capitola, the O’Neill brand represents the California surfing lifestyle made popular by so many movies. Even non-surfers like to feel they are part of that surfing culture.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful surfing school?
In order to run a surfing school, you have to be an excellent surfer or hire those good surfers as instructors. You will also need to be able to explain the basic surfing skills to “newbies,” who want to learn something fun to do in a few hours. You can start by simply teaching a single student some of the things you know. If you get them to buy you a beer after a lesson, you are in business! Many start in this most simple way by getting a reputation at a particular beach and being open-minded about teaching others. For the more advanced students, you will need to give them tips that help them learn the special circumstances about the waves in a specific locale.
While not required by law, any individual that wants to run a certified surfing school should follow the process of the International Surf Association (ISA), which controls the prerequisites that a surfing instructor is required to follow. An official ISA-certified surfing coach must renew his or her registration every year to remain status as a certified surfing instructor.
A word of caution is appropriate here. In congested surfing areas, which are popular, there is a very strong local presence. These local surfer gangs protect their best surf areas from intrusion by outsiders, even to the point of violence. Do not expect to walk up to a good surfing area on a beach where nobody knows you and start giving surfing lessons. In order to gain acceptance by the locals, you will need to already be a good surfer and take the time necessary to befriend the local surfer gangs in order not to experience this severe resistance to outsiders.
What are the costs involved in opening a surfing school?
This business operates with one or more instructors who teach surfing to students of varying levels of experience. This business is possible with or without the physical business presence of a surf shop. Instructors and surfing schools that want to be ISA-certified need to pay the ISA fees.
For those operating on a budget, it is possible to start without a physical business presence by simply establishing and scheduling classes held at a public beach. Management of scheduling happens over the phone or on the Internet with marketing by word-of-mouth and online efforts.
As revenue increases, renting a physical location for a surf shop creates the opportunity for more business. It does not have to be a big place, it just needs to be near the areas where the great surfing occurs.
The amount of equipment needed depends on the number of students for each surfing class and whether there will be more than one class happening at the same time. The total equipment cost starts at around $2,000 and goes up based on the number and type of students expected to participate.
- Areas flags or markers (unless prohibited by local authorities) $100 per set
- First aid kit(s) $150 each
- Rescue board(s) $450 each
- Soft-core surfboards for beginners in various sizes with tethers $250 each
- Professional surfboards in various sizes/styles for advanced students $350+ each
- Safety flotation vests for participants $75 each
- Safety helmets (on request) $50 each
- Water resistant sunscreen $20 per bottle (economy size)
- Waterproof mobile phone(s) $200 each
- Wetsuits $150 each
- Whistles (floating type) $10 each
- Board maintenance equipment, spare parts, and supplies $200
ISA membership fees (currently $500 to $1,500 per year depending on membership level and activities) are necessary to become ISA-certified.
Specialized insurance to cover students and instructors is a requirement for both an online business and for a surf shop with a physical location. The insurance cost is $1,500 to $10,000 per year depending on the number of students expected to attend and location of the school. Even if students sign a liability waiver agreement, it is best to have surfing school insurance.
Additional costs for an online surfing school business:
- Website creation – Free (if you can create a website yourself) to about $2,000 if you have a website created by others. This can be a simple website on free systems like Wix.com or a more complex website that has significant content to attract web visitors.
- Website marketing (optional) – $500 per month. A significant pay-per-click (PPC) campaign using Google Adwords, Yahoo, and Bing is one way to get the business started right away. Typical PPC campaigns are $500 to start and then recur monthly at levels perhaps even higher in order to generate enough customers. Without website marketing, a business, with only an online presence, may be very slow to get going unless you already have a well-established reputation as a local surfer in the area you choose and customers learn about you by word-of-mouth.
For a surf shop business with a physical location, add $5,000 to $60,000 to cover these expenses:
- Business license - $250 to $800 depending on location
- Rent Deposit – First and last month’s rent plus security deposit. If the monthly rent is $1,000, this would require $3,000 for the startup.
- Signage $1,500
- Cash Register $350
- Display Racks $1,500
- Property and Casualty (P&C) Insurance $2,500 per year - This is in addition to the specialized surfing school insurance. P&C insurance protects the store and its contents.
- Inventory – If retail customers are able to purchase items from the store, allow $50,000 for the initial inventory of surfboards and accessories for sale.
What are the steps to start a surfing school?
Once you're ready to start your surfing school, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your surfing school is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your surfing school keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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How to promote & market a surfing school
If you or your surfing instructor is a world-class surfer, this is helpful. Surf schools that sponsor world-class surfers who win championships are going to get a lot more students. The coolness factor for a particular surfing school comes from the instructors and the legacy that they created by being world-class surfers.
Pay attention to building a good local reputation by word-of-mouth. Promote your website using a good search engine optimization (SEO) strategy and use high-quality content to attract visitors. Use pay-per-click advertising for the website if you can afford it.
Another way to promote the business is to support the younger and talented surfers to bring them to international prominence in surfing competitions. It is a great idea to support the youngest surfers who will be tomorrow's heroes and this helps build up the reputation of the surfing school.
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How to keep customers coming back
The best way to get customers is to have instructors that are world-class surfers and provide excellent customer service with classes that are enjoyable. Even having the world-class instructors teach on a guest basis is a way to attract new customers. For physical locations, you need to have a surf shop in a high profile area, easily seen by visitors. The best places are right in front of a beach area that has great waves. For example, in Oahu Beach, Hawaii (in Honolulu) the surf shops catering to tourists are located right on the popular Waikiki Beach.
How and when to build a team
Starting with yourself as the first instructor, you will want to add more instructors if you can create sufficient customer demand for the surfing lessons. These instructors can work on an as-needed basis when there are enough reservations booked for the classes.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a surfing school business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
A strong recommendation is that participants (students and instructors) of a surfing school sign a liability waiver agreement because they will be in situations where they might experience an injury. This agreement shifts the liability for the damages from injuries away from the school to the individuals for what they personally do, with the exception of injuries caused by gross negligence of the instructors. Here is an example of one such form
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While not required under law, any individual that wants to run a certifiable surf school should go through the International Surf Association (ISA) which controls the prerequisites that the instructor is required to follow.
Official ISA-certified surfing coach must renew their registrations every year to remain a certifiable surfing instructor. It is strongly recommended that participants of a surf school sign a liability form due to them being in situations where they will be dealing with possible injury. More info can be found at the ISA’s development programs page.
How much can you charge customers?
The average per hour rate for a surfing school is $15 per hour per student. You also get the opportunity to sell the students the surfing gear they need or rent it to them for an additional charge. Charges for advanced individual classes are up to $250 per hour depending on the reputation of the instructor.
What are the ongoing expenses for a surfing school?
The instructors receive pay per hour of classes. The revenues from the surf lessons exceed the cost of the staff. For physical locations, the rent of the small surf shop is the main expense, plus the store clerk(s) needed at minimum wage for the times you cannot run the store. There will be some monthly utilities to pay. You will need to replace damaged rental equipment used for the surfing lessons and replace sold inventory if you have a surf shop.
How much profit can a surfing school make?
A surfing school business run by a single person is not a huge moneymaker. However, it is a wonderful lifestyle. Those who enjoy teaching this sport to others earn enough that helps support the surfing lifestyle that is so enjoyable. Being able to share the terrific experience of surfing with others is the real reward. That is why people go into this business. The gross profits of a small surfing school are about $2,000 per month at best, so nobody gets rich doing this business on a small-scale.
If you are lucky enough to establish a brand, based on your reputation, as did Jack O’Neill, it is possible to create very successful surf shops, surfing-lifestyle shops in multiple locations, sell through other retail stores, and sell online.
Jack O’Neill started in the Santa Cruz area of California, which is a legendary surfing area similar to Hawaii. He invented the wetsuit that made surfing in the colder waters of Northern California comfortable. Then he gained more traction years later by selling fashions that represented the California surfing lifestyle. He was able to sell his products all across the world even in places that have no surfing because his brand represented the cool California lifestyle. The O’Neill Surf Shop brand makes many millions each year.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Surfing schools may add related courses over time as the revenues increase. The expanded classes could be paddle boarding lessons, windsurfing classes, and associated types of watersports such as canoeing, sailing, and kayaking. It is possible to offer other water-related activities such as scuba diving. This expansion creates a general water recreation company that offers many diversified services. The path to real monetary success is to make your business a brand. There are a few very successful examples such as the O'Neill Surf Shop that created a famous brand name and then they could sell swimwear, fashion clothes, and other things related to the surfing lifestyle. One pathway to this is to sponsor the up-and-coming, professional surfers and create a brand from their increasing popularity.