New for 2024! Free photography with all activities!

*(Subject to conditions)

How To Become A Surf Instructor

Book your next adventure!

Welcome to your workday in the water – How to become a Surf Instructor

Technical tips to getting your qualification

By Carly Jones

Want to spend your days chasing summer while earning money and teaching people a new skill they will carry with them for life? The Level 1 ISA (International Surf Association) qualification is your entry into the wonderful world of outdoor instructing.   

Living life on the beach isn’t just for influencers or the rich and famous, if you are looking to change your career, or taking a gap year while being able to fully enjoy the spoils of the great outdoors with an internationally recognised qualification, surf coaching could be your pathway into sun and sand filled days in some of the world’s most incredible locations.

There are a few components to getting your surf instructor qualification and moving your workspace to the water. In this blog we break down each of those sections and how to go about getting qualified, along with career pathways and tips to stand out in the coaching environment.

How To Become A Surf Instructor
What Qualifications do I need to become a Surf Instructor?

To begin your career as a Surf Coach you first need to complete your ISA Level 1 Surf Instructor qualification course at Newquay Activity Centre, this is a 2 day element of our Intensive Surf Instructor Course that runs you through a variety of theory and practical topics including surf safety, scenario training, coaching techniques, group management, providing fun and dynamic lesson plans, client and self-analysis, and bolstering your own confidence in the water. Culminating in an exam, proven delivery of an engaging lesson (depending on your assessor this may be recorded and submitted or presented in person directly), and venue analysis, this will have you well on your way to confidently moving through different surf breaks and beaches all over the world. At Newquay Activity Centre this course is run in conjunction with Barrie (Baz) Hall from Surf Coach Academy, Baz is one of the foremost ISA registered trainers within the UK.


How To Become A Surf Instructor
The second aspect is completing the relevant lifesaving qualification, we’ve broken down the differences below:

The Surf Coach Safety and Rescue Award is the minimum requirement for your Surf Coaching qualification, it is a mixture of basic first aid, fitness testing and performing board rescues and other rescue techniques based on the beach and surf environment. The Surf Coach Safety and Rescue Award in association with Surf Life Saving Great Britain (SLSGB) ensures you will be well prepared for life in the ocean.

If you want to take this a step further you can complete the RLSS National Vocational Beach Lifeguard Qualification, if you have the physical capabilities and are interested in a career or part time position as a beach lifeguard then you can go for this more intensive qualification, an extra few hundred meters on your run-swim-run and slightly higher expectations for your surf rescues, this then qualifies you to become a lifeguard and opens up further career pathways (the RNLI are an incredible organisation to get involved with and are highly respected in the UK). Although the NVBLQ is an excellent qualification to achieve, this is only necessary if you are interested in becoming a beach lifeguard. This assessment can be quite tough and will require most people to undertake prior swimming training to achieve the targeted time.

Surf Coach Safety and Rescue (SLSGB) VS National Vocational Beach Lifeguard Qualification (NVBLQ)



  • 16+ years old
  • Member of Surf Lifesaving GB (SLSGB)
  • Able to swim 200m in under five minutes
  • 200m swim non-stop in open water, attacking the surf on entry
  • 200m run in under one minute
  • 400m rescue board paddle


  • 16+ years old
  • Member of Surf Lifesaving GB (SLSGB)
  • Able to swim 400m in under eight minutes
  • 25 metre pool swim followed by 25 metres underwater in under 50 seconds
  • 400m swim non-stop in open water, attacking surf on entry
  • Experience of board paddling and sea swimming
Course Cost: £250Course Cost: £350
Duration: 3 DaysDuration: 5 Days

Fitness Requirements: Competent

It is always good to practice your swimming before beginning the course and getting an idea of your swim times before starting. Most people with a competent level of fitness can complete the swim well within the 5 minute cut off.

Fitness Requirements: Good-High

To complete this qualification you will need to have a good level of fitness, this course is more demanding and requires either previous swim experience or a fair amount of training in the lead up to get to the level required, we recommend beginning training a few months in advance to ensure you are up to par and it is good to keep a record of your times so you can see your progress throughout your training.

The final step to becoming a fully qualified surf instructor is to complete 20 shadow hours, this fully immerses you in your future career and allows for greater insight into the life of coaching as well as the ability to glean tips and tricks from established instructors. You can complete your shadow hours with any ISA recognised instructor and if you complete your course through Newquay Activity Centre (NAC) there is ample opportunity to get hands on experience with our highly experienced and friendly team, NAC is also one of the only centre’s in Newquay that manage to continue operations throughout the winter season so you can be fully qualified and ready to work in time for spring.


How To Become A Surf Instructor

How to become a surfing instructor fast?

We now offer an amazing opportunity to combine all of the elements above in one intensive course that gets you fully qualified and ready to teach surfing in only three weeks.  Our Surf Instructor Course is unique in the industry, we support you every step of the way in your training to ensure you can become an awesome surfing instructor with our quality intensive course.

What skills do I need to become a surf instructor?

Contrary to popular belief you don’t need to be a child prodigy or eyeing up the pro circuit to become a qualified surf instructor. There is, however, an ISA requirement to show a level of proficiency on the waves and your personal experience will be evaluated as part of the course. In order to receive the final sign off for your qualification you will be assessed on the following points:

  • Paddling
  • Duck Dive or Turtle Roll
  • Wave negotiation
  • Take off on unbroken waves
  • Make a bottom turn
  • Go backhand and forehand across that unbroken wave
  • Exit the wave over the back of the wave
  • Get back to shore safely and under control

Basically you need to show that you can safely paddle out back into head high surf, trim (turn) both left and right on green unbroken waves (separate waves, don’t worry you don’t necessarily need to perform cutbacks in order to pass), and exit the wave safely (not letting your board go flying without you). A lot of people don’t realise that you do have time after the courses to get this practicality completed, the ISA gives you 12 months from the date of your course to provide the documented evidence that you can meet the above standards and most assessors accept video footage of you in action. Check out this for an idea of what is expected.



Getting your fitness and body ready prior to taking on the course is a great idea if you are entering as a novice surfer, potentially look into hiring your own surf coach or check out videos for tips and tricks.

We spoke to 3X British National Champion and premier surf instructor Alan

 Stokes for his suggestions; How To Become A Surf Instructor

“Fast tracking your surfing can be achieved by practice and getting a friend to video you in action to see how you compare to the industry standard, video analysis is a great tool to help you and identify areas to improve. To get surf ready I’d also recommend working on your pop ups on dry land along with incorporating stretching and yoga into your training, this really primes the body for the movements involved in surfing proficiency.”

Aside from surf proficiency there are some other skills that are great to have if you really want to be successful as a coach, soft skills such as empathy, good communication, critical thinking, reliability and adaptability are cornerstones to ensuring your longevity within the industry and will assist in keeping you in good stead with potential employers.

What to expect once I am qualified?

Surfing is one of the fastest growing sports globally, even becoming officially recognised as an Olympic sport in Tokyo in 2021, with holiday makers flocking to the coastlines wanting to try something new, surfing is accessible to all ages and abilities and good quality instructors are always in demand. One of the best ways to begin your career is to impress employers that you may be completing your shadow hours with, Newquay Activity Centre guarantees an opportunity to interview upon successful completion of the Level 1 course and the opportunities in Cornwall are plentiful. While you can move onto international waters as soon as you are qualified I recommend getting a season under your belt both for confidence and to beef up your CV. While being a surf coach isn’t always the highest paying position in the world there really is potential to earn a decent wage and you can move up if you use this as a springboard into higher levels of coaching such as your Level 2 or even starting your own business. There are also plenty of avenues to explore to move up in the coaching world, think online coaching, youtube lesson delivery, or even becoming an assessor yourself. You can really make a career out of this line of work and, as with everything, you will get out what you put in. This is also the opportunity to really experience what it means to have work/life balance and to chase summer across the globe.

Want to step up your training and become multi-faceted?

If you really want to immerse yourself in the great outdoors and keep things interesting while also appealing to employers (or becoming self-employed), check out NAC’s Outdoor Activity Instructor Course. Over 3 months you can pull together qualifications including your ISA Level 1 Surf Instructor Award, British Canoeing Paddlesport Leader Award (this will allow you to guide kayak and SUP tours), a Beach Lifeguard Qualification and an award in Outdoor First Aid. Aside from these qualifications you will also learn Bodyboarding with International Champion Rob Barber, Coasteering (an in house qualification that is beginning to become nationally recognised), Super SUP, foraging, bushcraft, and you will get to perfect your surfing skills with our good friend and British National Champion – the great Alan Stokes. The course pulls together so much that outdoor instructing has to offer, as well as providing more general industry knowledge including providing career pathways, processes for starting your own business, invoicing, forecasting, and planning and running fun and safe activities for your clients. Read more about the course first hand from a previous student.

Whichever way you decide to go, you are already on your way to starting your new life, whether it is a complete 180 or a brief stopover before pursuing other activities, becoming an instructor is something you will take with you for the long run. Pulling together qualities that are transferable to many professions while spending your time enjoying life in the sun and learning more about our great oceans doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend your days.

How To Become A Surf Instructor

If you are ready to change your life now is the time, check out our course dates below and secure your space, before you know it you will be living a life many dream about and enjoying the beach as your office.

Intensive Surf Instructor Training Course

Foundation Surf Training

Outdoor Activity Instructor Course

If you have any questions or would like any further information (or just like what you have read) please contact us for a chat.


About The Author

Book your next adventure!


We have a huge range of hire equipment

Never miss a sale!

Sign up now to be the first to know about special deals.

Sidebar Signup

Recent Posts

Beach Safety Guide

Beach Safety Guide

Stay safe on the beach this summer by knowing, understanding and recognising potential dangers.

Best Places To Eat In Newquay Box & Barber

Top 5 Eats In Newquay This Summer

Newquay is fast becoming the coolest surf town in the UK, with this summer seeing an influx in vibrant new cafes, pop ups and restaurants, serving everything from street food and sushi to waffles and coffee. Here’s our top five picks for this summer.