Part 5

Surf Schools

The NuWave Journey

Surf Schools: Feedback From The Front Line

Every year, tens of thousands of people learn to surf with a surf school. For some of them it is a one-off holiday activity, but for others it is the first step on a lifelong journey that, for many surfers, borders on obsession. 

Surf instructors spend more time in a wetsuit than almost any other surfer, both during their working hours and then in their time off when they go surfing for fun, so they’re incredibly discerning when it comes to what they wear in the water. Moreover, all of those surf schools have to carry a number of wetsuits for their clients to use during their lessons, and those wetsuits work just as hard. Through the peak summer months they could be getting used for five hours each day, being pulled on and off by people who aren’t used to wearing a wetsuit, rolled around in the sand as their wearer learns to pop-up, and then rinsed and hung out to dry in the sun afterwards before being put through the wringer again the next day. 

That’s why we make wetsuits specifically for surf schools and activity centres – designed to fit and perform well, but also to be hard wearing. 

When planning our NuWave range of natural rubber wetsuits, one of our primary aims was for it to have the greatest possible positive impact. For us, that meant not only making natural rubber wetsuits available to as many surfers as possible by offering a full and complete range, but also getting as many natural rubber wetsuits out there to start replacing traditional neoprene wetsuits. Offering our surf school and activity centre wetsuits in a natural rubber option does that – it creates the opportunity for transition at scale. It also means that, at the surf schools that begin replacing their end-of-life wetsuits with NuWave natural rubber wetsuits, their clients who are at the very start of their surfing journey are setting off on the right foot wearing natural rubber and knowing no different. 

As part of the development of the NuWave range, we worked with several of our surf school and activity centre clients who tested both the natural rubber surf school model over the course of a season as well as having their instructors wear a NuWave wetsuit to work in.   

"So many of our customers are environmentally minded now and want to see us using these products, so it’s a huge leap forward for the industry.” Pete @ King Surf - Mawgan Porth

The Ocean As An Office 

Surf school owners and their teams of surf instructors are some of the fortunate few who legitimately get to call the Ocean their office. Whilst that is an amazing thing, the reality of spending their working hours in waist deep water means that surf instructors are on the front line of the marine environment issues that are now making national headlines. 

“Working in the ocean every day has made us acutely aware of the environmental challenges that it faces.” Dan Lavery of Long Lines Adventures in Northern Ireland said, when we spoke to him recently. “Witnessing issues like plastic waste and sewage pollution has fuelled our commitment to sustainable business practices - we've incorporated eco-friendly measures into our business, from organising beach clean-ups to using biodegradable products.” This is something that we hear often as we travel around the coast of the UK every year visiting surf shops and surf schools who use our wetsuits. 

The ocean is singular, interconnected, and vast, so even though some areas have their specific issues, every single stretch of coast is touched by the same sea and so all beaches suffer from those universal issues. 

As businesses that trade off the natural environment in which they operate, this is concerning for them on many levels.

Pete Abell at King Surf in Mawgan Porth pointed out to us how his business is being impacted. “It’s really sad. We’re seeing more and more microplastics washing up, which obviously we have to walk past to get into the sea, and that is quite upsetting. The other thing we are seeing more of is big storms, and that’s affecting our business because we’re getting more red flag days [when the beach is closed] and I’m having to take people to sheltered surf spots a lot more than I normally would. Because my whole job relies on the environment, I’m really concerned about how much it’s changing. I don’t particularly love standing there in gale force winds in huge swells and worrying about the safety of customers. I also worry about how appealing Cornwall is going to be if it’s just being trashed by storms all winter long.” 

Whilst surf schools switching to natural rubber wetsuits isn’t going to solve the climate and ecological crisis on its own, for surf school owners like Pete and Dan, making a positive environmental choice in their business purchasing is indicative of the sort of world that they want to live and operate in. It also gives them agency to start driving change within the surf industry and surf culture, to make the world a bit better one step at a time.

“. . . the majority of lessons I teach are in quieter times of the year, with adults who are more likely to enter into these sorts of discussions” Wailin @ Surf’s Up Surf School – Polzeath, Cornwall

The Environment in the “Surfing Syllabus”

Being the source of the change that they want to see in surfing is something that surf schools in particular are well placed to do. They’re a position of authority to people learning to surf, and can set their own “surfing syllabus”. 

“We get people come to us from day one of their surfing journey with a completely clean slate,” Pete says, “So we can have a huge influence on how people feel towards the sport on their first encounter with it.”   

Some surf schools, like Big Green Surf School at Crantock, have environmental stewardship baked into their lessons. In fact, founder Dale Unnuk has built his business around it, right down to the name.

“I consider environmental stewardship pretty core to everything that we do here at Big Green, and it’s something that we keep on pushing with every new activity or piece of equipment that we get. It’s a massive consideration.”

Dales’s been leading that charge for over a decade, running a surf school that’s successful because of the quality of the service that they provide but that then uses that success and popularity to do greater good.

“In the lesson framework, we’ve doubled down on environmental messaging to make sure that people are getting it loud and clear,” he told us. “Whether they are taking that home with them or not, at least they are receiving the message. We’re also doing things like actively picking up beach litter on the way to or from the waters edge – they’re minor steps but the more that we can bring that greater awareness to a wider public is really important. We just happen to do it through surfing.”

And Big Green aren’t the only ones to do that. In fact, from speaking to all of the surf schools who we have the pleasure of working with, it’s becoming the norm. Speaking to Wailin, who manages Surf’s Up Surf School at Polzeath, North Cornwall, he shared how they approach it. “I’m in a position where the majority of lessons I teach are in quieter times of the year, with adults who are more likely to enter into these sorts of discussions. Every coach has their own style and so naturally some get into it more that others, and we’ve definitely had team members who were way ahead of the curve on environmental issues and were building them into their lessons 20 years ago.”

As surfing continues to grow in popularity, and as more and more people try surfing in the more accessible and safer setting of a surf school, the reinforcement of environmental messaging can only be a positive thing. For businesses that use and rely on the natural environment, staffed by people who spend so much of their time floating in it, it’s not hard to see why the health of the ocean is being championed through so many surf lessons.  

"I consider environmental stewardship pretty core to everything that we do here at Big Green" Dale @ Big Green Adventures - Crantock, Cornwall

Business And Pleasure – Spending All Day In A Wetsuit

“Wetsuits are our second skin,” Dan from Long Line Surf School points out, “So comfort and durability are non-negotiable.” Surf instructors spend a huge amount of time wearing wetsuits, both at work and when surfing for pleasure. Pete Abell at King Surf estimates that he wears his wetsuit for 8-10 hours a day for about 200 days of the year, which is why feedback from surf school owners was so important to us during the development of NuWave. 

As well as offering natural rubber wetsuits for their surf schools, we wanted their feedback on the other wetsuits in the range. It’d be no good having their customers wearing natural rubber and learning about why it’s the best choice of material for a wetsuit, only for their instructors to be stood there in front of them wearing a neoprene wetsuit. 

This range had to meet the needs of surfers across the entire spectrum, from a day one beginner through to a professional surfer or a surf coach wearing one to work every day. In the case of surf instructors and coaches, who are stood in waist deep water being battered by the elements (and not only on those bluebird sunny days of summer) the best wetsuit is a warm and comfortable wetsuit.

“What I found with these new C-Skins suits is that there’s no compromise at all for warmth, no compromise for durability, and no compromise for comfort, which are the three biggest things we look for.” Pete told us, before saying exactly what we wanted to hear: “I think these suits are completely on a par with the suits that we’ve always been wearing, and that’s why I’m so excited about them. I can’t wait to start teaching in one of the NuWave summer suits, and to try a winter wetsuit out, and I can’t wait to deplete our stock of old wetsuits and regenerate ourselves with NuWave. It’s a badge of honour that we’re going to be proud to show off.”

Big Green was another of the centres that had some surf school wetsuit samples to put through their paces last summer. “Our first impressions of the NuWave suits were brilliant,” Dale said. “I was amazed at how close they were, in terms of the feel of the material, to traditional neoprene wetsuits. So much so that because the two samples that we had were standard black wetsuits, we had to mark them with a bit of coloured ribbon through the zip otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between them and the rest of ourregular suits. In my mind we already had wetsuits that were neoprene that worked really well, but if we’ve got new suits that are made from a natural rubber and we genuinely can’t tell the difference between them and the old ones, that’s a great thing. In terms of their use, we had regular customers in them and then at the end tell them that they were wearing a natural rubber wetsuit and they couldn’t tell the difference having been in our standard surf school suits all week. With the coloured ribbon we put on them we were able to identify them when they were in the shed so the rule of thumb to all staff was that if you saw one of those suits in there, get it out on somebody’s back so that they were being worn on hire and in lessons day in, day out. At the end of the season there was hardly a mark on them. They’re still in the same condition as other new wetsuits that we got at the start of last season.” 

"Wetsuits are our second skin, so comfort and durability are non-negotiable.” Dan @ Long Line Surf School - Benone, N.I.

What Do Natural Rubber Wetsuits Mean For Environmentally Minded Businesses?

With the launch of our NuWave range of natural rubber wetsuits on March 15th 2024, surfers, watersport enthusiasts, and now surf schools and activity centres will have a choice – at least until such time as we are able to fully transition away from neoprene, which is what we hope to do. Having shown and shared sample NuWave wetsuits with a number of our surf school customers, we were curious what having that choice meant to them – particularly those who have built their businesses on positive environmental principles. 

Dan from Long Line Adventures told us, “Choosing natural rubber suits aligns perfectly with our commitment to sustainability. It's not just a business decision; it's a statement of our values.” Whilst Dale at Big Green shared the frustration he’s experienced the last few years waiting for a surf school specific natural rubber wetsuit to be developed. “For us, being able to choose natural rubber wetsuits is huge. Until now, natural rubber suits have always been the higher end suits so not only does the price point make them unsuitable for surf schools because the budget required would be insane, but the longevity of those suits hasn’t been there. Not that natural rubber suits are less durable than traditional suits, but they just weren’t designed to have that extra sturdiness and longevity that wetsuits designed specifically for surf school or commercial use demand. To have a designed-for-purpose natural rubber alternative is huge. It fits with our business ethos and it’s something that’s going to complement everything else that we do.”

For Pete at King Surf, these wetsuits are the missing piece to a puzzle.

“We want to apply for B Corp certification, and one of the things I was upset about when starting that process was the impact of our surfboards and our wetsuits. So to be able to offer a customer a wetsuit made with materials that have come from natural and recycled sources that are much better for the environment is massive for us, because that was one of the things stopping us from being completely green. It’s huge, in fact. I’m really impressed and I can’t wait to advertise the fact that we use them. SO many of our customers are environmentally minded now and want to see us using these products, so it’s a huge leap forward for the industry.”

The support and encouragement of forward-thinking businesses like these has been really appreciated here at C-Skins. As Dale mentioned, most natural rubber wetsuits to date have been designed for and aimed at the top end of the performance surf market, with a price tag to match. Making natural rubber wetsuits available across the board, to everyone from a city kid having their first surf lesson through to professional surfers has felt like a bold move, but the right one if we want to do more than dip our toe into natural rubber and actually make some positive ripples. We hope that, whether buying for your business or for yourself this season, you’ll consider a NuWave natural rubber wetsuit and add your purchasing power to the transition.  

Find your nearest NuWave-wetsuit-using surf school here.

The full range of NuWave wetsuits will be available to try on and buy, in-store and online, from leading surf shops from March 22nd, 2024.