George Stoy knows that surfing is much more than just a fun activity for the beach and has developed a specific, holistic way of teaching surfing that specialises in private coaching.

His approach to skill development, education and building water confidence has built a loyal following as well as launching pioneering community projects that use surfing therapeutically to help support work around PTSD, suicide prevention and anxiety.

George is also outspoken when it comes to equality in the water, striving for a 50/50 gender split among his coaches and providing role models for women and girls interested in learning.

His approach to surfing has ensured that his Cornwall-based business continues to build a loyal following.


What stands out to you when you remember your time at Radley?

I especially enjoyed the sports side of Radley life. The facilities and various clubs and societies kept us all pretty busy. The Grapevine Society, our in-Social dining club and heading into Oxford to play real tennis were all experiences I have great memories of that also nurtured the things I love today.

Languages, film theatre and music were passions that grew alongside sport throughout my time at Radley. I wasn’t a big reader, but there were a few dons whose love for French literature and film sparked my interest and made me realise that there was a world and culture beyond the College that I wanted to explore. I wasn’t particularly skilled or inclined to do arts like drawing or painting, but CDT and film were a way for me to explore imagination and creativity. I was less strong on the academic side of things however, I got some really great support from my Social Tutor, Mike Hopkins and the dons who taught me.


Did you go straight to university?

Yes, I went to the University of Newcastle after my A-levels. I visited the University whilst at Radley and loved the energy of the city. At the time, Newcastle had one of the top university ski teams, so it felt like a good option for me. Academically, it was where I got into subjects like Anthropology and Psychology and with the modular system I could keep studying languages. These were all subjects I just really enjoyed and they gave me the opportunity to travel as part of my studies.

I also studied at the Universite Savoie in France and I continued to ski and compete throughout my time there. When I returned to the UK, initially I followed a pretty traditional career route and became a stockbroker. I enjoyed the work and the great team around me and developed solid career foundation skills and qualifications. On reflection it was a fascinating and exciting time to be in that sector; during the rise and fall of tech and .com companies. Living and working in London sets the bar high and was socially a really enjoyable time.


But you didn’t choose to stay in the finance world?

I took a career break at 25, which wasn’t particularly common back then. I hadn’t taken a gap year before university, and I had a growing curiosity to explore a bit more before settling into too much of a routine. Surfing was always the sport that I did non-competitively. I first tried it as a teenager and fell in love with being in the ocean and the challenge of catching and riding waves.

The ocean gave me the same feeling as being in the mountains, and that was where I felt truly happy and at home. So yes, that kind of sowed the seed. I ended up being away for a year, exploring and surfing wherever I went. When I started teaching I found that my experiences of surf coaching were really different to what I was used to from other sports like skiing. Most sports have national or international coaching frameworks, so there are performance pathways and developed training programmes. That just didn’t exist for surfing back in the UK, so it was the start of a learning journey answering questions and building a programme to take people on a learning adventure.

It sounds like you had spotted a gap in the market?

I knew the ski industry and saw an opportunity to offer a way of experiencing the ocean and surfing and learning to surf that would appeal to skiers.


Did it take a lot of confidence to decide to start your own business?

It might have been more of a combination of naivety and obsession, as well as seeing an opportunity. I knew the skiing market, and I knew that more than anything I wanted to live by the ocean and see if I could make a living coaching surfing. But surfing was, and still is, a totally different market to skiing. I looked at other business models for clues and inspiration, such as personal training, but ultimately my business has been shaped by teaching and listening to the people that come to learn to surf. It’s been about responding to and creating programmes around their needs. Before launching I wanted to make sure quality was driving everything we did so I drew up a list of some of the top surf coaches in the world and went and worked with them.

That’s pretty much how we’ve pioneered private surf coaching; learning from everyone we teach. We now offer a programme that looks after everyone from beginner to advanced surfers as well as running retreats and being an accredited training centre for Lifeguard and international Surf Coach qualifications.


What is the George’s Surf School approach?

It’s a holistic approach, focussing on more than the performance side of surfing. We teach all the peripheral aspects: understanding the technical equipment, cutting through the jargon and marketing ploys, knowledge of the ocean and coastal landscape, weather patterns and tides, fitness and health; nutrition, hydration and limiting the risk of injury.

Perhaps most importantly, we teach people about the emotional management side of surfing. Sometimes people arrive really confident and find the first sessions exhilarating, but then when they move into navigating where waves break (the impact zone), or out into the green waves in the deeper water, there’s naturally an element of fear we often need to work through with them. This is definitely the area of coaching I personally find the most rewarding and have specialised in.

Really, we’re an education business, coaching a following that ranges from young children of five to people in their 80s. It’s complex, working with such a wide range of ages and personality types. But it’s a wonderful challenge to channel their energy and enthusiasm and show people that they’ve got this huge capacity for doing things that seem a bit frightening at first. It’s incredibly rewarding and nothing makes my heart soar more than seeing someone whizzing past me on a wave, enjoying being immersed in the moment and joy of what they are doing. I urge adults to get out there and try new things; our lives can naturally narrow as we get older, so we must keep challenging ourselves.

Training and mentoring our coaches to keep the culture of how we teach strong and progressive is an essential part of my role in the business.

It sounds like your business has a really strong ethos around equality and opportunity.

Absolutely. We’ve always been purpose-driven and one of the areas I realised needed work was getting more female coaches and creating the right access and culture to encourage more women to learn and become surfers. Very early on I realised that there just wasn’t equality in the water. I’ve been striving to achieve a 50/50 gender split among my coaches, but there’s still a lack of women coming through to the point of training to be surf instructors. We’re behind other surfing communities I’ve seen like Hawaii where there is more multi-generational female involvement. I want the girls and women who come to learn with us to have amazing female role models instructing them. We’re making good ground and founded a Ladies Surf Club which has now enrolled over 800 women through the five-week surfing courses we run.

What skills are most important for a surfing coach?

I’m looking for people that I want to spend time with, who are interesting and engaging. People who are curious and joyful. I can teach people to become surfing coaches, but the right motivation and personality are the key ingredients we look for when we’re hiring. If you are only interested in your own surfing, you’ll never be a great coach. Listening to people, sympathising with their needs and emotions in order to gain their trust is essential for this kind of learning journey.


What can surfing offer people, beyond fun and excitement?

There’s definitely a therapeutic benefit. When I come out of the ocean I feel better and make good choices. I realised early on that if I wanted to have a clear head and be decisive, the most reliable way was to go into the ocean and ride some waves. This will be the same for anyone who gets out into nature. I have a friend who is a sustainability expert. He goes lake swimming and will just float there in the water if he’s got something that he can’t quite figure out. He finds that when he comes out of the lake, he has the answer. The therapeutic side of the ocean – nature and wellbeing – is fascinating to me and has always been a big driver of what we do.

In recent years this area has been referred to as ‘Blue Health’ and studies are being done to give us a clearer understanding of how to use the environment in a targeted way to help maximise the benefits of going in the ocean, and growing our mental as well as physical fitness. We’ve used surfing to deliver specific projects designed to help with areas like PTSD, suicide prevention and managing anxiety.

Where’s the best surf?

The best surf is wherever you have a board under your arm. I think the idea of paradise and perfection as geographical locations is flawed. There are places that are really beautiful, and there are places that are really inspiring, sure. But you can book a surfing trip months in advance, pay lots of money, get really excited, and when you get there the ocean is completely flat, there’s no swell, no waves and that’s the nature of the ocean. Instead, I like to travel to places I’d love to go to anyway; for the food, the wine and the culture so that if I get waves on top of that, it’s a bonus. I’m not saying don’t travel, far from it, travel is an incredible privilege and is hugely formative. But we should be conscious with it. Be a good guest, respect the environment and other cultures. Road trips close to home are great fun. Fly less frequently, and stay for longer if you can, to make the most of the experience and the carbon footprint of your flights.

And don’t forget that we have fabulous coastline here in the UK. Cornwall, where we are based, is the best known but there are waves to be had all around our coast including areas like Northumberland and around Scotland. Wetsuit technology has probably been the biggest driver in the growth of surfing and is now at a place where you can surf comfortably in the UK all year round.

If you do travel, surfing opens up a whole global community that I have found to be so generous and welcoming; personally, New Zealand and Hawaii have been really special places in this respect.

As anyone reading this who surfs knows, making sure you are heading for the right surf breaks for your ability with the right knowledge, approach and attitude is the key to success but also to having a great time and being accepted by the surfers that live and surf there. This is increasingly relevant with the growth in the popularity of surfing and these are all the subtle cultural things we help everyone surfing with us learn and understand.  Thinking of waves as something to be shared and enjoyed rather than consumed is an important mindset for us.


If I were to buy you a ticket right now though, where would you go?

Probably the Maldives. Not just for the waves, but because I’m interested in the future of atolls like the Maldives with the pressure of climate change and rising ocean levels, and also in the way that their economies are so reliant on tourism. There is some pioneering work being done with sustainable tourism there. I’m optimistic about our collective ability to solve problems related to climate change, but some of the recent winter temperatures we’ve experienced in the UK and Europe are pretty alarming.

George encourages everyone to give surfing a go. His Surf School is based in Polzeath Cornwall, and you can visit their website: to find out more.

If you’re curious about surfing history and culture head to their YouTube channel:

George is also happy to hear from any surfers who would like to know more about training to become a beach lifeguard and coach or are interested in a career in coaching.


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