A windsurfing instructor is someone who teaches others how to safely operate a windsurf (a small personal sailing vehicle).
Windsurfing is a popular activity in the UK, with several hundred venues across the country which carry RYA (Royal Yachting Association) accreditation for this sport. A windsurf is a very simple form of sailing boat, where the user stands upright on a board which measures between 2 and 4 metres in length, depending on the ability level. Windsurfing can be learnt at a basic level in around 3-4 hours, although the progression to becoming an intermediate user can take a sustained period of practice. This is where a skilled instructor can enable a student to progress beyond the grass-roots entry level.
In comparison to the laid-back and unregulated nature of surfing, windsurfing is classed as something of a more technical (hence more regulated) sport. Windsurfing is popular with every age group and is a lot of fun to learn. Beginners start off with a large board (for stability) and a small sail (to ease handling). The instructor will offer coaching and advice on technique to enable his or her students to progress.
This industry, like many industries linked to adventure sports and travel, is not particularly well-paid. Instructors are usually remunerated hourly due to the flexible nature of any given teaching programme. Instructors who have completed an RYA course but are inexperienced may begin on minimum wage only, although this can be augmented with overtime. UK minimum wage is currently £5.93 per hour for workers aged 21 and over, £4.92 for those in the 18-20 age category, and £3.64 for young workers aged between 16-17 (source: DirectGov UK). For more experienced instructors, weekly gross pay is likely to be around the £200-£250 for a reasonably busy centre. Examiners can earn more on completion of the relevant RYA course.
- Take care of group (or individuals) under tutelage
- Ensure the safety of everybody within the class
- Ensure sports equipment and safety equipment provided is of a high standard
- Deliver the teaching course relative to the learner’s level of ability
- Have an understanding of the local area to enable effective and relevant teaching
- In the case of self employed instructors, manage all admin, accounts and business promotion
The RYA offers several courses which are specific to windsurfing, and it is necessary that all instructors take the instructor course to ensure they are able to teach effectively. Those wishing to learn windsurfing will normally come across RYA accreditation when they are looking for a teaching centre, and consequently will be rightly hesitant in using an unaccredited teacher. Instructors teach a programme called the National Windsurfing Scheme, and to become accredited, the candidate must complete the RYA intermediate course, a first aid course, and finally, the Trainer’s Course.
- A strong sense of leadership and the ability to work with people
- A keen interest in surface water sports, especially windsurfing
- Must be a competent first-aider
- Must have a knowledge of the National Windsurfing Scheme, which is acquired through completion of the course.
- A strong sense of self-motivation is essential for those who wish to set up as sole traders.
This sport takes place outside for the majority of cases (although there are some indoor training centres). This exposes the candidate to all sorts of weather, but keen windsurfers do not care because their passion for the sport is strong. Depending on the location of the training centre and level of course being delivered, the candidate may be exposed to adverse surface conditions, which poses a high risk of personal injury or risk of death. It is essential that the candidate has a common sense attitude to health and safety, knowledge of the local area and competencies in administering first aid.
The RYA has a Continuous Professional Development approach to its ongoing curriculum. This means that examiners, teachers and advancing learners can go from grass roots, through to intermediate level and then to courses focusing on advanced skills. Windsurfing, like snowboarding or surfing, is a sport in which there is no top limit in terms of the participant’s progression; there is always a higher plateau to reach, and this is especially so for those who wish to teach or compete.
Career ProgressionCandidates will begin as instructors after completion of the RYA intermediate course and subsequent instructor course. After this, there are optional modules which can be taken, which may enable the candidate to progress their career. For those who run their own business, sustainable development in terms of revenue and reputation are the constant drivers for progression and improvement of one’s knowledge.
Most windsurfing centres in the UK cater to a centralised population, and so their ultimate top limit of expansion and growth is limited in this respect. This is less of a matter for centres which offer “windsurfing holidays” over seven days or more. Some of the most highly-reputable schools have a small number of instructors, and cater towards the specialist (advanced skills) end of the market. For these reasons, there is not a particular industry leader (except for the RYA itself, of course).
Tris Best is a fully RYA-qualified windsurfing instructor working at OTC Official Test Centre UK, which has locations in Portland Harbour and Weymouth (UK) and El Medano (Tenerife).
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I guess it was having a father who is a helicopter pilot, and seeing him return from work each day with a smile on his face. He was very passionate about his work, and I quickly realised that to enjoy life, you really need a career that you love and feel passionate about. My love from the age of 12 was the sport of windsurfing, so I decided to focus on that and see what I could make of it.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
My day starts early at around 7a.m., getting up and answering emails. I then head to the centre to open for 10a.m. where we may have anything from taster sessions to RYA courses booked in. During the evening, we run the kids' and adults' windsurfing clubs, and then I head back to the computer in the evening to catch up on anything computer-based.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Queries about bookings at one of our centres, either in Tenerife or in Weymouth and Portland. We have a lot of enquiries regarding the National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) in the UK.
What do you like most about the job?
Interacting with people, introducing them to the greatest sport in the world, and getting to be out on the water myself at world-class venues. I also love the challenge of setting up a business and everything that it entails. This career delivers everything I want, and everything I was expecting from it.
What do you like least about the job?
There is a lot of paperwork and time required on the computer. I wouldn’t mind employing a secretary in the future! I guess this is the same for anyone who runs a small business, but it is doubly frustrating when you would like more time spent doing what you love, which is being out on the water.
What are the key responsibilities?
The safety of clients and employees, ultimately – that is the key responsibility. But otherwise, I suppose it is to run a successful and thriving business, and every responsibility which that entails. Also, I think one major responsibility that a lot of people in business forget is a responsibility to yourself: remembering why you set the business up, and how it should benefit your life. I don’t think I ever lose sight of that, no matter how much work needs to be done.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, e.g. A Levels?
An academic background provides a good, solid platform, as working in the industry demands flexibility. You might be the best windsurfer in the world, but that doesn’t make you a good instructor, or a sure thing for a potential sponsor, or even a good, independent business person. The industry is young and evolving at a rapid rate of knots, so being able to provide ‘extra value’ to your employer/sponsor is really important.
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
Depends what role you are going for. My starting salary as a windsurfing instructor was €70 a week. Remember, salary is one thing; the lifestyle and the social skills you gain from putting yourself in the various environments that windsurfing provides is another thing entirely, and the reason for doing it. Be realistic and honest with yourself when you think about what you want to get out of working in the industry.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Become an instructor at an RYA-recognised centre, and if you have a goal, don’t stop pushing until you have explored the myriad of routes to achieve it.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
All candidates should really have a very strong passion for the sport. That’s an absolute fundamental. And just enjoy what you do!