Few people can genuinely say they love their job. And the ones who do, have different reasons to say so. The job may grant them the financial security they need to lead a comfortable life. It may be stimulating, challenging, put them in a position where they are constantly learning. It may offer the work environment they are looking for. Or it may be flexible enough so as to allow them to put other priorities first if/when they need/want.
It would be fair to say that anyone who has fallen in love with surfing would rather be in the water than doing (almost) anything else. So it is not uncommon for surfers, irrespective of skill level, to try to structure their lives around waves. This can mean relocating to the coast, travelling to surf destinations, or taking on other practices that go in line with the lifestyle (e.g. yoga, healthy eating, environmental care, etc.). And it can also mean rethinking the way they work.
The latter is probably the most significant – and complicated – life revamp. Not everyone has the luxury to cherry-pick what they want to do for a living, and even the ones who do still need to take a bunch of factors into account before making this shift. But, as they say, every journey begins with a first step. And in the case of choosing the best job for a surfer, the first step is taking a look at what cards are on the table.
In this article, we drew up a list of the 5 best surfer jobs, using flexibility, payment, hazards, and perks as the main criteria.
1. SURF INSTRUCTOR
This might be the most obvious alternative – hence we will cover it first. Even more so because many people may think that because it has the word “surf” in it, it means you’ll be surfing all the time. This is precisely the kind of romanticizing that makes you overlook the downsides of the task. After all, there are always downsides.
That said, the word “surf” in the job title does mean that you will be actively involved with surfing in some way. And that alone might be enough for some people – even if you’re adding up how much you spent in wetsuits last season. One thing is certain, though: your office will be the beach and you will spend a lot of time in the water. You will also meet a lot of people, exercise daily, and stock up on vitamin D.
Here is where we should mention that there are two general types of surf instructing: owning a surf school and teaching locally, often and primarily dealing with beginners, and travelling to work at different surf camps/resorts, thus getting in touch with a lot of intermediate level surfers who want to hone their skills.
And there are also [at least] two general types of surf instructors: those who are only in it for a quick buck over the high season, and those who are certified professionals with knowledge not only of wave riding technique but first aid, rescuing, and sometimes even biomechanics, nutrition, massage, yoga…
Given that you’ll be in constant close contact with other human beings, it is important to consider your personality. If you’re an introvert, teaching others how to surf may not be the best career path for you. Conversely, if you’re sociable and inherently charismatic, these traits will surely work in your favour when establishing rapport and building trust with your pupils.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the majority of surf schools work seasonally, many making 90% of their annual income in just 3 months. This means you will probably only have money coming in for about 12 weeks out of the entire year. Which also means you will have to hit the gas during that period in order to make the most of it. Which, in turn, means you will be up early every day and the days will be long and mentally and physically draining. But if the turnover is good, you can take a long vacation for the rest of the year and surf as much as you want.
Nowadays, many instructors choose to “do seasons” in different places/hemispheres, travelling between surf destinations according to their peak tourism season. That can help circumvent the low-season issue and give you a more steady income throughout the year. But again, this nomadic setup may not be for everyone. So it’s important to mix and match the kind of lifestyle you want to lead and the security you want to have. And if things get tough, remember: the beach is your office.
Like surf instructors, lifeguards can boast of having the beach as their office. As a consequence, you will spend hours watching the waves day in, day out – which will improve your reading of the sea and thus your knowledge of your local break. In this sense, lifeguarding is a great complement to surfing.
Another way in which working as a lifeguard adds to your surfing experience is the fact that you have to stay fit. Especially during high season, lifeguards have to be at the top of their game physically so as to respond to emergencies. This entails daily workouts, as well as lots of running and swimming. Keeping your body and heart in shape ensures a great aerobic capacity, which translates to improved stamina when surfing.
Beyond promoting a healthy lifestyle, lifeguarding can be a highly rewarding occupation – both personally and financially. In terms of personal satisfaction and well-being, it gives you a strong sense of presence and the feeling of being a part of your community. And when it comes to salaries, hourly/daily rates tend to be solid. So after high season, provided that you managed your income, you will likely have replenished your bank account.
Speaking of seasonality, this is yet another job feature surf instructors share with lifeguards. Unless you live in a place with year-round beach tourism, there will probably only be work in summer and you’ll have to make do through winter. An alternative for that, which a lot of surfers pursue, is to become firefighters.
Firefighting is a mentally and physically demanding job, just like lifeguarding. So if you transition from one to the other, you’ll already be trained. Plus, a lot of the basic knowledge needed to conduct emergency rescues will be similar, if not the same. And like lifeguards, firefighters enjoy a flexible, if intense, work schedule (usually 24 hours on, 48 hours off, which means nearly 20 days off per month). The main difference is that you’ll only be dealing with a completely different element.
Firefighters are also paid well and benefit from a full-time, year-round contract. This financial stability can make a big difference when planning a long-haul surf trip or even investing in surf equipment. And when bringing the flexibility of the work into the equation, it proves a great career for those who already have – or are thinking of starting – a family, as security of payment means you’ll be able to provide for your children, and the chances of having to compromise are lower.
One thing to bear in mind, however, is that out of this entire list lifeguarding/firefighting are the most dangerous, as well as physically and mentally straining careers. In every emergency you respond to, besides having the pressure to perform and save a life, you’re also putting your own life at risk.
It is this very thrill that attracts many people to the job; a feeling some describe as electrifying as riding a barrel. But it is also the ability to keep your nerves in check what makes you good in the profession in the first place.
4. BOAT CAPTAIN / CREW
As a boat captain or crew, your office will not be the beach, but the sea – or, in some cases, the wide-open ocean. That said, even though you will spend a lot of time drifting, you will eventually have to drop anchor somewhere. And we have all heard of the terrible places people sail to.
But your day-to-day will revolve around water, which, as a surfer, is an element you should already at least be comfortable with. In fact, being able to tap into your surf knowledge – the understanding of tides, currents, wind patterns and other climatologic and meteorological dynamics – is a great plus for anyone looking for a job in the maritime industry.
To become a certified captain you have a long way to go and heaps of tests to pass. But when it comes to crew positions, such as those available in boat deliveries (deckhand, cook, steward/stewardess, etc.), employers often valorise your personality and resourcefulness more than any certificates/licenses or experience boating. Chances are that if you’re a water person and quick-witted you can pick up the basics of sailing in a few days.
One of the best things about the maritime industry is the opportunity to specialise in a particular field – you can become a skipper or an engineer, a steward or a chef. And you can progress gradually – both in knowledge and pay rate – while still benefiting from most of the same perks as someone much more experienced than you.
For instance, if you get a job delivering a boat from the USA to Hawaii, both you and the captain will end up in the same place – even if you get paid less for your services than he/she. You will eat the same food, appreciate the same views, go through the same squalls… Heck, depending on the job, you might even get flown into the place of departure and out of the destination!
There are two final perks from working in the maritime industry that surfers should be aware of. One is the flexibility relating to seasonality. Unless you have a contract with a major company, it’s unlikely that you’ll work more than a couple of months straight. Which means long holiday periods in between jobs.
To use the boat delivery example again: you’ll know in advance how long the job will take. As such, you’ll have the freedom to choose how much you want to work, and when you want to work. This might not be the case in the beginning, when you are scavenging for positions. But once you make contacts, you’ll see that they tend to call you back out again and again.
Finally, boat captains/crew members tend to get paid well – and have zero expenses while working. This means no rent, no bills, food and board covered. I once met a group of five youngsters who had been hired to take a 100ft yacht from Chile to French Polynesia, the idea being that the boat owner could meet them there and sail around the islands for a week before flying back home. They got paid a more-than-fair monthly salary (according to their position) and lived cost-free from the moment they cast off until they hopped on a flight home from Tahiti. Needless to say, they managed to sneak several surf sessions during the few weeks they were in French Polynesia.
5. FREELANCE CREATIVE / REMOTE WORKER
One of the most sought after jobs for surfers is not a job per se, but a way of working. Whether you are a web designer, a copywriter, or a sales consultant, working remotely on a short-term contract basis is probably the most flexible and malleable scheme out there.
Not only does this framework give you a lot of control over your time, but it also means that you can set/negotiate your salary, you can choose who you work with, and you can have a parked van or a cafe by the beach as your office.
Once you locked in a project and know your tasks and deadlines, you can then organise your schedule according to what you want to do that day/week. Plus, freelancing gigs, although managed by someone, hardly make you feel like a boss is breathing down your neck or looking over your shoulder.
On the other hand, being your own boss entails that all procedural decisions are down to you. You might be able to bounce an idea off of an editor or ask the project manager for guidance – but you’re ultimately the one to make sure stuff happens. As such, these types of occupations are best suited for those who are inherently independent, creative, responsible, and organised. And if you put in the hours and soldier on through unpredictable and demotivating lulls, the rewards are huge.
Even financially. Although the word “freelancer” is commonly associated with a fickle income, if you choose the “right clients” (those who value your work) and optimise your schedule, you can make as much or more than a full-time, qualified worker. And if you’re struggling to make ends meet, you can also look for more work. Or other types of work.
If you want a more steady income whilst being location independent, a good option is to seek a full- or part-time job in a company that employs remote workers. That way you can pick a good surf break for a home and all you have to do is structure your schedule according to your employer’s. But the most important thing – an accessible surf beach – will be there. This works particularly well when you’re a few hours ahead of the company you work for, as you can score some waves before clocking in.
A good way to get started in freelancing is by creating a simple portfolio website, as well as a solid Instagram/LinkedIn, and making use of freelancing platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork. These are awesome environments to familiarize yourself with the dynamics of freelancing – such as invoicing and tax – in a safe way (it’s harder to be cheated) and make potential contacts along the way.
Whilst having a similar project-based structure to remote workers, photographers and producers, though sometimes freelancers, tend to have a more location and time-dependent schedule. The main upside here is that the work comes in batches, which means that if you have a productive streak you can always compensate with downtime. You can close deal for a wedding or event, for instance, work two or three days in a row, and then take the following week off – or do post-production and networking at night.
Another overlooked perk of freelancing is its versatility, the ability to mix and match skill sets. If you know how to draw and are adept in computer software, nothing stops you from getting gigs in the illustration, graphic design, web design, and even animation world. That way you can exercise several areas of your creativity simultaneously, which makes it easier to keep stimulation levels up.
All this, of course, can get even better if you happen to get into the surf industry. Working for a surf brand, media outlet, or even privately for a pro surfer or team can mean access to surf trips and/or gear and/or interesting, like-minded people.
The above are just some of the options for those who want to find a job that allows them to surf as much as possible. Other alternatives to look into are:
PILOT / FLIGHT ATTENDANT
OIL AND GAS WORKER
TEACHER / TUTOR
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