Harlyn Surf School in Cornwall celebrates 25 years of teaching people of all ages to surf

Many students have become tutors

Many students have become tutors - Credit: Archant

From working out of the back of his car with old boards, to teaching as many as 100,000 surfers – surf addict Chris Rea has made a business out of his passion that is celebrating its 25th birthday

Surf students have gotten younger

Surf students have gotten younger - Credit: Archant

Originally planning a career in Cornwall’s tin mining industry – its collapse left mine surveyor graduate Chris Rea out of a job before he’d even had an interview.

Faced with a career working in motorways or quarries elsewhere in the country – he chose door number three: a surfing trip around the world before returning to Cornwall nine months later and broke. “Roll on a few years and a friend of mine was working in a surf shop and had recently had a couple enquire if someone could teach them to surf and he contacted me,” says Chris. “Challenge accepted. £50 later for two hours work I decided there and then that this would be something I wanted to do full time. The rest is history, as they say.

He went on to set up Harlyn Surf School. Twenty-five years on the school has expanded from simple surf to waterworld adventure activities.

“I started surfing in 1978 and was instantly hooked,” says Chris. “It has moulded my life and shaped my future and has led to many great adventures and essentially a career. From the heady days of working from the back of my car as an office and with four old swell boards, the surf school has now evolved in to a watersports activity hub with a team 12 to 14 staff in peak season offering surfing lessons, guided paddleboard and sit on top kayak tours and coasteering.”


none - Credit: Archant

“We have the luxury of working on one of the safest and best family beaches in Cornwall. This was a key point for me when deciding where to base the school.”

The centre boasts a hire centre and also became an instructor and lifeguard training centre in 2000. “We have trained a lot of RNLI lifeguards and surf school owners and staff throughout the UK and Europe.”

Most Read

In the last 25 years, Harlyn Surf School has seen huge changes to both surfing, the surfers themselves and the culture surrounding it. “Surfing has become significantly more mainstream and accessible to the masses,” says Chris. “The biggest development has been in the growth of female surfers and of course in the fashion and retail industry.”

But the activity has far from peaked, he predicted. “In the mid-nineties it was mostly males aged 18-30. Now we have a 50:50 split male and female and our biggest market is families looking to do a watersports activity together. One of our most popular age brackets is five to seven-year-olds and we love introducing them to the ocean and the surf.”

You can learn the basics in two hours

You can learn the basics in two hours - Credit: Archant

But it’s not all fun and play: surfing can teach important life skills and lead to new careers. “We have had numerous teenage clients that we taught to surf and this has led them to becoming hooked, gaining their instructor tickets and then working for us,” he explains. “Several of our team have gone on to work in the frontline emergency services as paramedics, nurses and police officers and many more have set up their own businesses and living their dream. I feel very proud to have been part of this.”

Coasteering and paddleboarding are a growing activity. “We have some amazing coastal and estuary areas to access and what better way than by paddleboard or on a coastal adventure.”

Harlyn was the first centre in the South West to introduce SUP back in 2006 and the initial reaction was one of curiosity. “SUP has become a mainstream sport in its own right with lots of different aspects within the sport – racing, adventuring, touring and yoga to name a few.”

But surfing remains the most popular activity. “The absolute very basics can be learnt in a two-hour lesson but to an accomplished and experienced surfer takes a lifetime of learning.” harlynsurfschool.co.uk

Harlyn Bay offers surf SUP and coasteerin

Harlyn Bay offers surf SUP and coasteerin - Credit: Archant

This article first appeared in the June 2020 issue of Cornwall Life.