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Byron Shire
July 28, 2021

Surf schools on crests and troughs

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Eve Jeffery

A recent Ballina Council decision has proven bittersweet for at least one local surf school operator who feels supported on the one hand and stymied on the other.

Council has made the process of licence renewal easier but have quashed the idea that any particular operator could have more than one licence. This will affect the number of patrons allowed during school sessions.

Part of the resolution arising from the July meeting is that licences for the surf schools, elite coaching and stand up paddle boards may be renewed without proceeding to tender. This section of the resolution has generated a collective sigh of relief from operators.

That the licences will also be for a three-year term has also been a welcome decision.

The sticking point for the surf schools has been that each operator is allowed to have a maximum of one licence.

During deputation, Mojo Surf School’s Nathan Folkes thanked Council for their choice but asked that the motion be extended to allow more than one licence.

‘What’s very important for businesses in the region and surf schools is to try to get it really right,’ he said. ‘It has been a journey. What we are seeking is policy that supports our industry.’

But Council wouldn’t budge on allowing operators to have two licences, and for a large school like Mojo, that can cut back a large section of business.

At the vote, Council resolved to adopt a revised Commercial Activities on Public Land Policy and approved the issuing of three new licences to the existing licence-holders for surf schools, elite surf coaching and stand up paddle boards. Only Cr Susan Meehan voted against the tide.

After the meeting Nathan Folkes spoke to Echonetdaily, saying he commended the council on one hand for the licensing being handed back to current operators.

‘This maturity allows all operators to plan, invest and grow.

‘But on the other hand, in relation to the previous two-licence policy returning to one licence, we are at a disadvantage. We now, after three years of planning, really have a challenge in managing our capacity.

‘An example of the impact would be with local school groups; we would generally do surf safety lessons and ocean awareness sitting with groups of up to 40 clients but this change in policy will not allow us to [do this in] the future.

‘I will be recommending that we revisit the policy and we provide Council with more information for the decision to be reviewed. With better awareness and understanding of the economic challenges we face running a short-term seasonal business I’m sure we can achieve an amicable outcome. We have invested heavily over the last three years to grow our business and develop our infrastructure and staff to achieve a more diverse and capable business model.

‘I will also recommend that the council conduct a workshop with the peak body representing surf schools in Australia. Surfing Australia assists councils in developing supportive policy and provides free and unbiased information so they better understand the benefits and commercial challenges our industry faces,’ Mr Folkes said.


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