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September 17, 2021

Brouhaha erupts over surf school licences

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Tensions are running high between the licensed surf schools of Byron and Ballina, with Byron operators accusing their southern rivals of using misleading advertising to ‘drop in’ on Byron’s lucrative learn-to-surf market.

But the Ballina schools are adamant they have done nothing wrong and say the accusations are simply ‘sour grapes’ and ‘whinging’.

Representatives from two Byron surf schools told The Echo that the online and print advertising undertaken by the Mojo Surfing, Stoked Surfing, Soul Surfing and Kool Katz schools gave the false impression that they provided group lessons in Byron.

These schools pick up dozens of customers from Byron each day in buses and drive them to Lennox Head or other beaches in the Ballina Shire for a lesson before driving them back a few hours later, the representatives said.

‘They’re advertising themselves as ‘Byron Bay surf schools’, using the Byron brand to get bums on seats and then driving them down to Ballina,’ said one representative, who asked to remain anonymous.

‘If I were a Swedish backpacker and I came to Byron wanting to learn to surf, I’d want to learn in Byron Bay. Half the time the customers don’t even realise what’s going on.

‘It’s misleading to advertise Byron surf lessons when you’re actually teaching in Ballina.

The surf schools with licences to teach group lessons in Byron are Black Dog Surfing, Byron Bay Surf School, Style Surfing, and Lets Go Surfing Byron Bay. 

Soul Surfing has a licence to teach personalised lessons in Byron with no more than two students, as well as a licence in Ballina.

While the Byron schools are limited to teaching 10 students per class, Ballina Council allows its schools to teach up to 20 students.

Some of the Byron operators say this gives the Ballina schools an unfair advantage.

‘It’s hard for us to compete when we’re not on a level playing field,’ the other surf school representative interviewed by The Echo said.

Breaking even

‘It’s getting to the point where we’re only breaking even with each class because you’ve basically got eight surf schools operating in Byron – four of them that are busing up to 200 students a day down to Ballina.’

But the schools with licences in Ballina are adamant that they are entitled to compete for a slice of the Byron pie and that they are not misleading customers.

A number have taught in and around Byron for many years, have previously had licences to operate in Byron, and continue to have offices and homes here.

The director of Soul Surfing, Sean Riley, said the Byron surf schools had been given the option to increase their class sizes to 20 by Byron Council, but had chosen not to do so.

‘I really don’t understand why they’re complaining about our classes being bigger than theirs, when they we were given the opportunity to have the same sized classes,’ Mr Riley said.

The Byron operators are adamant that is not the case and The Echo has sought clarification from Byron Council.

The general manager of Mojo Surf, Nathan Folkes, said the ‘sour grape schools in Byron Bay’ were the ‘root of their own problems’. 

‘Mojosurf is the one of the longest original operators in the area with operations starting in October 1998,’ Mr Folkes said. ‘All the current surf school operators in Byron were not founding members of those licences, but bought them and moved into the region.’

‘Mojosurf are far more successful as we offer a far superior product, value for money and experience all round.’

Not misleading

Mr Folkes and Mr Riley both insisted they were not misleading customers, as did the owner of Kool Katz surfing, Terry Hanson.

‘There might be some old text on the website from when we had a Byron licence, but under “locations”, it clearly says Lennox and Ballina,’ Mr Hannon said.

‘I was teaching surfing in Byron decades ago.’

‘I was the first person to do group surf lessons in this region in the way everyone else is doing it now. I can’t believe these Byron schools are complaining. Maybe if they worked a bit harder instead of whinging they wouldn’t be doing it so tough.’

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  1. As a consumer I’ve had the experience of trying to find surf lessons in Byron and ended up looking at Mojosurf. When the google search for ‘byron learn to surf’ returns this result, i can’t see how that can be claimed to NOT be misleading if they don’t run actual surf lessons in Byron Bay.

    Learn to Surf at our Byron Bay Surf School | Mojosurf
    Come with Mojosurf on a surf lesson to the best surf spots in and around Byron Bay for a guaranteed excellent learn to surf experience! Learn more.

    Whether the owner is a ‘local’ and the Byron based companies are ‘blow ins’ is beside the point.

  2. Byron has been overflowing into the Ballina Shire for many years. 20 years ago few people parked in Park Lane Lennox Head on a Sunday and today you’ll be struggling to get a park anywhere. When the highway upgrades made Byron more accessible as a day-trip… the same happened to Lennox.

    Byron and Ballina Shires are connected by one big long beach. We also share a big long road that Ballina Shire has spent a lot of money fixing so that people could get to Byron… you know… from the Ballina/Byron Gateway airport that Byron people think is ok to advertise as the Byron Airport… We don’t have potholes on our side.

    Get over it! It is difficult to make a living for everyone who lives in this region so you should use every tool you have to promote your business. Some are good at it and some are not.

    KFC can’t complain that MacDonalds sells nuggets too. (Perhaps a reference a bit Ballina-parochial for Byron residents?)

    • I’m not ecstatic for the airport to take advantage of the Byron label while we deal with all the expense and other downside of the tourism impact. At the very least if they insist it is the Ballina/Byron airport we Byronites should get the same parking exemptions that Ballina shire residents do.

      I’m not sure what Council can do to assist the locally licensed surf schools but it should be on their radar as there is a competitive process and, I assume, considerable fees for the licences they grant. Perhaps they could encourage the Visitors Centre (to whom they provide free rent) to foster an information campaign and promote the local product.

      The French successfully took on the Australian wine industry, now there is a move to restrict the ‘Prosecco’ label. Time for Byron to fight back?

  3. The story is a bit misleading, in that it states there is tension between Byron and Ballina surf school operators. If you look at the physical location of all the schools listed in the article, they are all based in Byron Bay. So in fact, there is only tension between Byron Bay surf school operators.

    The difference between the operators is that some only operate in the immediate Byron area, and some bus their clients to either Lennox, Flat Rock or Ballina (Shaw’s Bay) etc. I had a look at the web sites of the surf schools listed that operate around Ballina, and like ole mate Terry Hanson (Kool Katz surfing) says, their surfing locations clearly state surf spots in and around Ballina. So no one is being ripped off or mislead.

    As a Ballina local, and In an effort to harmonise the situation in Byron between surf school operators, before it turns into something similar to the Sydney gangland underworld Tow Truck wars of the 70’s how-a-bout you all stick to the beaches north of Broken Head. This will help keep Ballina a Backpacker Free Zone, and level the playing field up for those Byron Bay surf school operators that are a little adverse to hard work
    Thanks in advance

  4. Wow, Soul Surf School… “Come on a learn-to-surf adventure with our Byron Bay surf lessons at the best surf school in Byron Bay” … Really feel for the Byron guys!

  5. Quite funny to read that the owner of Mojo surf was quoted as saying they run a ‘superior’ product over the Byron surf schools. I’m perplexed as to how their product could be seen as being superior, especially in regards to Mojo’s record on safety.
    It is a well known fact world wide that Byron Bay is a natural treasure, and this is due in large part to the fact it is a huge cape, that juts out from the land. This cape is perfect for many things, one of those being learning to surf, as it has many protected corners that offer ideal and safe surfing conditions under most weather and swell conditions. Compare this to where Mojo’s and the other Ballina surf schools operate. Lennox head beaches, where there is zero wind protection, zero protection from raging currents and their operators often push students straight onto dry sand as the conditions are that dismal. Another spot Sharpes/flatrock is another barren stretch of beach, more often popular with kite surfers which speaks volumes for its wind protection. And of course, last but not least, we have the Richmond river, or Bull Shark alley. Anyone that is stupid or naive enough to spend time floating around in that cesspool of brown water and sewage run off from West ballina’s industrial estate and the inland farms must have rocks in their heads.
    It is a well known fact Mojos are known locally and Australia wide as the “McDonalds’ of surf schools. Cheap, nasty, with little regard for the customer and eyes only for the dollar, and they leave a bad taste in your mouth. I feel for those foreign students who are told ‘we’re just going for a short drive to a secret beach’ who are then sitting on a bus for half an hour leaving behind Byrons beautiful beaches and the one thing they wanted to tick off their bucket list. Surfing in Byron Bay. I’m just not sure what the issue is in these surf schools changing their advertising to “Come surfing in Ballina”. That is the truth isn’t it?
    I’d be interested to see what the response from people like Lyndsay above would be, if instead, for example, it would be the kayaking business that did the same. “Come kayak in Byron Bay with the Dolphins”. And then those same operators were to take them in a bus to Ballina and jump in that stenchy river and kayak around looking at murky dolphins swimming by. I’d imagine there’d be quite the uproar at the tarnished reputation of one of the towns assets.
    The locally run and owned businesses have been here for the long haul, abide by council rules, pay their fees but more importantly, give visitors that unique Byron experience, and focus on safety, educate them on staying out of the way of advanced surfers and on teaching them to surf,….in proper waves.

  6. The liscenced operators in Byron have every right to feel cheated.
    The consumers are being deceived
    If your a tourist in Byron Bay and sign up to learn to surf I believe you would be receiving a learn to surf in Byron in The Bay
    The experience of learning to surf at the Pass and in between the Pass and Clarke’s beach is a far superior and also has more coaches to assist consumers .Compared to being taken down to an open beach at Ballina like Sharpes( which is great if you can already surf) which generally has conditions that are not conducive to surf schools
    Anecdotally as a ballina resident that will sometimes travel to the Pass. I see these surf schools from Byron in ballina and feel sorry for consumers as the conditions are often better in Ballina for advanced surfers. The Byron conditions are for everyone and the Pass and Thommos rocks are excellent
    Good luck in getting the misleading advertising changed

  7. Byron surf schools need to get clever. Business is competitive, that’s life. If I were a Byron surf school operator, I would: A make sure my website is SEO written by an expert, B, include a paid Google advertising campaign to target all Byron surf lesson searches, and my competitor’s business names, C include Swedish, French, Portuguese, etc language options… And finally make it a focal point to mention, LESSONS IN BYRON BAY, NOT BUSSED OFF TO OTHER AREAS!

  8. The surf schools used to be wa-a-ay up the beach at Lennox and now they have invaded Lennox downtown blocking traffic, taking up parking & peoples driveways.
    They pay pittance licenses to Ballina Council, take over the beach & no-one spends money in the town.
    Absolutely no benefit lots of disruption

  9. Surf is better in Ballina most of the time. The Pass and the wreck only go off when there is a cyclone up the coast.

  10. Interesting to read the quote from Mojo’s of offering a superior product.
    Simply put, Cape Byron is a massive volcanic cape that juts out into the Pacific ocean. On one side you have protection from prevailing summer northerlies and a beautiful little corner out of the main swell energy named cosy corner. Perfect for learning and a stunning Australiana backdrop, that most backpackers would have dreamed of before jumping on a plane from a European winter with stars in their eyes and surf lessons (in Byron Bay) on their minds.
    On the other side of the Cape, well, shock horror, there is an even more hospitable beginners surf zone, known as Clarkes Beach, just inside the most protected part of the Byron Cape, down the beach from the pass, where a beginner surfer, with no experience in the ocean, can after one lesson be riding 100 m long glassy walls down a clear sand bottom point, with a back drop of Pandanus trees and thick leafy rainforest foilage.
    In contrast, the operators in Byron who offer a ‘superior product’. A quick check of their options. Lennox and 7 mile beach. Exposed to all wind and swell conditions. Usually a reform whitewater that comes out of the deep gutter close to shore, hence providing a quick whitewash ride onto dry sand. Also heavily exposed to sideshore currents and rips.
    Sharpes beach. Again, super exposed, rippy, washy, better left to more advanced surfers. Heavily populated by kitesurfers most days of the year due to it’s exposure to wind and swell. Strong rips and again, short rides onto the sand.
    And lastly, Shaws bay! Ahhh, to travel all the way across the world with visions of dreamy blue water and white australian sand, rainforests….to find yourself bobbing up and down in a brown water river, surrounded by rock walls and the always present possibility of a nip by one of the many resident bullsharks that do laps of this part of the river.
    I can’t see how you could possibly claim a superior product when comparing the two locales.
    False advertising no matter how you look at it, is false advertising. Why not just advertise that you operate your lessons in Ballina? Its the truth after all.

    • Hey Reggie. Cape Byron isn’t volcanic in origin. It’s metamorphosed sedimentary rock.

      Hopefully the surfschools are letting their frothing crew know this as they glide past the pandanus

      • Wowee. Thanks Jimmy. You’re quite correct. You learn something every day. Just had a good read about the geology of the headland. Cheers!

  11. This article in the Echo is Brouhaha. The comments made in this article are however, as false as their advertising. Google “Byron Bay Surf Lessons” and see for yourself. The real complaint is when the Ballina licenced surf schools use Byron Bay in ALL of their advertising / social media, then the customer boards their bus, they are told by these Ballina Operators’ that the surf in Byron Bay is no good and will take you somewhere better. I have held a licence in Byron Bay since 1999 and I am having a Great season teaching Byron Bay Surf Lessons in Byron Shire. Go The Bay! Happy Days. Gaz

  12. We’ve had a lot of community support since yesterday’s article came out. It’s uplifting to see the Byron people making a stand for good, honest business. Teaching people to surf is such a rewarding profession, though you can’t put a price on authenticity, and we will continue to uphold that reputation at Blackdog Surfing, like we have for the past 17 years. Cheers everyone, Dean.


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