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.
‘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.’
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.’