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Byron Shire
March 6, 2021

Byron Bay surf schools hit back

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A Byron-based surf school operator has hit back at criticisms of Byron Bay’s surf schools by their Ballina counterparts.

The Byron-based surf schools have long argued their Ballina competitors have an unfair advantage because they are allowed 20 students per class while the Byron schools are only allowed 10.

This unfair advantage is exacerbated, they claim, by the fact that the Ballina schools are taking a large piece of the local learn-to-surf market by misleadingly promoting themselves as offering ‘Byron surf lessons’ and then bussing students down to Ballina.

In last week’s Echo the owner of the Ballina-licensed school, Soul Surfing, said the Byron schools had been given the option to increase their their class sizes in 2017, but had chosen not to do so.

But Dean Johnston, the owner of the Byron-licensed surf school Black Dog Surfing, said no such offer was made.

‘I personally requested an increase in class sizes [to 16] at a council meeting on April 5, 2017; however, this was turned down,’ Mr Johnston said.

The minutes from the April 7 meeting show that Mr Johnston asked Council for class sizes to be increased to 14. They also show that an official from NSW National Parks, which controls access to The Pass and Clarkes Beach, said he would not allow any increase in class sizes at these beaches.

Mayor Simon Richardson suggested the schools be allowed 16 students at the other beaches in the Shire and it was resolved that this option would be investigated.

However, when the surf schools received their licence application documents later in 2017, they discovered that the maximum class size had been kept at 10 for all of Byron’s beaches.

Mr Johnston also responded to the claim by another Ballina-licensed operator – Mojosurf – that they had been ‘one of the longest original operators in the area with operations starting in October 1998’.

‘Mojo’s claim to be founding operators in the area since 1998 is misleading. As far as I am aware, Mojo only held a Byron Bay licence for five years from 2012 and after failing to retain this privilege after the 2017 tender, they are now only allowed to teach in the Ballina shire,’ he said

Byron Council has confirmed that the first and only licence given to Mojosurf to conduct surf lessons in the Shire was in September 1, 2012.

Ballina Council told The Echo that Mojo was first licensed to operate in that Shire in 2006.

Mr Johnston said that all he wanted was for consumers to be able to make an informed decision about whether they learnt to surf in Ballina or Byron Bay.

‘Byron folk stand for good, honest business and we are grateful for all the local support we have received,’ he said.

‘We will continue to uphold our 17-year standing as a down-to-earth family-run business.’

Mojosurf and Soul Surfing elected not to provide any further comment when contacted by The Echo.

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  1. Hmmm…makes you think that we humans hard-wired to take anything perfect and make a hash of it.

    A livelihood based on getting in the water and sharing your passion for a sport with beginners (not to mention welcoming eager visitors to your region and contributing to potential life-long fond memories for them).

    Sounds idyllic, yes ?

    Nah, lets get all uppity about someone else doing something similar nearby on some flimsy premise related to which neighbouring shire they may have originated from.

    Territorial pissing (or perhaps greed behind it) like this is the basis of our impending decline. Discuss.

  2. This is a problem, not just for the surf schools, but there are also many other Ballina based businesses who mislead customers, claiming to be Byron-based, when in fact they are at Ballina. There are countless accommodation businesses selling ‘Schoolies In Byron Bay’ with their listings actually stating Byron, that young people arrive here to discover are actually in Ballina. It’s been happening for years.

  3. I am surprised that the issue of class sizes if controlled at a local government level. Not to mention getting NPWS involved.
    Is the number of students in a class based on the responsibility of 1 teacher to supervise that many people in the water, or is it an issue of the space on the beach they take up?
    It certainly doesn’t seem fair or responsible to have wildly varying rations dependent on an arbitrary ‘line in the sand’. Operators seem to have vastly different financial overheads and students would be getting a similarly different experience and supervision.
    Surely they could all agree to a national guideline published by Surfing Australia, SLSA, or a similar body.

  4. I can see why Byron Bay based surf schools would be unhappy about Ballina based schools ‘cockroaching” learners from the Byron Bay market and busing them to Ballina. The Ballina schools should be canvassing for learner surfers from Lennox Head/Ballina ! As well a learner being bussed to Ballina Shire from the Bay is most likely going to receive, after a long bus ride, a much lesser surf experience than one gained at the beautiful Pass or other Bay beaches. Ballina Shire surf spots are awesome for experienced surfers but mostly very difficult for beginners as they are very hard breaking shore breaks. A lot of the time the learners end up learning to surf in the Richmond River.

    Dave Dane

  5. But Byron’s fine with Ballina Airport name change, right? Maybe change everything back to its actual geographic position out of fairness, if that’s what the complaint really is…


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