Surfing or Surf Schools in Ocean Beach

by on October 27, 2015 · 35 comments

in California, Culture, Economy, Environment, History, Life Events, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

OB surf school Ace 02

One of the surf schools at the beach in OB. (All photos by Albert C Elliott.)

By Lois Lane

Why do the surfing schools want to extend their hours? [Editor: see this.]

The city of San Diego is very magnanimous in its consideration of the populace, and has made sure that every child will have the opportunity to learn to surf if they so choose by offering surf camps.

This consideration coincides nicely with the holidays the schools have, generating the added benefit to working parents of a baby-sitting service for their offspring.  Serving children from ages 5 to 17, presumably there is some age-appropriate organization of the process.

OB surf school Ace 03The general feeling at the city, who planned these programs, along with the lifeguards and the surf schools, is that the surfers who are unhappy with the 100 inexperienced surfers at Ocean Beach at the same time along with their instructors are just curmudgeonly.  This is for the children, after all.

And then, there are the Surf Schools themselves.

Two are authorized.  What exactly are they?

Pacific Surf School has the concessionaire agreement for the beach at Santa Monica, and San Diego Surf School is assigned the area at the foot of Newport Avenue.  Note these are not “leases” and the surf school does not pay “rent.”

OB surf school Ace 04

Here is another view of how much beach the surf schools like to save, from the blue board in foreground all the way back.

This is a service that is being made available to the people, and it is labelled as a “concession,” similar to a concession stand that sells hot dogs and soda.  Instead of rent there is a “license” with “license fees.”  This is because renting the beach is illegal.

The schools currently have access to their assigned locations from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm every day of the year with limited exceptions, such as the 4th of July, and they would like an additional hour each day.

Then, there are the instructors.

The City agreement requires certain standards.  All Instructors must wear red rash-guards, all must have lifeguard certifications, and all must be over 18.  They must also have First Aid Certifications.  Only half the children are in the water at the same time, and each class is technically limited to 50.  This means 5 to 9 instructors are allowed there with the children for each class.

OB surf school Ace 01

The picture of the guy surfing is a perfect example of what happens when you put beginners in the way of guys surfing. Here is an example of the hazards opponents of the surf schools cite: the guy in red is a instructor who has coached his student into a wave in front of the guy who has the “right of way” causing him to “wipe out”.

Not wanting the children to get out of practice, there are also after-school classes.  These also run on Saturday and Sunday.  They are advertised as occurring 3:30 – 5:00 on most weekdays.

Additional services include private lessons ($95 an hour), group lessons, surfing competitions, and other surfing activities.

San Diego Surf School advertises travel to Hawaii, Los Angeles, Costa Rica, Bali, Dominica and Puerto Rico, in case Ocean Beach isn’t enough for you.  Pacific Surf School has a similar International flavor.

San Diego Surf School has a current fictitious name registered with the city and is owned by San Diego Surfing School, Inc., a registered California corporation.  (The two names, San Diego Surf School and San Diego Surfing School provide a certain confusion factor to the unwary.)  Pacific Surf School is a California Corporation, Pacific Surf School, Inc.

Looking only at the surf camps for San Diego Surf School for the moment, the financials are interesting.

The minimum fee paid to the city is $19,800. Or 10%, whichever is more.  The prices are not clear from the web site; however a gift certificate is $580 for a week of camp is the minimum total price, although partial day/week training is available.  Using the advertised figures, that’s $29,000 a week for one school, a nice round number.

If a child can’t attend for a whole week and if there is a vacancy, they can do a one day or half day camp.  For those who come only half-day, the cost is $310, and so generates $31,000 a week if filled with half-day campers.  The Surf Schools advertise that they are full; register early.  So you can see that the potential is there for about $60,000 a week for two surf camps, and potentially more than a million dollars a year total.

Please understand that these numbers are just examples; they are based on the advertising material and the city contract. But if you have an uneasy concern about the dollars flowing across our beach and beach park, this provides an idea of what we are actually talking about.  At least you can see why they might want additional hours.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Lyle October 27, 2015 at 9:53 am

Does the license fee money go to a special account to benefit the park ?


Surf Mom October 27, 2015 at 1:18 pm

No the $$$ goes to the big fat Corporate Company. Which is Intl. Pacific Surf School is the owner. is how you look it up. Its just a tiny beach,about 150 yards. If the surf is so shitty, why were there 2 major World
Surf Contest here??? Back in the day!!


John O. October 27, 2015 at 10:21 am

From what I hear from my friends with kids about the rates for babysitting/child care, that sounds like an OK deal.
The surf camps are employing local residents. The money stays in the community. It is providing a service that parents and kids appreciate. The camps are creating future stewards for the environment. They all ride foam boards (safety). The surf at the beach isn’t that great anyway. Selfishly… I’d prefer less people in the water.
I don’t see a problem with any of it. If this article is suggesting that they surf camp should be “taxed” or pay higher fees to the government, I ask why?


RogueFive October 27, 2015 at 10:43 am

Because it’s a public beach that’s being used for private enterprise


Surf Mom October 27, 2015 at 1:08 pm

That’s right. I thought you can’t rent/own the beach ?????


Geoff Page Geoff Page October 27, 2015 at 11:26 am

And I ask why not? If the use of a public facility is generating that much money, why shouldn’t the public benefit from that usage? The money could go to the lifeguards or the new tower. The beach belongs to everyone. The license fee shown here, if accurate, is woefully inadequate.


John O. October 28, 2015 at 1:37 pm

A $20k fee seems quite reasonable, and I think that money should go to local beach improvements and resources. I hope it does.

Yet, it seems like some people have a problem with how much money they seem to be making (of course, I’m sure winter isn’t as popular) while others have a problem with the “access” issue.

So the money issue… maybe a campaign to get the fee assessing government agency to raise it is in order. But in reality and in all fairness, you can’t really charge an organization a higher fee just because they make more money. And you could very well prevent other organizations from using the public space if the cost climbs too high (though I think some selfish people would be fine with “their public beach” being used less)… maybe even cause costly lawsuits… I’m sure there are precedents about how much you can raise public access use fees year over year.

And the access issue… well, it is quite obvious that there is a need for the surf schools because it is so popular with tourists, kids and wannabe surfers (some who probably want to “surf” once in their life). Now, would the lifeguards (and surfers) prefer that these learning surfers be spread out across the San Diego coast? I doubt it. In fact, I’d argue that keeping the students confined to an area that is well patrolled by lifeguards actually makes everybody safer and helps keep valuable lifeguarding resources allocated properly.

World Championships? Haha, I don’t even get your point on this. Surfing has changed quite a bit over the years, but one thing is the same… judging wave quality and conditions is generally the same. A quick Google revealed that the 1972 event was described as “The sixth and final amateur-era World Championships event; held in dismal waves in San Diego, California” (from the Encyclopedia of Surfing). Sure, OB has its days and the jetty is amazing, but it isn’t like you are trying to protect Trestles or something.


Geoff Page Geoff Page October 28, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Whether or not a $20k fee is reasonable is a subjective judgment. It may seem reasonable to you but not to someone else. A reasonable fee should be based on what is being earned by a business using a public resource. Something those who negotiated with the Chargers should have paid attention to. Why can’t you charge a higher fee because they are making more money? Why not bid this concession out and get the best possible price for the City? And this isn’t a “public access fee,” this is a concession, public access is free.

I would not necessarily agree there is a “need” for surf schools. For the tourists, this is just something to do while at the beach so what is next parasailing in OB? This is a very small beach, that is the problem. Kids have various programs for this already. I’m not sure what a wannabe surfer is, a tourist or a resident of the City? If they want to surf once in their lives they can rent a board and have at it with everyone else.

And, clearly there is disagreement with your comment about it being safer to confine students to a certain area. I think the lifeguards are fine with this because they don’t have to worry about these groups, the liability and responsibility rests with the instructors who have to be lifeguard trained.

And your comments about the surf in OB are uninformed. Surf contests often fall on days of bad surf, it doesn’t mean the surf break is always “dismal.” The waves were small that day, the swell came from the south. OB faces due west. The same article said it was better in Oceanside and that area faces southwest. OB has plenty of good surf. The only problem with the beach break was that they built a pier in the middle of the best break.

Regardless of your low opinion of the OB surf break, those of us who surf here like it. And, there is not a lot of area to surf in. Why not take the surf schools to PB or MB, that beach is seven miles long? And, make the schools pay a fee commensurate with the size of the business.


John O. October 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm

I’m not saying that they city cannot charge more for the fee. Yet, increasing it by a high percentage is sure to cause problems and hardly fair. The surf school took a chance and built a business based on the fees at that time. Sure, a modest increase may be feasible. Do you want the schools gone? or do you want them to pay more money? Which is it?

Suggesting that people unfamiliar with surfing and the ocean in general just go rent a board and surf would only cause more problems in terms of safety and problems in the lineup. Really?

Regarding safety, you completely proved my point.

Yes, swell windows… heard of ’em.

There are already surf schools in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.


Geoff Page Geoff Page October 28, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Pay more and move to a bigger beach. How do you know they took a chance and built a business based on the fees at the time? If you have information about that, educate us.

People rent boards and try to surf all summer long. They rarely, if ever make it out into the line up. If they are unfamiliar with the ocean in general, they don’t need a surf school, they need to learn how to swim in the ocean and how waves behave first. Surfing would not be the way to learn about the ocean in general.

Not sure how I proved your safety point. First you said keep them in an area well patrolled by lifeguards then you said this keeps lifeguard resources allocated properly. I said the lifeguards can leave the safety aspect to the instructors and they probably like that. If the schools weren’t there, it would be the same thing.

PB and MB can handle more. I’m not saying kick them out of OB but it’s a thought. The OB beach is only about .65 tenths of a mile long. Of that, a part is permanently for swimming only. Another section has limited surfing in the morning and the evening during the summer season. It is a very small beach compared to the PB/MB coastline.


PL Local October 27, 2015 at 5:11 pm

OK deal?

$95 an hour for a lesson to surf. Are there any “Happy Ending” at the end?


Lois Lane October 27, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Surf Camp is only a part of the commercial aspect of the schools. Because they are publicized on the web site, it is easier to calculate how much money they bring to the Surf School. The lessons for adults, corporate groups, and private lessons probably add an equal amount, but it is not documented.


Surf Mom October 27, 2015 at 11:02 am

This article is very slanted. These are NOT children out in the surf. These are grown Men & Women, paying BIG bucks to these Corporate Schools. Very little (maybe a burrito) go into the community. I have been surfing 45 yrs. and have never seen such chaos. I am a Mother, and these lessons are not what I call “Day Care” OB Surf & Skate had a better program for kids. These outside surf schools are just $$$$$$.


tyler October 27, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Just be a dick to them in the water. They’ll get the picture eventually if enough people tell them to piss off. I’m sick of showing them aloha–all I get is a foam board shooting at me in all directions and an instructor being a douche in return.


Geoff Page Geoff Page October 27, 2015 at 1:23 pm

I would reserve that kind of reaction for the instructors who know the rules of the waves. If they pushed someone into a wave in front of me, I’d let the student go but I’d have plenty to say to the instructor. Part of teaching surfing should be teach the rules of the game of which there are very few. Don’t drop in on someone. If someone is close behind you get off the wave. Be considerate. Watch out for each other. Wow,that’s a lot to have to learn I guess.


RB October 27, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Let’s tax or have a fee for everyone who puts a board in the water…..fair and equal, expert or student, young or old. the money can go to the lifeguards or for a new tower. The intolerance of children learning to surf is just another example of that ‘me’ generation.


Jon October 27, 2015 at 4:00 pm

I don’t think that makes any sense. Not that I care a lick about this issue. I think the STVR problem far outweighs the FAA flight path hysterics and surf school shenanigans. But the point to tax the surf schools is because they are making a profit running a business there right? I don’t think you can equally apply that to a Spicoli just wanting to grab some tasty waves and a cool buzz. I would be inclined to agree with the sentiment that those fees should be applied directly to infrastructure used by those students in our community. Pier, lifeguard station, and bathroom maintenance would seem appropriate uses of whatever could be collected, and would seem to be more an example of the “we” generation.


Geoff Page Geoff Page October 27, 2015 at 4:51 pm

How in the world do any of these comments reflect an intolerance of children learning to surf? All of these comments are about surf schools making what appears to be a lot of money using a public resource and paying very little for it. And there are complaints about problems in the water that should not occur. And, who the hell is is this “me” generation you are referring to? I would guess the ages of the people commenting here vary wildly. I’m 64 and I don’t think I’m part of a “me” generation.

I get really tired of comments like this, you don’t agree so you throw out a general disparagement of everyone instead of participating in a reasoned discussion. A comment like that makes one wonder if you have some kind of connection to these surf schools.


Steve October 27, 2015 at 3:36 pm

The lessons should be free for locals with a valid OB address, if you bring your own board. Proof can be an ID with an OB address or SDG&E/Credit/Bank statement with OB address & ID. Tourists can pay full price.


ACE October 27, 2015 at 5:38 pm

I have made my position on these “schools” pretty clear. The one main thing for me is that these schools are not all day surf camps for kids but a endless stream of people mostly older, from my daily observations, taking the lessons for 1-1/2 hours, than next group $$$. It will be a sad day when these types of business are allowed to take over our beaches to the point where people who actually live here will not be able to enjoy the beach for what it is THE BEACH. Thanks for putting together the info I know it is a lot of work.


obsurfer October 27, 2015 at 5:49 pm

I can’t remember ever seeing children taking lessons at those schools its primarily adults. I’m sure there are at times but its in no way a children’s surf school.

Also if the instructors create incresed hazards its not just a matter of not wanting to share, it’s safety.

I fully agree no commonly should be able to set up shop and impact the experience of the beach for residents. We pay morello live here and we have t deal with an influx of people every year. The surf schools cross the line for me. Not to mention their big ugly truck which is a driving billboard parked at the prime spot in the lot blocking the view of the ocean for people arriving to the beach. Thats messed up. Yje, and the revs talk about blight.


Lori Hegerle October 27, 2015 at 8:22 pm

Not okay to section off the beach!!!!!! WOW so 50 beginners allowed in the water at one given time……that is dangerous..and annoying at that small area. To the surf schools that read this……..PLEASE at the very least teach surf etiquette to these beginners….that should be taught before entering the water and then be taught again. Respect the ocean….respect your elder surfers…..and respect the line up!!!


Surfer October 27, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Any surfer at some point in there life has had to “learn” how to surf. What people fail to recognize is that is the real purpose of these surf schools! They are allowing motivated individuals who want to learn how to surf the chance to do so under trained supervision. 98% of the time there is PLENTY of room on the beach and in the water. Instructors almost always stay on the inside of the breakers and have their students practicing in the white water where they are out of other surfers way. Instead of all this negativity surrounding this issue I wish people could try to look at the positive impact these schools might be having. Teaching kids, and adults, and magnificent experience and lifestyle in what surfing has to offer. For a lot of these individuals this can be a highlight to a trip or start a life of surfing!


Craig Klein October 28, 2015 at 7:26 am

Well: I guess that where the surf schools leave off… the locals have to step up. Let’s teach them the OB/PL rules.


ACE October 28, 2015 at 8:02 am

This effects more than just surfers. Lets say you want to come to the beach. First parking just got a whole lot harder because there is only so much parking at South OB and adding the additional stress of all these extra people plus the big ugly truck the school keep in a prime spot make parking that much harder. THEN you finally get to the beach on a crowded Saturday and the main most popular part of the beach is being “saved” by a bunch of surfboards strategically placed. Plus if you have a wagon, baby carriage or are disabled and use the blue “walkway” in the sand and are hoping to get a spot for your family with easy access for baby and grandma you can’t, All because some business now has taken over that part of the beach that you came to enjoy so they can make money, We beach goers at least all the ones I know whether they live in OB or drive in from? just want to enjoy the beach for the BEACH. Is that really too much to ask? This is not a local OB versus everybody thing this is seeing YOUR beach sold off for the profit of a very few.


Celeste Abbott October 28, 2015 at 9:18 am

Political awareness and activism USED to be the fiber of Ocean Beach. So good luck getting people to rise up these days. Don’t worry about surf schools taking up YOUR real estate on the beach. In a few years y’all will have more beach than you can fathom – because all the locals will have been EVICTED so that property owners can make room for their year-round weekly vacation-rentals. Surf schools and graffiti will be the least of your problems when all the renters are gone. The multi-family residential zones will be empty in the winter months when the surf is good. Be patient. Soon enough you’ll have the beaches to yourselves.

Pardon my tone but I’m in the anger stage of grief. My OB counter culture tribe has dissipated. The spirit of my town is gone. It’s all about the elitist and the all mighty dollar. I love the beach and certainly don’t hate Surf schools. There are bigger issues happening in our town and no one seems to care.


ACE October 28, 2015 at 10:40 am

Because the beach is why people choose to put up with the overcrowding high prices gentrification no grocery stores etc etc that has doomed OB. Lose the beach what really do we have left. If you do not go in the water or go to the beach why live in Ocean BEACH ? Vibes are nice I get it but what we have/had is unique and I am saddened by all the changes too I feel the beach IS the key. These surf schools summer rentals etc are all part of the same problem.


Citizen Cane Larry OB October 28, 2015 at 12:00 pm

I think we need to apply the same logic that we use in Control Zones. The surfers get the water for the mornings and evenings. Swimmers get the middle of the day. Having too many beginners in a Surfing Only Zone is effectively the same thing as allowing bathers and swimmers to mix with surfers. So my logic says no surf schools in the Surfing Only Zone before 11 AM. I would put the same restriction on shops that rent boards. No rentals before 11 AM.

Ultimately I think OB needs to plan ahead for the future. How would you change the boundaries and rules of the different zones? Eventually we need a new lifeguard tower, or maybe a second tower. These tower choices effect the location of swimming zones. We also need to refine what is and isn’t allowed in a particular zone. Should bodyboards be allowed in a 24 hour swimming zone? These are all issues decided by the City Council, but I think some sort of community group needs to lead the way. A reapportionment committee? When Marina Village gets revamped with new hotels, do you want North OB dominated by hired gondoliers on stand up paddleboards? Now is the time for OB to start planning ahead.


Citizen Cane Larry OB October 28, 2015 at 12:18 pm

As for the kids that want to learn how to surf, I would prefer that it was through the Junior Lifeguard Program. And somehow we need to make this more affordable. I know they have scholarships, but I’d like to see the whole thing more affordable. Maybe we also add an intensive program that’s geared toward tourist kids. By intensive I mean something that’s not spread out over a month of Wednesdays.


OB surfer October 29, 2015 at 10:17 am

No surf schools at the Pier! It’s already too crowded, and there’s not enough room now for people who actually know how to surf. Throw a bunch of beginners into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for conflict. And I agree, the vast majority of the students are not kids.
There is more room down at Dog Beach (between Jetty and Stub), and it’s an easier wave for beginners too. Plus the parking lot is less impacted. Even better would be to relocate the surf schools to Mission Beach — there’s much more beach to spread out and avoid possible collisions. Plenty of parking too.


RogueFive October 29, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Plus no one actually lives in MB either


ACE October 29, 2015 at 5:04 pm

They are already in Mission Beach AND Pacific Beach ALL owned by the same guy. This is just another nail in the coffin to turning OB into MB & PB.


ACE October 29, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Just so you know what we are up against…”Pacific Surf School has camps and lessons worldwide! With schools located in Los Angeles, San Diego, (Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach), Hawaii, Costa Rica, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Bali, Pacific Surf School is the largest most convenient camp to sign up with!

For everyone visiting the San Diego area Pacific Surf School has two new LOCATIONS! Our first new location is in Pacific Beach right off of Pacific Beach Drive, in front of the beautiful Blue Sea Hotel. Like always the school is under the RED canopies right on the sand. Our second new location is in beautiful Ocean Beach just North of the pier and in front of the main life guard station. And for all you dog lovers out there Pacific Surf School is just down the sand from dog beach, so don’t forget your K-9 friends!”


Surf instructor February 13, 2016 at 11:39 am

I’m the surf instructor you said was coaching my student into a wave in front of another surfer causing him to wipeout.

If you look at the picture with both your eyes open you can see the beginning surfer not being coached is on a foam board with rails dug so deep in the water it was obvious he was going down from his own skill level.

Again if you look at the picture with your eyes it may appear i was setup to push him into a wave but really I was holding on to the kid waiting in case the unskilled surfer found a line down the wave. I was not pushing him into a wave. That’s a very normal way to teach people. If you posted more photos of people teaching that would be pretty obvious.

And what are you talking about surf schools are here for the kids?? They are setup for tourist who have always wanted to try to surf. Majority of my students were from eueope. Its more about making money for everyone invlovled then for the kids. City permits aren’t cheap and neither are these lessons. A few surf camps we do are for the kids whose parents have money but its not even really about teaching surfing its about babysitting. These are the truths you should be writing about not making someone who works hard and does a good job look bad.


mr.rick February 13, 2016 at 9:11 pm

I seem to remember, before the pier was there, the best place to learn to surf was North Ocean Beach. As a 9 yr. old just lugging a 9’4″ log from Brighton and Abbott to North OB was a surf lesson. There needs to be one overseer for each person in the water. Able to save and do CPR if necessary. Otherwise no insurance. Or is that an issue?


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