Meeting George, Surfing in Cornwall

Henry Druce
7th July 2021

So how do you think I got to know George from George’s Surf School in Cornwall?

He’s seriously into skiing, instructs, raced at club level as a child, helped mentor six-time British champion telemark skier Jasmin Taylor when she was starting out. I’ve worked as a journalist writing about skiing for the previous 20 years and inevitably we know many of the same people in the ski industry. He’s even married to a Druce – my surname. It’s a very uncommon name though I’m not knowingly related to his wife Beth.  But amazingly our paths have never crossed and our introduction had nothing to do with skiing, but all about funky coloured shirts.

We caught each other’s respective eyes online because I launched Funky Shirt Friday for a bit of morale boosting fun; he’s involved in the similar, yet infinitely more worthy, Fluro Friday (One Wave), as a way of highlighting mental health issues. Both involve wearing funky coloured shirts on one day of the week. I visited my cousins in Cornwall on a last-minute whim a couple of weeks ago and realised soon after arriving that the nearest beach to them is Polzeath, where George’s Surf School is based.

On the first day of my visit I woke up at 4.30am and decided to check out the beach I’d seen so many times on George’s Surf School Instagram feed. I arrived about 45 minutes later to a largely empty beach with five or six early-bird surfers catching waves bathed in the dawn light.  It was every bit as picturesque in the real as the virtual world.  I walked up and down the beach, took some photos and messaged George saying “I’m here.” In hindsight, it could be considered a bit creepy.  He had no idea I was coming to visit but responded swiftly suggesting we meet for coffee in about an hour’s time before he started teaching.

Over coffee he invited me and my family to have an afternoon surfing lesson. “It’s not really my thing,” I say, baked on one half-arsed lesson from 30 years ago. The man who’s raison d’etre is surfing, who’s spent the last 15 years doggedly building up his business looks at me quizzically. After a long, long pause he says, “Just give it a go. You won’t be disappointed.”  Later that day, after an excellent coastal walk from Polzeath my wife Vere and Drucelets Zoe and Holly rock up at the now very busy beach – it is half-term after all.

George coaches us for the next couple of hours. With a reassuringly confident yet accessible style he takes us through the basics of board handling and wave catching. Remarkably by the end of the two-hour session we have all managed to stand on our boards and catch three or four waves. I’ve already decided surfing is very much my thing.  Later on I quiz George to find out more about him and his school.

George is fortunate to come from a family of dedicated skiers, started skiing when very young and spent many school holidays in Austria and France. He says, “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t ski.”  He developed quickly as a skier progressing to race at regional level. He says, “I loved the adrenaline rush of downhill racing and the technical challenge of Giant Slalom.”   He kept his link with the mountains attending university in Savoie (and Newcastle) before getting injured and starting a regular, city job in London.

The experience had an unfortunate consequence for his employers. ”It taught me how much I loved the mountains. I feel different in the mountains – I become  the best version of myself. I’m not naturally academic, as a dyslexic I struggled at school. At work it felt a bit like being back at school again – surrounded by people who were better suited to an office environment.”

At this stage George had fallen in love with surfing, completed a lifeguarding course and trained as an instructor. “I spent enough time surfing to be OK at it and I really enjoyed not having to compete to define the experience. I knew there was an opportunity to get the same feeling surfing in the sea as I felt skiing in the mountains.”   For George that meant seeking out the best coaching he could find to really improve his surfing skills.

He quickly realised there was a big difference between the coaching in surfing and other sports. It was very informal. George thought, “If I can introduce the more structured way skiing is taught to surfing then I could be in a unique position”. There is still no national framework for surf coaching and development.

With this approach in mind, he set up George’s Surf School 15 years ago. “I wanted to put myself under pressure to learn more and stay ahead. Teaching beginners and starting to get a feel for common errors would help me evolve how I was coaching. I love the experience of watching people ride their first waves.”

When George first started he would work on different beaches, just him and three surfboards. He says, “I hit a year when I was doing three or four sessions a day most days. I was absolutely flogging myself but learning so much and loving it.”  George knew he had to start employing other coaches to transform the one-man band into a growing school. After a couple of years he became confident enough to feel he could train others in the methods and structure he’d developed.

George says, “When I first started I wanted to differentiate myself from traditional surfing schools.” He only ran three-day courses a few private lessons and only coached adults. “Everyone else was teaching kids and so surfing just looked like a big activity for children and mainly geared towards people who were on holiday. I wanted to challenge this and build something centred around how I like to learn and be looked after. How I taught skiing was the perfect template.  I wanted people to come and get coached surfing in the way they are coached skiing, or playing tennis or golf. It’s a much more systematic approach. I wanted to develop an ongoing development relationship with students and coach locals as well as holidaymakers.”

Clearly he has a natural gift for coaching. When telemarker Jasmin Taylor was in the early stages of her career he was asked to help mentor her. He says, “The idea was to have someone to talk to who wasn’t her technical coach but understood performance and the complexity of competing and could allow her to focus on racing and winning. “As she naturally found her feet within the structure she now has around her, I stepped back.”  They are still in regular contact though.

Fast forward 15 years and George has clearly got much right, employing 10 instructors. His school is open year round with the main season between Easter and end of October. Success in itself but George is on a broader mission.

He founded his school at the same time as the local Methodist Church at Polzeath was evolving into a charity called ‘The Tubestation’ a community hub for surfers and creatives spearheaded by another skier Kris Lannen and his friend Henry Cavendar. Tubestation is home to a cafe, skate ramp and a cool, relaxed lounge area. George says, “Kris had a very clear vision around surfing, music and art. He believes in the power of creativity and its ability to help shape spaces within communities that are open, welcoming and inspiring, that really resonated with me.

“The concept for Kris and Henry is that church is every day, not just two hours on a Sunday. We look after the surfing side of things.” Originally that involved surfing lessons for Sunday school.

Shared values and culture has inspired George to work on developing community projects where there were things he felt needed addressing. He noticed there weren’t many women surfing in Polzeath and were unrepresented more generally in the water in Cornwall – there was a huge gender gap. In 2013 he launched Polzeath Ladies Surf Club: a free roll up session on Wednesday evenings exclusively for women to try and create a safe accessible space to access coaching, learn and progress.

This evolved into five-week courses and has flourished with sessions running three days a week. “It’s also enabled us to look closely at how we mentor and develop female instructors. I always wanted a balanced coaching team that represented both expert professional coaches and role models. I worked very consciously to create a space where the best female coaches really wanted to come and work.” Our head coach is female and we want to keep pushing an environment where we have female representation based on professional respect as brilliant lifeguards, surfers and teachers.

George adds, “Having created a space where everyone is welcome I would love to see more ethnic diversity in the coaching team. We are way more aware of the inspiring impact of seeing people we can each relate to when it comes to trying new things and how it can help diversify participation in sports and other cultural activities. I’m not a trailblazer, I’m learning.”

Fluro Friday is another initiative George has embraced wholeheartedly. It stems from OneWave, a non-profit surf community originally founded in Australia,  raising awareness of mental health with what it describes on its website as a simple recipe “saltwater therapy, surfing and fluro”.

Every Saturday morning – it used to be on Fridays –  One Wave Polzeath invites anyone to come along for a surf, check in, share strategies for “fighting the funk” and encourages people to wear fluro – the louder the better.

George says, “There is a real difference between people when they head into the water and when they come out of the ocean. There’s something really special that can happen there.”

He adds, “The stats on suicide in Cornwall aren’t great. It’s good to get people in the ocean, especially if they are struggling with anxiety. The process of sport and play and being in the ocean is really positive. I think it’s important to have a day a week, reminding yourself there could be someone out there struggling. I wanted to create an environment and safe space where people could feel supported and come and fall apart if they wanted or just ride waves together for fun dressed in bright colours to spread and share a love of playing in the ocean. Coming out of lockdown we know physical activity and being in nature helps and we have the opportunity to combine the two all around us in Cornwall. If the project saves one life then that’s a triumph.”

I’ve decided I’m not just a convert to surfing, I’m converted to George’s philosophy on life.

The lowdown

Georges Surf School (, 01208 479006) is a Surfing England and ISA Centre of Excellence. It provides a range of private surf lessons from £100 for a two hour session (£20 for each additional person, up to six in total) and immersive two, three and five day residential and non-residentials courses from £250 per person.

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