Joss Bay Surf School is still looking swell as it turns 21

Water sport fans are in for a rad summer as Joss Bay Surf School rides a wave of celebration towards its 21st anniversary.

Created in 1998 by owner Dave Melmoth, the school was born out of a former water sports equipment hire shop on the beach before it was given a new lease of life.

“I was the lifeguard manager for the foreshore area, running all the beaches and lifeguard training,” says Melmoth. “We were surfing a lot at the time, and there wasn’t anyone doing that sort of thing in the area, so people asked me and did a few ad hoc lessons for friends and then all of a sudden it started to pick up and I realised there was an opportunity to create something a little bit more structured.”

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Part of an alternative sports crew that included the now owner of Revolution Skate Park in Broadstairs, Melmoth grew up on the beaches of Viking Bay learning to surf and becoming a fully qualified lifeguard, working with the local councils and the RNLI.

It’s where the English Channel meets the North Sea, so all our swell comes from the North, and it’s the most recognised break in the south east
— Dave Melmoth

“There just wasn’t a school as such, or tutoring or anything like that, recalls Melmoth. “I liked the idea of a seasonal summer beach business so I decided to take it and see what we could do with it.”

Now, 21 years on, Melmoth, who is also co-founder of the action sports and music festival Wheels & Fins, offers wannabe surfers progressive tutoring from beginner onwards including use of wetsuits, gloves and boots (depending on the time of year) as well as boards and paddles for those looking to try out the booming craze of the last few years - stand-up paddle boarding (SUP).

“The majority of it is still surfing lessons, but SUP is still on the ascendency,” says Melmoth. “Because of where we are located, our swell is quite fickle; all our surf comes from the north so it can be hit and miss in summer. SUP allows us, on the flatter days, to offer an alternative that is a lot more accessible to most people because it is a bit easier.”

Joss Bay actually offers the main surf hub for the whole of South East England because of the geographical location of the beach.

“It’s where the English Channel meets the North Sea, so all our swell comes from the North, and it’s the most recognised break in the south east,” explains Melmoth.

“Spring and autumn has consistent large swells and summer is a bit more fickle. But we’ve run a few comps here in the past and the surf can get to a decent size.”

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Two hour lessons in the morning or afternoon run from initial beginner lessons, with an introduction to the equipment, why you are wearing a wetsuit, what the surfboard is and the safety elements on flags, rips and tides.

“This goes through to control of the equipment, entering the water, being able to lay on the board, paddle and steer the board, the motion of catching a wave and ultimately popping up,” says Melmoth.

“Then it’s on to balance and tweaking their stance, wave choice and timing, and eventually turns, as you progress on.”

New facilities with changing rooms, lockers and fresh water showers is garnering attention not only from the local schools and youngsters but further afield, too.

“Its a real mix, we used to do lots of lessons for schools locally, but we also get a lot of people from London and the city because we are really accessible now on the high speed train, you can be here in 75 minutes. And next week, we have 45 kids coming over from Holland to learn.”

As the Surfers Against Sewage Rep for the area, Melmoth orgaises beach cleans and tries to raise awareness in the local community of keeping the bays clear.

“It’s everyone's responsibility for keeping the beaches clean and monitoring our impact on the environment,” he says. “The Surf School is a hub for water sports fans and environmentalists and we have been able to get everyone behind doing our bit for the environment.”

Joss Bay Surf School is open until the end of October.

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