I'll Think of Something in the Sea: Interview with Joel Bishop

Joel Bishop is the founder of Westcountry Surf School based in Watergate Bay near Newquay in Cornwall.

Cornwall born and bred, a qualified RNLI Lifeguard and a seasoned world traveller, Joel’s enthusiasm for surfing naturally led to him teaching others and founding his own surf school on home ground in Watergate Bay, Newquay, in 2015.

Seafox caught up with Joel at his cliff top shipping-container-come-Surf-School to discuss surfing in the UK, the ocean and sharing his passion for waves through teaching and inspiring others.

 How long have you been surfing for?

Since I was 10 and I’ve been coaching for 11 years.

Why teach? What’s your favourite part of your job?

Teaching came naturally to me after lifeguarding for several summers on some of the busiest beaches in Cornwall.

My favourite part? Probably watching people grow as surfers. It’s something special to watch someone progress from their first time standing to being competent, decent surfers in their own right. It’s also a great way to meet new friends and some interesting characters, you never know what opportunity is coming next! Above all it’s a privilege to watch someone pick up a hobby and lifestyle, especially one that I love so much too.

A surf instructor’s life seems pretty idyllic, but what are some of the more challenging aspects of the job?

The chafe is pretty bad (laughs).

Nah in all serious it is a good life, but it is more competitive than you might imagine. Where there are waves there will be competition so as a surf instructor, you need the passion to stand out and keep trying. That being said, this is my office view (he gestures towards the view from atop Watergate Bay) and I’m still grateful to be doing what I love every day.

What’s the most common mistake you see in the water?

It’s not really a mistake but a lot of students think too much when they first start out. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to be up and out back as soon as possible but surfing doesn’t work like that. You have to relax, let go and go with wherever the experience takes you that day. It should be fun as well as challenging!

What do you think the future of UK surfing looks like?

It’s strong! I’d say the future is pretty bright and the sport is definitely growing, especially in British waters. There are some good surfers coming up and there is a lot more exposure for them.

What does the sea mean to you personally?

I’ve grown up next to it and it’s always been there for me. I can’t remember a time where the sea wasn’t a constant part of my life and I know now that I couldn’t be without it. I don’t think I’d do too well in land and land locked!

The sea is a part of my life. It is the place I go to and can guarantee I’ll be in a better mood after.
— Joel Bishop

In your opinion, what’s the biggest thing people can do to help protect the sea every day?

In Cornwall, I think the water quality and pollution awareness is getting better. The locals are passionate about beaches cleans and there are quite a few business initiatives to raise awareness in town. Over the past five years I’ve noticed a big improvement in the public’s awareness of litter and marine protection and have seen a positive impact on the quality of the water I get into everyday.

I guess the biggest thing people can do daily is just stay aware of the impact of their actions on our oceans. No matter how close they are to the coast itself. 

Find out more about Westcountry Surf School and book a lesson with Joel here

Nomadic writer and designer