Last week saw some good news for surf fans who have been missing the beach during lockdown. A Sports Ireland expert group released a statement through Irish Surfing, the island-wide national governing body of surfing, saying surf schools can reopen as long as they adhere to the now ubiquitous new Covid 19 safety rules. For surf schools these include:
- Online bookings and payments
- Small group sizes (maximum eight people from June 8)
- Travel restrictions (customers must travel no more 20 kms from June 8)
- Two metre social distancing for groups on land and in the water
- Hand and equipment sanitation must be observed
Surf schools are required to submit detailed Covid 19 safety plans to be approved by Irish Surfing before they are allowed to reopen. Despite the restrictions, this is still good news for the thousands of surf fans in towns and villages who live close to a surf school. Surfing is proven to improve mental health and boost well being. After a grueling two month lockdown, more people than ever are hoping to relieve some stress and boredom by returning to the waves.
During the Celtic Tiger, surfing became one of the fastest growing sports in the country with surf schools opening up around the Irish coast. When the Wild Atlantic Way was launched in 2014, the route was advertised as the ultimate surfing road trip. Surf schools bounced back quickly from the recession and returned to record levels of business in recent years.
Surf schools are now an important part of the prime offering of most of the most popular Irish seaside resorts. Surfing hotspots like Bundoran, Strandhill, Lahinch and Tramore are meccas not just for Irish surfers but for surfers from around the world. Surfing is not a niche sport in Ireland any longer. Surfing is now a mainstream recreational activity, which should come as no surprise to an Atlantic island nation that is now world famous as a cold water surfing paradise.
In 2019, the Irish surf schools were on the crest of a wave but in March 2020 all this came to an end with a surprise wipeout. While the international market has understandably dried up for the summer, many coastal towns’ surf offerings will be a major draw for staycationers.
Surfers are a tight knit bunch and a working group of surf school managers has recently come together to assist each other and share knowledge and expertise to effectively deliver surfing services in the safest manner possible across the country. Jack Tim Murphy from an Irish Surf School Covid Safety Working Group says, “We are delighted to be able to open again with safety, as usual, the number one priority.”
“However, some surf schools will not open until travel restrictions are relaxed again in July. The majority of surf school owners cannot access the wage subsidy scheme for their employees. For many, this is going to delay reopening for some meaning their 2020 season will only be 4 or 5 weeks long. Seasonal businesses depend on their summer income to survive for the rest of the year”
The working group is working closely with Sport Ireland, Irish Surfing and the Irish Association for Adventure Tourism to plan for the survival and recovery of the surf school industry.
Brendan Kenny, CEO at Ireland’s Association of Adventure Tourism (IAAT) commented:
“We’re delighted to see that surf schools are re-opening and we believe that the activities sector can lead the recovery of the Irish tourism industry. Now more than ever, our country needs the physical and mental health benefits that activities deliver, so we’d encourage everyone to consider what experiences are available to them within the current public health guidelines.”
“There are however considerable obstacles for our sector including seasonal staff not benefiting from the wage subsidy scheme. We would urge the Government to deliver clarity on this issue which threatens businesses in our sector – none moreso than the surf schools.”
Another major issue for surf school’s centres on VAT. For tax purposes, Irish revenue views surf lessons as a sports activity and surf school earnings are subject to a 23% VAT rate. However, surf schools are more accurately categorised as tourism businesses and are pushing for a lower VAT rate to make their industry more viable and help the industry survive Covid. For examples, surf schools in the Netherlands are subject to a 9% VAT rate rather than 23%.
Surfing in Ireland is an important indigenous tourism business. The Irish surf school working group is asking for their service to be viewed for what it is, a tourism business, and are calling on hte Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross to review the VAT rate applied to surf schools.
According to the Irish Surfing development officer, Zoe Lally, after last weekend the situation is that some surf schools cannot reopen.
“The surge of people to beaches at the weekend has resulted in the beaches and car parks being closed and some local authorities are reluctant to authorise surf schools to reopen.”
“I would reiterate the importance of schools operating responsibly. Guidance from local authorities must be adhered to. It is particularly important that people are not enticed to travel past the 20 kilometre distance to surf and that surfing is not responsible for generating a surge in activity and crowds.”
The Irish Surf Schools Covid Safety Working Group