Zoee Jones didn’t discover surfing until her early adulthood, but once she felt the power of riding a wave she never looked back.
Learning to surf completely transformed Zoee’s life and now she’s giving back, spreading surfing to others through her own surf school in the chilly waters of northeast England.
Zoee now trains future surf coaches as an ISA Course Presenter. She’s got a special eye for detail that she acquired while serving in her nation’s military – a skill that transfers well to pinpointing areas that her students can improve.
The ISA recently had a chat with Zoee about her life journey through surfing that got her to where she is today.
Meet Zoee Jones.
- ISA: You started surfing at 20 years of age. What about surfing hooked you in?
I was definitely a late starter in the sport in terms of my age, in fact sport wasn’t really my thing at all when I was younger. I remember my first surf as clear as day, I didn’t have a lesson, but was given a board to try whilst visiting a friend. It took the sun going down to get me out of the sea. I spent six hours in the sea that day, and in truth, it was that I didn’t want to be beaten. I stood up, not very gracefully of course, but I got to my feet, hands off and those two seconds felt like forever. Surfing didn’t come naturally to me, it was something I really had/have to work at, but not succeeding is really something that I don’t like to accept. I think surfing gives you just enough joy each time you go in to feel like you’re making some progress that it keeps you coming back for ‘one more’. We all know the feeling, right?
- ISA: In your opinion, what is particularly unique about surfing compared to other sports or pastimes?
Surfing can be anything you want it to be, competitive, recreational, complete and utter fun and then mindful. Each person will use surfing as a sport to play a particular part in their lives. We see it all the time in our profession, some use it as an escape, some it becomes their true love or whole life, others love the social aspect and others the solitude it can bring. For me I think that every day is different, no two days are the same. No two surf breaks are the same, it’s like an adventure all the time.
- ISA: You served in your country’s military. Are there parallels skills between your service and being a surf coach?
I have never really thought about it. When coaching, you have to react quickly to situations, which transfers the skill set of thinking on your feet. Although I was more of an analyst in the Army, I guess that observation skill set has passed over, and I can always spot micro errors that people are making which can hinder their progression.
The Army also gave me the confidence to stand up in front of people and talk, it was part of my training that I had to deliver briefings. Most important tip, know your subject and the rest will be easy, oh and the usual, imagine everyone naked.
- ISA: What has been your proudest moment as a surf instructor?
I started a surf club over 15 years ago for young people 8 -18 years old. It started with just five, it has now grown to over 90 young people that come every week (at different times) to surf. It is one of the most rewarding parts of the role at the surf school. Watching children’s lives change and develop is so much more than surfing. For some, it’s life changing. It certainly has a huge part to play in my life. It’s amazing to see those that started in the club are still surfing. They now surf better than me — I will happily admit — and are good friends. We watch 8-year-olds develop into adults and surfing helps develop so many life skills along the way.
- ISA: What is your core philosophy around surf coaching?
I have two:
1) Respect – this can encompass so many meanings, respect your environment, respect the other water users (human and animal alike), respect and understand each person’s goals.
2) Do it properly and with pride. Let me explain with an example: We have so many people coming to us telling us that they have had a lesson and been taught to stand up using their knees. We all know that this is a really bad habit and one that would be very difficult to get rid of. If someone is able, coach them properly, preventing bad habits from forming. Treat that first lesson anyone has with you as if they will be surfing for the rest of their lives.
- ISA: Who inspires you most in life? Personally and professionally.
Personally, it would be my mother. When I grow up, I want to be just like her. She is so resilient, and the way in which she is choosing to live now is very inspirational. She grows almost all of her vegetables, she has the greenest fingers, and makes her own wine (thankfully she has taught me this skill). Her life is what most would consider simple. The truth is I get exhausted sometimes watching her. She never stops. She sees the wonder in everything that Mother Nature produces and embraces it all. And for the ones she loves she would do anything.
Professionally, it would be my business partner Nick Noble. He has had the biggest impact in my current career, one for caving into my harassment and letting me become his business partner. But for the 30 plus years he has been part of the surf industry, always staying true to his values. He is always aware of the impacts our business may have on the environment. He has allowed us to work with the ethos that money isn’t the most important thing. Being ethical and providing quality that we are proud of comes first. Reuse, repair and recycle when it comes to our equipment. Hopefully fulfilling this makes us successful. Nick’s willingness to continue to learn and adapt is admirable, and he’s still able to swim faster than me in his 60’s for our lifeguard swim test.
- ISA: How has the ISA Coaching and Instructing Program proved valuable to you and your students?
The UK has had a number of structures in place over the many years that have provided coaching and qualifications in our field. The ISA Coaching and Instructing Program has allowed us all to sing from the same song. It has provided a proven structure used the world over and with resources available to all Course Presenters; the world of Surfing seems to be becoming more and more supported when it comes to coaching. It is an ever-evolving Programme and one that has proven adaptable in the current pandemic.
The course content can be structured to the learner, which is always beneficial. It allows for a uniform quality control for all future coaches in the United Kingdom.
- ISA: Are you noticing progress in gender equality in the sport of Surfing? How could the global surfing community as a whole encourage the participation of more women?
This is always a little bit of a stickler for me and I don’t always seem to be giving the answer that most expect. Having surfed for over 19 years, as a Surf Coach for 14 years and being appointed Course Presenter for the ISA, I have never felt that my gender has played a role in my surfing journey. I have never specifically felt intimidated because I am a women and I don’t feel that anyone has tried to make me feel less of a surfer because of my sex. My ability and confidence in my own surfing, my personality, my own strength/weaknesses and resolve to improve and get past hurdles is what defines my surfing. Yes I have had wobbles but so too has the man next to me asking ‘how the devil do I get back in’. All our classes are designed to not divide the sexes, but to get all surfers — regardless of gender — to surf together with mutual respect and knowledge. Being a man or a women doesn’t make you a better surfer, time in the water does!
Obviously equal prize money was an important thing last year in the WSL, but I am not sure this would be the 5-year old girl or boy’s inspiration to start surfing. For me stop making an issue of gender and just surf is the answer. If you’re not confident to surf a certain place, it’s never because of your gender, it’s because you a) aren’t ready or b) are ready but need to overcome a boundary in your confidence.
Getting into the sport, if we were to add it all up more women/girls come for lessons than men at our school. We have such a large number of women that surf at our local beach, that on occasion the men can be outnumbered.
- ISA: What are the most common errors that you see from beginner surfers at Saltburn Surf School? How do you correct them?
Use of knees on pop-up — this is corrected by using a step through process which ultimately turns into a pop up. It allows people to use more of their natural lower body strength than the explosive power of upper body that is later developed through surfing.
Looking down at their board – to rectify this you will usually find me in the shallows, screaming ‘look at me, look up, look at me!’ this also allows them to understand that where they look is where they will ultimately go.
Paddling frantically – usually people are so desperate to catch that wave, that they paddle like a bull in a china shop. Wobbling the board, splashing but not actually moving forward for all their efforts. This is easy to point out, by pulling them into a wave with my little arm, how easy it can be to catch a wave with the right timing. Demonstrating it’s all about strong paddles as opposed frantically fast, this will make the start of the wave a lot smoother.
- ISA: What is something unique about you that few people know?
I have Misophonia, certain noises drive me crazy. I can be over-sensitive to the noise of chewing, licking, lip smacking etc… Luckily I don’t work in a restaurant.
- ISA: Travel tips to anyone looking to go surfing in the frigid waters of the UK’s North Sea coast?
Good quality equipment. I have a handmade SNUGG wetsuit, that lets me stay in for hours. But if you are worried about the cold, have a look into the WIM HOF method, it will get you looking at the cold in a completely different light, you might even start to embrace it like I do.
The International Surfing Association (ISA), founded in 1964, is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the World Governing Authority for Surfing. The ISA governs and defines Surfing as Shortboard, Longboard & Bodyboarding, StandUp Paddle (SUP) Racing and Surfing, Para Surfing, Bodysurfing, Wakesurfing, and all other wave riding activities on any type of waves, and on flat water using wave riding equipment. The ISA crowned its first Men’s and Women’s World Champions in 1964. It crowned the first Big Wave World Champion in 1965; World Junior Champion in 1980; World Kneeboard Champions in 1982; World Longboard Surfing and World Bodyboard Champions in 1988; World Tandem Surfing Champions in 2006; World Masters Champions in 2007; World StandUp Paddle (SUP, both surfing and racing) and Paddleboard Champions in 2012; and World Para Surfing Champions in 2015.
ISA membership includes the surfing National Federations of 108 countries on five continents. The ISA is presided over by Fernando Aguerre (ARG). The Executive Committee includes four Vice-Presidents Karín Sierralta (PER), Kirsty Coventry (ZIM), Casper Steinfath (DEN) and Barbara Kendall (NZL), Athletes’ Commission Chair Justine Dupont (FRA), Regular Members Atsushi Sakai (JPN) and Jean Luc Arassus (FRA) and ISA Executive Director Robert Fasulo as Ex-officio Member.
Its headquarters are located in La Jolla, California (USA).