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SURF TEACHING: PANDEMIC REINFORCES REGULATORY URGENT

The Covid-19 pandemic, the biggest public health crisis of our generation, is already starting to cause absolutely devastating repercussions in a large part of the economic sectors and in society as a whole. It is already absolutely clear that, after the deep public health crisis, a deep economic crisis will follow. Interestingly, surfing and other forms of gliding have had, over the past few months, a general increase in the number of practitioners, which has not been seen for a long time. This growing demand was essentially driven by saturation caused by long periods of confinement, generating a global desire to carry out outdoor activities.


On our beaches, this increase in surfers is very visible and has contributed to aggravate the already complex problem of the overload of natural resources, which are the waves. The deficient planning of beaches and the precarious regulation of surf teaching operators are a reality in Portugal and, since the existence of the Portuguese Surf School Association (AESDP), we have been warning about the unsustainability of this situation. As more practitioners introduce themselves to these modalities, the greater is the community's awareness of the harmful consequences of this deregulation, which jeopardizes safety and enhances conflict between users.

We are about to enter a year that will be particularly challenging for our activity. If the uncertainty regarding the future was not already more than installed, as a result of the consequences of the pandemic, the year 2021 will still be marked by radical changes in terms of beach management, a competence that will be transferred from the 20 Captaincies to the 50 coastal Municipalities of Continental Portugal.


Taking into account the high levels of misinformation that have been witnessed, as a result of this widespread uncertainty, AESDP comes to share its reflection on what we can expect for the future of our activity and how everyone can contribute to the solution.

The current state of the sector

The surf education sector has been in constant growth over its three decades of existence. Both in terms of sports training, as well as in leisure and tourism, the services provided by these operators have been increasingly sought after, as a result of the operators who developed the sector, as well as the various public and private entities that have focused on promoting the image of Portugal as a top surfing destination.

A good demonstration of this increase are the more than 900 registrations in Turismo de Portugal, of Tourist Animation Agents claiming to offer surfing activities. We know, however, that not all these agents effectively develop this activity, or do not do it with a regularity that fits them as surf teaching operators. At the same time, in 2020, 312 Surf Schools were registered in the Portuguese Surfing Federation. The data provided by the Captaincies and Municipalities, responsible for licensing these operators to operate in the territories under their jurisdiction, point to more than 370 licensed operators.

Regarding the technicians qualified to conduct the sessions (aka surf lessons), Coaches certified by the Portuguese Institute of Sport and Youth (IPDJ), in August 2020 there were a total of 1,244 Coaches with the respective valid licenses, according to the following distribution: 1,154 Grade I Surfing Coaches, 80 Grade II Surfing Coaches, 6 Grade II Bodyboarding Coaches and 4 Grade III Surfing Coaches.

What we know

The main certainty, at this moment, is that from next year, all coastal Municipalities will assume the competences of managing beaches, a domain in which the licensing of surf teaching operators is inserted. Decree-Law No. 97/2018, of 27 November, which implements this transfer of competences, allowed municipalities to choose not to assume this obligation in the years 2019 and 2020. From 2021 onwards, municipalities will no longer have this possibility. In 2020, 24 of the 50 coastal municipalities took over this competence. However, the vast majority of these 24 municipalities ended up not proceeding with the licensing of operators, which in these cases ended up remaining under the responsibility of the respective Captaincies.

Until now, in the absence of national legislation defining the mandatory licensing requirements and operating rules for these operators, it was up to each Captaincy to define its own licensing rules at a local level. Since the legislation remains non-existent, we can expect 50 new sets of rules, requirements and licensing criteria, defined individually by each Municipality. As if that were not enough, it is important to emphasize that only the competences on the beaches defined in Portaria as “bathing waters” will be transferred to the local authorities, with the rest remaining under the responsibility of the Captaincies. In other words, the Portuguese coast will become an authentic patchwork, in which local management and operating and licensing rules will be defined by 70 local bodies (50 Municipalities + 20 Captaincies), not counting the other bodies of national level, port authorities, among others. Expected result: a bureaucratic, administrative and legal nightmare for operators and licensing bodies and widespread chaos across the coast, where no one will understand what is and is not allowed, such will be the multitude of regulations from beach to beach.


However, despite the darkness of the current scenario, a light has recently appeared at the end of the tunnel. An Inter-Ministerial Working Group for the Monitoring of Tourism Animation was recently created, which brings together all the public and governmental bodies that have competence in this matter. Within this group, in response to our appeals, the regulation of surf operators has already been defined as one of the priority areas, and a specific subgroup has even been created to deal with this issue. We believe that the solution for the national regulation of our activity will come through this working group, and we will do everything to continue to bring the voice of operators to the highest levels, accompanying the work and making us represent in this group.

In terms of training for Coaches, it should be added that this has been stagnant again since the beginning of this year. In March, all Coaches courses were suspended by the IPDJ, in order to change the Training References, under the responsibility of the institute itself and the respective federations. We know that, at this moment, 90% of the federations have already submitted to the IPDJ their proposals to change the references, among which the Portuguese Surfing Federation is not included.

What remains to be known

Firstly, it remains to be seen what will be the operating rules, requirements and licensing criteria applied by each of the municipalities. As long as national legislation is not a reality, it is important to achieve the greatest possible uniformity, so that the discrepancy along the coast is as small as possible.


Secondly, it is important to understand how the distinction will be made between agents that have a focus on leisure and tourism, and those who intend to provide sports monitoring with a view to technical development and competition. It is expected that the municipalities will change what has been the practice of most Captaincies, to require the registration of operators simultaneously with the FPS and Turismo de Portugal.


Finally, it is also necessary to understand when the training and recognition of skills of Coaches will start, which are dependent on the delivery of the references by the FPS and for which there is still no scheduled date.

The way to go

There are many challenges that surfing in Portugal is facing at the moment and they are not exclusive to educational operators, but to the entire national surfing community. The deregulation and disorder that has been felt on our beaches affect all those who visit them, especially surfers and operators throughout the year, as well as bathers and other users, mainly during the bathing season.


One of the main challenges ahead is to combat the spread of illegal surf teaching operators, which operate without a license and in an uncharacterized manner. Therefore, it is important to know the local operating and licensing rules, as well as the duly licensed operators for each beach. Municipalities should make an effort to disclose transparently all agents authorized to operate, making this listing public and visible. In addition, we must all work together to have greater and more effective communication between legal and licensed agents, surfers and licensing and supervisory entities, so that we are not constantly monitoring compliance, but those who act. unfairly and illegally. It is also crucial to create mechanisms that allow a clear differentiation between agents who act in a serious and professional manner, with quality, from those who do not, allowing the market itself to be more easily selected - which led to the creation of the Quality Certificate of AESDP Surf Schools, which will be released very soon.

On the other hand, the clarification of the legal regime and the standardization of licensing rules throughout the territory is also urgent. To this end, we will continue to support Captaincies and Municipalities in this definition, so that the licensing processes are legal, fair and transparent. In addition, we will monitor the Interministerial Working Group that is discussing this theme, so that the specificities of surfing are taken into account when making decisions, preserving the principles and surfer culture as much as possible.


Finally, it is urgent to resume the training of Coaches, who are not yet sufficient at national level to meet the needs of all operators, especially during the summer months. So that the beaches function better, with greater guarantees of safety throughout the year, it is essential that all technicians involved have quality training, with a view to increasing the professionalization of our activity.

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