Road to Recovery: Meet ISA Course Presenter Tim Jones

March 9th, 2021

With 54 years of surfing experience and nearly four decades spent surf coaching, ISA Course Presenter Tim Jones has accrued a wealth of surf knowledge that is rivaled by few others on this planet.

Tim has dedicated his life to the sport and the service of spreading his surf love and mastery across the globe.

Having established ISA recognized surf schools in both Sri Lanka and the Canary Islands, Tim has mentored scores of instructors to pass on the proper development and coaching principles to ensure a bright future for the sport. He even launched a YouTube channel so any surfer around the world can access his instruction (you may have seen his videos shared on ISA’s social media).

However, in 2019 life threw a wrench into Tim’s plans when he was diagnosed with cancer. He was rushed into treatment and had to take a break from surfing as a whole.

Now having been through countless operations and chemotherapy, Tim is on the mend looking to land back on his feet. And perhaps the greatest tool for recovery is the one that has been with him throughout all these years: surfing. Tim is utilizing all the techniques and tips that he has spent decades giving to others, but now for himself, adapting and learning to surf and heal in his new reality.

Meet the surfer, father, traveler, and ISA Course Presenter, Tim Jones.

ISA: What drew you to teaching surfing? When did you start?

I had always had really good coaching in sports in Wales when I was young; particularly athletics and rugby. It made sense to apply the same kind of systematic approach to coaching surfing that I had been given in other sports. I wanted to see where it went as in the early 80’s surf coaching didn’t really exist in Europe.

I started coaching in 1982 when I met some really talented skaters in a skate park in North Devon, coached them, formed a club, and the next year I opened a surf school. It was the first of its kind in the UK, so this year I have been coaching surfing 39 years. I’m 64 this year so it’s also 54 years of stand up surfing and before that just riding waves on little wooden “belly boards.”

ISA: What is the most rewarding part of being a surf coach? And the most challenging?

The most rewarding part is understanding that you’re setting somebody’s future goals that are attainable for them. No matter if that surfer is a top competitor or a total beginner or another prospective surfing coach. To do that you have to have a wide range of skill sets, and be adaptive to people’s needs.

The most challenging aspect is that surfing has yet to develop to the point where people really want good coaching through their surfing lives. We are often still seeing surf coaching as a “gap year” activity where we just teach beginners and not a sport that offers long term careers in the field of coaching at all levels.

Tim displaying proper lifesaving techniques to students in Sri Lanka during an ISA/ILS Water Safety Course.

ISA: How did you get involved with the ISA?

I was the National Coach in Wales through part of the 90’s and I was always working hard with the British Surfing Association (BSA) on their delivery of courses. As the BSA went into demise I could see that ISA Instructors courses, which were quite new at that time, offered a viable alternative. It was sad to see the end of the BSA Instructor courses system, as it was excellent, but I’ve been more than happy to put input into the ISA in regards to instructor coaching.

ISA: What value has the ISA course offering brought to you and your students?

There is a huge value in delivering the courses in respect to furthering my own coaching skills and the networking it offers people like me. However, for the instructors the benefits in regards to employment and being able to also travel with an internationally recognized qualification in surf coaching are amazing. Having developed a good amount of third world surf coaching courses you can see that just to have a respected qualification in coaching surfing means so much to people. Often it can be the only recognized qualification they have ever had and that’s really something they can be proud of.

When Tim’s not teaching, he gets a few waves for himself too. Pictured is Tim surfing in the Maldives.

ISA: What is your core philosophy around coaching?

I don’t know if I have one really. I know I have 6 basic coaching principles I stick to, but I don’t have a general philosophy in coaching. Perhaps that’s due to coaching for so long and seeing the goal post move so often that I would be afraid to have just one core philosophy

ISA: How did you get involved in the surfing communities of Lanzarote and Sri Lanka?

I can’t say that from a coaching standpoint that in Lanzarote I have been involved in a lot coaching development here in the surfing community. I would have liked to have been but over the years the politics of the situation in the Canaries has made that impossible. But as the first real surf school to set up here it did show others that it was a viable occupation and as a surfer that moved here 25 years ago I’ve always had a lot of warmth and acceptance.

However, Sri Lanka is a different story where I could see the need for a national surfing governing body and got the chance to enthuse Sri Lankan surfers to form the Surfing Federation of Sri Lanka. I started that work in 2016 and over the following years it’s been great to see it develop. We have run many instructors courses, clubs are formed, national championships held, and even teams sent abroad for competitions, but we still have a long way to go in coaching development for sure.

Tim presenting an ISA Course in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka.

ISA: Tell us your story of being diagnosed with cancer. How is your recovery going?

I was diagnosed with Stage 3C Rectal cancer in July 2019 but had had the tumor maybe 7 or 8 years. It had metastasized (it had spread to my lymph nodes) and it was all a huge rush to get treatment in time. But I got there and I’m in the early stages of recovery. Many months of hospitals, operations, chemotherapy and pain, the usual story, but I really think I’m making progress now and adapting to my new post surgery life. It’s funny to look at how skinny I am in the videos that have been posted by the ISA of me coaching in Sri Lanka. I had no idea why I was losing so much weight.

Surfing has been a huge factor in driving on my recovery. I’m so grateful to be a surfer as it’s pushed me to work on every way I can mentally and physically challenge myself to get back in the water. My first kind of surf was just a month after stopping chemo, which is really weird and so hard to do, but I just couldn’t see an alternative. I jumped up on a soft board in waist depth water. Covid blasted my business too so I was coaching really early into my recovery just to keep things going. A week or so ago I got my first tube for years and that was such a special moment.

ISA: Has the experience given you a new perspective on life? On surfing?

Well flying down the line with nappies on is going to give anyone a new perspective on surfing, if not life. I am re-coaching myself to surf and using all the techniques and advice I give those I coach, but for myself. That’s a totally illuminating experience for sure and gives me a great insight what learning means for others too. The body is amazing, but for me it’s the spirit that drives all on and the will to live life to its fullest. Surfing as a goal is just an amazing thing to have. I’m too early in all this to say what perspective it’s given me on life as this can be a very day by day existence, but for sure I’m grateful for each day and more so as I get better.

ISA: If you could give a beginning surfer one crucial tip, what would it be?

That would often depend on their age, but one thing we know is that this is a long journey and we are lucky as surfers as we can take part in this wonderful sport for many years. So my advice would be to respect others, yourself, and know that good technique and ocean knowledge are keys and they both take time to acquire. But all that time will be a lot of fun so just enjoy.

Tim presents the trophies at the first Sri Lankan National Championships in 2018.

ISA: What has been your greatest achievement as a surf coach?

I really don’t have one and in 39 years of coaching all levels of surfer that not surprising really.  It’s been much fun working with competition surfers, developing a solid intermediate coaching system as we have in Lanzarote and particularly Sri Lanka. I’m still nailing down the best beginner surfing and that’s so much fun. Developing Special Needs courses in the UK in the 90’s was rewarding. It’s been great to see my sons Jamie and Dan coaching surfing of course and both surfing so well. Perhaps it’s having the people I’ve coached  become lifelong friends that’s one of the most special things, if we can call that an achievement.

ISA: What are your goals moving forward?

Well we have been doing a lot on visualization and breath training, which is exciting, but cancer and Covid put the brakes on a few plans of course. We are also focusing on improving our YouTube channel as well. I really want to focus on surf/skate training and how it can work for all levels of surfer. There is just so much to do.

Very importantly is to get our 2 schools back and running and to start work again with the competition surfers I coach and, of course, to get back to running “live” ISA instructor courses. I think really the main thing is to keep getting well and to truly appreciate what surfing has given me and to keep giving back to others. Oh … and get back on my 5’11” and surf even better in my 64th year!

Tim is just as capable riding the concrete walls as the ocean waves.

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