Surfing involves riding a surfboard, bodyboard, stand-up-paddle board (SUP) or paddling a surf paddle craft at beaches with direct ocean access. The term Surfing will be used throughout this section to include all these types of surf activities.

These guidelines apply to the learning of surfing and surf training.  For bodysurfing, see the guidelines for Recreational swimming.

These guidelines do not cover the use of kayak style craft in enclosed and coastal waterways such as sit-on-top kayaks and sea kayaks. These are covered in the Sea Kayak guidelines.

If an overnight component is planned, please also refer to Camping guidelines.


Aquatic excursion supervision and qualifications in these guidelines are built around the following location definitions:

Swimming pools - includes all swimming pools: public, private, school, body corporate, hotel and natural swimming pools if clearly defined and designated as a swimming pool. Swimming pool water should be shallow and clear with participants visible under the water.

Inland waterways - inland waterways can be dams, lakes, reservoirs and very slow flowing rivers with no swift water features. Inland waterways may vary widely in depth, water visibility, turbidity, temperatures and hazards.

Swiftwater - flowing river water which may be categorised according to the international river classification system. This covers water commonly known as moving water or white water but also refers to flowing water which may not look either swift or white to an observer.

Enclosed waterways - these are any waterway declared port waters by Maritime Safety Victoria and include areas such as bays, non-surf beaches, channels, inlets and estuaries. See the Victorian Recreational Boating Safety Handbook for all listed port waters.

Coastal Inshore waterways - include all beaches with direct access to ocean waters, any beach exposed to ocean swell, and any beach that is exposed to currents, rips, strong winds or surf. This may include enclosed waterways at times with these features.

Coastal offshore - all waters greater than two nautical miles from the coast.

Surf Zone - the Surf Zone is the area where ocean swells breaks upon the shore or upon shoals. Foamy, aerated water is caused by the breaking of the waves and helps provide a visual of the surf zone and its features.

Surfing - to float on the face of a breaking wave on a board or craft that slides across the top of the water.

Body Board - a short, light surfboard used for surfing in a more prone or kneeling position.

Stand Up Paddle boarding (SUP) - Stand-Up-Paddle boarding is an offshoot of surfing. The surfer uses a paddle to propel themselves forward. SUPs can be used in the surf or on flat water as they have a paddle to aid propulsion. SUPs are often bigger, more stable and buoyant than traditional surfboards. SUPs can also be inflatable.

Surf paddle craft - this is often a sit-on-top style paddle craft, with a shape similar to a surfboard, used for surfing. Surf paddle craft may include craft such as a ‘Wave ski’ that can combine seats, fins, foot straps and even seat belts to secure a rider on the craft. A kayak style paddle is used to propel the rider. These guidelines do not cover using kayak style craft in enclosed and coastal waterways such as sit on top kayaks and sea kayaks. These are covered under the Sea Kayak guidelines.

Leg rope - a length of cord attaching a surfer’s ankle to the tail of the surfboard. This prevents the board from being carried away from the surfer and becoming a danger to others.

Rescue tube - a flotation device with a harness and rope attached, which rescuers can use to support a swimmer or surfer in distress.

Reef - a solid object in a surf environment. Reefs can be either rock or coral.

Rip - a current that leads away from the shore in surf environments.

Sand bars - collections of sand in a body of water, laid down by shifting currents.

Wrist rope - a length of cord attaching a body-boarder’s wrist to the board. This prevents the board from being carried away from the surfer and becoming a danger to others.


Water environments

Surfing activities often occur in unique and diverse coastal marine environments.  Many of these natural venues are pristine, and require sensitive use and management.  These environments offer opportunities for personal challenge and reflection as well as the study of unique marine and other flora and fauna, however they are very susceptible to long-lasting damage from human activity.  Dune systems are particularly vulnerable when groups are accessing beaches.

A wide range of environmental factors need to be considered when planning surfing activities.  These include the location, size, depth and turbidity of the body of water; the strength of tides and currents; the presence and power of waves; and the temperature of the water.

When preparing for surfing, staff should consider ways to minimise the environmental impact of the activity.


Due to the unique nature of each location, the teacher responsible for the activity should specifically assess the suitability of the location before the excursion.

The choice of location should be based on recent and first-hand knowledge of at least one member of the planning and supervising staff.  Where this is impractical, planning and supervising staff should be thoroughly familiar with the general characteristics and conditions found in similar locations, and should have consulted with people who can provide recent and first-hand knowledge of the locations being considered.

When assessing the suitability of a location, consider:

  • the potential to support the educational objectives
  • the level of access to resources, services and facilities that may be needed, such as campsites, water, walking trails, toilets, shelter from extreme weather, or interpretive information
  • the level of access to communications and external assistance in the event of an emergency or extreme weather conditions — the more remote the location is, the more self-contained and self-reliant the group must be and this must be taken into account in the planning of the activity
  • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
  • the ability and fitness levels of students.

Contact with relevant authorities should be made in order to access current information and determine any access and permit requirements.

These authorities may include:

Staff need to be aware that severe weather conditions may develop before or during the proposed activity and should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity at any time.

Given the range of different conditions that might exist between apparently similar surfing venues, adequate knowledge of the specific beach should be obtained before school activities are conducted.  In south-eastern Australia, there can be marked differences between beaches, even beaches in close proximity to each other.  These differences include human made hazards, marine life and seaweed, water temperature, sand bars, rips, reefs, currents and tides. 

Shallow beach break venues should be chosen for beginners.

If possible, activities should be conducted at patrolled beaches.  Where beaches are not patrolled, appropriate rescue aids need to be available, with staff members trained in their use and available to respond to an emergency.  Staff should use the beach hazard rating system (see Beach Safe: Flags and Signs) to assess the level of risk of a beach for surfing.


The communication strategy should enable staff to receive weather forecasts and warnings, communicate with the school, and engage support in the case of an incident or emergency.

  • Choose communication equipment based upon current communication technology and the location of the activity.
  • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the activity which enables communication with outside parties, including the school and emergency services.
  • Be aware of the limitations of the communication strategy.

Check the weather forecast for the location in the days leading up to the activity and on the day the activity commences.  If the excursion extends overnight, access weather forecasts and warnings daily and monitor and assess the weather throughout.

Weather forecasts should be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Weather conditions can change rapidly.  Monitor and assess the weather throughout the activity and be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate at anytime.

Weather warning telephone services

  • Coastal, Land Weather and Flood Warnings on 1300 659 217
  • Full State Telephone Weather Service on 1900 955 363 (call charge applies)
  • Coastal Waters Telephone Service on 1900 969 930 (call charge applies)
  • Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667.

The above telephone numbers may be useful to have available during the excursion.

Web links


The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered and planned. See: Excursion support – transport


Student skills

Before participating in surfing activities, students must demonstrate basic swimming and water safety skills in flat water, such as:

  • competent and confident swimming
  • showing how a flotation aid may be used as a support for one minute
  • survival sculling, floating or treading water for a total of five minutes
  • waving one arm as if signalling for help
  • reassuring a distressed swimmer.

Beginners, under surfing instruction, must be taught basic water competence skills as soon as possible so that they are able to:

  • demonstrate the ability to submerge and resurface competently
  • physically handle the surfboard in the surf
  • fall off the board safely.

In addition to these skills, before entering the water, advanced students surfing at more challenging venues should be:

  • taught how to identify a rip, how water moves in a rip and how to swim if caught in one
  • able to point out any rips and other hazards (e.g. rocks) at the beach where they are to surf, indicate where the safe areas are and where they would swim to if caught in a rip
  • taught safety procedures and considerations for the particular venue, including the boundaries of the surfing area depicted by clearly seen flags or landmarks on the shore
  • taught surf signals and the need to watch carefully for signals at all times.

The psychological preparation of students is as important as the physical preparation, especially for students who are anxious about the activity.  Under no circumstances should students be pressured by staff or peers to participate beyond their readiness.

Equipment and clothing

Equipment, whether hired, borrowed or owned by the school or students, must be in a safe condition and suitable for the activity

First aid kits

First aid kits appropriate to the location must be carried.


Clothing is the individual’s primary protection against severe and variable weather conditions.

Clothing lists need to be appropriate to the activity, environment and season.

Before and after surfing, students need to dress to protect themselves from the sun (e.g. a shirt and hat), and cold and wet weather (e.g. a towel and change of clothing including a jumper, long pants and jacket) as appropriate for the season and location.

Sun protection clothing should be readily available to students when they leave the water.

Students should wear wetsuits of suitable thickness worn for warmth and buoyancy, as well as for protection from the cold, the sun and knocks to the body from the surfboard.

For groups at beaches with recognised hazards, helmets and/or wetsuit bootees may also be required.

To protect against sunburn (see sun exposure) use broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body, applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Students who own sunglasses should be encouraged to bring and wear them when required.  


Staff and students must be easily identifiable.

Staff must determine the most suitable identification system based on an assessment of the environment, students’ skills, the type of activities to be undertaken, and the age and number of students.

It is advisable that staff wear a brightly coloured rash vest or other identifiable clothing so they can be easily located.


Beginner surfers must only use soft boards.

Leg ropes must be worn.


Swim fins are recommended for surfing with bodyboards.

Wrist leashes must be worn.

Safety equipment

A rescue tube and/or a board should be readily available to staff for rescue purposes.

Staff members should carry a whistle or other device for signalling to swimmers and other staff.



Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the activity. All staff members must be approved by the principal.

All staff members must comply with current Departmental police check requirements or the Working with Children Check.

A teacher registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and either employed by the Department or the school council must be present and have overall responsibility for the activity.

Where not directly responsible for the activity or assisting the instructor, the teacher responsible for the activity must understand the activity and the environment in which it will be conducted. This teacher must confer with the designated instructor about the supervisory role and establish areas of responsibility. If the teacher is not the designated instructor, he/she is to act on the advice of the designated instructor and guides on technical safety issues.

Any staff member with a known medical condition that might compromise the group’s risk management plan should make accompanying staff aware of this condition.  Issues of confidentiality and privacy will apply to any such disclosure.

Experience and qualifications

Staff involved in the planning and conduct of the activity should have sufficient knowledge and experience of the activity and the activity environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.


The designated surfing instructor(s) must hold both a current surf lifesaving qualification and a coaching qualification/documented experience, that is a:

  • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Bronze Medallion
  • Life Saving Victoria Community Surf Lifesaving Certificate


  • Level One coaching qualification from Surfing Australia, or
  • proven equivalent documented training and experience from another training provider or educational institution

The designated assistant to the instructor must be a confident swimmer and have a:

  • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Bronze Medallion or,
  • Life Saving Victoria Community Surf Life Saving Certificate


  • have experience in the activity at the level being offered to students
  • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
  • be able to competently assist in emergency response procedures, including CPR
  • have conferred with the instructor to establish the emergency response and supervision responsibilities.

Stand-up-paddle boarding

Inland and enclosed waterways

This activity is done in flat water conditions on inland and enclosed waterways and is not suitable for coastal waterways. If conditions at an enclosed waterway destination are consistent with the coastal waterway definition, the coastal qualifications and ratios should be used.

The designated SUP instructor(s) must hold both a current surf lifesaving qualification and a SUP coaching qualification/documented experience, that is a:

  • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Bronze Medallion, or
  • Life Saving Victoria Community Surf Lifesaving Certificate


  • SUP coaching qualification from Surfing Australia, or
  • proven equivalent documented training and experience from another training provider or educational institution

Coastal waterways

The designated SUP instructor(s) must hold both a current surf lifesaving qualification and a SUP coaching qualification with surfing module/documented experience, that is a:

  • Surf Life Saving Australia Surf Bronze Medallion or,
  • Life Saving Victoria Community Surf Lifesaving Certificate


  • SUP coaching qualification from Surfing Australia including additional Surf modules, or
  • proven equivalent documented training and experience from another training provider or educational institution

If students are bodysurfing or recreational surf swimming, refer to the guidelines for Recreational swimming.

Proforma of Staff Qualifications and Experience (doc - 168kb) can be used to document staff qualifications and relevant experience and training in lieu of the listed qualifications.

Where an external contractor is chosen to run all or part of this activity, see: Roles and responsibilities, External Providers.


Effective supervision is a critical factor in managing risk in the outdoors.

A minimum of two staff members must be present for each activity. One staff member is to have responsibility for instruction in the activity and the other is to assist the instructor.

The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratios that must be used for surfing:

ActivityStaff requiredStudent numbers
Inland Waterways
Enclosed Waterways
Coastal Waterways21-16

Note: Inland and enclosed waterways are included as they may be used for practice and training, before entering the surf.

It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:

  • age, maturity, gender and physical characteristics* of students
  • ability and experience of students
  • needs of individuals
  • dynamics of the student group
  • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
  • location of the activity
  • anticipated conditions at the location.

*For example, if a group includes any physically large students, supervising staff must have the required training and qualifications to undertake any necessary rescue and the required physical attributes.

Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

The teacher in charge is responsible for the supervision strategy, which must be endorsed by the principal as part of the excursion approval process. Staff members should supervise students according to this strategy.

Lifeguards at beaches can only be used for supervision and included in staff–student ratios if they do not have general lifeguard duties at the venue at that time and their sole responsibility during the activity is for the students undertaking the activity.

However, in situations where a rescue is necessary, it would normally be expected that the duty lifeguards would take charge of the rescue. In situations where the duty lifeguards are otherwise occupied, the staff member(s) must undertake the rescue.

To ensure that there is no confusion between the roles of duty lifeguards and excursion staff members, staff must consult with the relevant lifeguard on arrival at the venue.

Overnight excursions

If the excursion has an overnight component, the Overnight camping guidelines may be relevant.

Informed consent

The school must receive consent from parents or guardians before their child may participate in adventure activities.

Informed consent should be based on an understanding of:

  • the educational purpose of the activity
  • the nature and details of the activity
  • the supervision strategy
  • other information deemed relevant by the school, parents or guardians.

Informed consent must be given in writing and signed by parents or guardians.

First aid

At least one member of staff responsible for each group of students must hold, as a minimum, a current (within 3 years) level two first aid qualification, a current (within 12 months) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) qualification and have a first aid kit applicable to the level of training.

Staff members must carefully consider the nature and location of the excursion as well as the medical history of the students, to determine the level of first aid training required by staff.  For example, if any student in the group has a history of anaphylaxis and may require the use of an epi-pen, appropriately trained staff must be present. See: Excursion Support – First Aid

Common risks

School staff must refer to the Risk Management section of this website which explains how to prepare a risk register.  Risks and possible controls are also explained.

The list below identifies some risks in surfing activities.  Identifying risk is only one aspect of the risk assessment process.  An activity-specific risk management plan must be completed which takes into account the specific conditions and unique participants of the activity.

Surfing specific risks
Sample risksSample controls

A risk of injury while walking to the surf with a surfboard.

After being provided with the surfboard for their use, students will be shown how to safely hold, manoeuvre and carry a surfboard.

Students will access the beach under supervision to avoid risk of vehicles and traffic.

At an appropriate time before entering the water, students will undertake warm up exercises.

An unexpected rip, current, tide, obstacle or craft causes a drowning or near drowning.

Pre-activity planning will consider whether the planned surfing activity matches the maturity and abilities of the group.

At least one member of staff will be familiar with the local conditions.

Staff will complete an assessment of existing conditions at the start of the activity.

Staff will run a pre-session briefing with the students, to identify rips, currents, hazards, likely marine life and wave actions before students enter the water.  This briefing will outline essential safe practices for the particular venue.

Communication signals will be established.

Staff will monitor surf conditions on an ongoing basis for the duration of the activity due to possible changing environmental conditions.

Staff or students collide with a hard object.

During the pre-activity planning phase, staff will consider the skills and experience of students and staff and make sure that the surf venue is suitable.

Soft boards will be used by beginner surfers.

Leg ropes will be used with surf boards, and wrist leashes will be used with bodyboards.

Students will be briefed on keeping a safe distance from other surfers.

Staff will monitor surf area for motorised and non-motorised surf users and, if necessary, move students to an area away from such hazards.

Ineffective communication with the group during the activity leads to students adopting unsafe practices.

Staff and students will wear brightly coloured vests or other identifiable clothing so they can be easily identified.

Staff members will carry a whistle or other device for signalling swimmers and other staff.  These signals will be clearly defined.

Staff will run a pre-session safety briefing to describe the signal for students to leave the water and the boundaries of the defined surfing area.

Generic risks
Sample risksSample controls

A pre-existing medical condition results in injury or illness during the excursion.

Staff will collect and then review current confidential medical information for all students and staff.  Where uncertainty exists, additional information will be sought.

At least one staff member will have a minimum of a level two first aid qualification and a first aid kit, which is appropriate to the activity and the environments to be encountered.

Medical information will be carried by staff on the excursion and referred to as necessary.

At the start of the excursion, staff will ensure that there is no new illness that may have an impact on the ability of the affected student(s) or staff to participate.  Consideration will also be given as to whether that illness might spread to others in the group.

The emergency response strategy will include communication and evacuation procedures. 

Staff or student fatigue results in incident and/or injury.

During the planning phase, staff will consider the skills and experience of students and staff and make sure that the activity is suitable.

The group will adopt appropriately timed rest stops.   Food and water breaks will match the activity intensity, weather conditions and the group’s abilities.

Food and water intake will be monitored during the excursion to ensure all participants are eating and drinking adequately.

Staff will monitor each student and consider strategies to support the group and individuals. This may include altered intensity and loads, changing the activity, obtaining outside support, evacuations or cancellation of the activity.

Warm or cold weather conditions lead to a temperature-related illness.

Staff will consider the skills, age, experience and maturity of students and staff when determining the activity, season and venue.

A change of clothing appropriate for the weather and season should be taken, including a towel for drying before changing.

Staff will plan and/or adjust the activity in response to foreseeable and prevailing weather conditions.

The emergency response strategy will include responses for when students and/or staff are affected by heat or cold.

A group is caught in severe weather or a thunderstorm resulting in injury.

The chosen venue, activity and season will be appropriate to the group.

Staff will obtain regular Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts for the specific area they will be in and, if necessary, adjust the activity.

Staff will observe the weather before and during the activity and adjust the activity accordingly.

Staff will consider exposure to tree and lightning hazards.

Emergency response strategy will include possible responses should severe weather or a thunderstorm occur.

A transport accident occurs while travelling to or from the venue.

The vehicle must be appropriately insured and maintained.  Where the vehicle is a bus, it must be regularly inspected by a licensed bus tester.

Drivers will have the appropriate drivers licence and certificates for the planned journey.  Drivers will perform a daily vehicle check (see the Victorian Bus and Truck Driver's Handbook​, Chapter 4, Vehicle Checks).

In accordance with heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws, (see transport) all drivers will take sufficient breaks from driving.  Drivers will also be sufficiently rested prior to driving.

Drivers will allow sufficient time for the planned journey and adjust speed to suit the driving conditions.

A student or staff member suffers a bite or sting causing illness or death.

Students and staff will have clear and relevant clothing/equipment lists, which reflect the possibility of bites or stings, and have appropriate first aid equipment.

Staff will carry current and confidential medical information for all students and staff participating in the activity.  Staff will ensure there are appropriate medications available and an emergency response strategy to support a worsening condition.


Relevant documents
External resources