FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA: GEORGE STOY
“People often ask me if I want to swap jobs,” says George Stoy, 36, a professional ski and surfing coach. To most, George lives a dream lifestyle, splitting his year between the Swiss Alps and Polzeath in Cornwall – but it hasn’t come without its challenges. He’s been teaching skiing since 1995, working for the Swiss National Ski School (ESS) and coaching surfing for eight years before setting up George’s Surf School in Polzeath, delivering private tuition to everyone from beginners to surfing veterans.
Sport has always been the driving force in George’s life, but it was skiing that initially fired up his love for the outdoors. George was born into a skiing family and learnt as a toddler in Austria. “As a young kid I was really competitive, I think sport is a really good outlet for that.” Winter holidays were spent in the mountains with his family, where he began racing competitively from a young age. “All my spare time was spent skiing, racing and training. It was all I thought about.”
Then aged 20, George injured himself while training for a competition. Racing continued but he made sure he kept up his studies at Université de Savoie and finished his degree at Newcastle University.
After graduating, George was tempted to pursue a career in skiing but secured a job with top London stockbroking firm Killik & Co. “I wanted to expand my skills and build a career. It was a great company, I worked with a really strong team.” For four years, George enjoyed the world of stockbroking, “but the pull of the mountains and the ocean was always with me.”
It was only when a mirror arrived at his office that George realised how his life had changed. “It was propped up against the desk next to me. I glanced over and didn’t recognise my reflection. I remember thinking, how did I go from being an athlete to driving a desk?”
It was at this point, aged 25, that George decided to make a change. He finished his job in the City and spent the next year travelling around the world – from France and Morocco to the US, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji – focusing on his surfing. “I’d been surfing since I was 16 years old, but travelling helped me reconnect with it, it gave me time to surf properly again.”
It was in Fiji that everything just clicked. “By then I knew the importance of working hard. I got a real sense of who I was and what I wanted to do. I taught in a school and it was the first time I discovered I really loved teaching. I had a bit more life experience and specialist knowledge to share.”
After returning to England, George trained as a lifeguard and surf instructor in Cornwall. “When I was travelling around the world, I became fascinated by surf coaching and the different techniques used. Cornwall combined everything I love about the countryside and the ocean. The people I met here reflected my values, I felt at home.”
He realised from working in surf schools that he wasn’t experiencing the same formalised structure in surf coaching as there was in skiing. “I didn’t want to feel I was competing with existing surf schools. I wanted to continue studying how surfing was taught around the world and build on it to offer something different, using my experience from other sports.” And so, George’s Surf School was born.
George runs private lessons and two to five-day courses off Polzeath Beach from April through to November. Lessons are tailored to suit each surfer’s needs, focusing on what they personally want to achieve. “I’ve developed a style of coaching thats specialises in teaching children as children, adults as adults.” George only teaches small groups, preferably one-to-one, with maximum of six people per class. “It’s important to get everyone on the right board and in a fun learning environment to help them progress.”
Has it been a struggle to earn a living by teaching skiing in the winter and surfing in the summer? “Yes, at times it’s been really tough. I went back into teaching skiing because I knew I could make a living from it and surfing year round was taking me away from the professional workplace I knew I needed to replicate. Surf coaching was much more challenging. There initially wasn’t the same infrastructure or market for coaching as there is in skiing. I probably made quite a lot of sacrifices but I stuck with what I set out to achieve and it’s been worth it.”
For George, it’s a fulfilling career and lifestyle. His surf school now keeps him busy through to November and he continues to work with the Swiss National Ski School (ESS) during the winter. “I love my job, it’s really fulfilling. I’m helping people get the most out of things they love doing and also mentoring instructors, passing on knowledge and experience. It’s a cycle that inspired me and nurtured my own skills; an entity that it’s great to be part of.”