Coastal heroes: An interview with Hugh Murray

March 6, 2018

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Hugh Murray

For the next interview in our 'Coastal Heroes' series we talk to Hugh Murray, owner of Porthcawl Surf School about how he established his award-winning business and what makes Bridgend County such a unique surf destination.

Can you tell us about your job and how you got started

I'm the owner of Porthcawl Surf School and started surfing when I was just 13. I grew up fairly close to Kenfig nature reserve and used to surf at Sker Beach with friends. While I've been lucky enough to surf all over the world, I've had some of my best experiences right here in Wales.

I ended up spending so much time going back and forth to the beach that, in 1994, I started a surf report. I went down every day to take pictures and put them up on the internet - the Porthcawl Surf report became really popular with around 7,000 hits a week at its peak.

While I've always been passionate about surfing, I was also a financial advisor for 25 years. When the financial crisis hit in 1998 my wife and I decided to focus our efforts elsewhere and in 2000 we opened Porthcawl Surf School. Thanks to the popularity of the Porthcawl Surf report we were already offering surf lessons on a small scale and things grew pretty quickly from there.  I'm also a Technical Director of Surf Lifesaving Wales - the largest volunteer organisation for ocean safety and rescue work in Wales. I've been involved with training lifeguards for over twenty years.

What sets Porthcawl Surf School apart?

We pride ourselves on our progressive lesson structure and have gained a reputation as a quality surf school. Our philosophy is that we'll concentrate on teaching you everything you need to know in one lesson but you'll need to come back and put that knowledge into practice. We also hire out wetsuits, paddle boards and kayaks.

We have some fantastic professional instructors on the team. For example local Elliot Dudley is a former professional surfer who was sponsored by Animal and crowned European Longboard Champion in 2005 and 2007. It is thanks to our structured lesson plans and professional staff that we've never had a single incident.

We were delighted to win Best UK Surf School in 2016 as the result of a public vote. It was great to be supported by the local surf community and that our customers were so keen to get behind us. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

What makes Rest Bay an ideal surf beach?

The way that the beach is facing means it picks up the swells created by storms in the Atlantic ocean.  The further away the storm, the longer the swell travels and the larger it gets - we're lucky as Ireland doesn't stop those larger swells from reaching us. These are the same swells that reach establish surf destinations like Cornwall and Devon, but being just two and a half hours from London means you'll be in the ocean a lot sooner.

This also means the best time of year to surf here tends to be during hurricane season (October - February) when greater storms in the Atlantic are creating consistent swells.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Every day I get up at 6am, make a flask of coffee and drive down to the beach to do the surf report. We'll then unpack all of the equipment out of the trailer (over 100 surf boards during the summer months) and do a radio check with the RNLI.

Lessons will typically start around 10-11am, although our days are dependant on the tide times. If we're lucky we'll be able to fit in another class in the afternoon and run occasional evening classes for those wanting to surf after work. During the summer I may not leave the beach until around 9pm.

What are your favourite coastal activities in your spare time?

As I say, my background is in lifesaving and I really enjoy going out on an ocean kayak to explore the coast that way. I also find stand up paddle boarding very relaxing and can paddle as much as a mile out into the ocean (although I wouldn't advise anyone else to go out that far!)

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