Emily Grimes on surfing in the North and starting her surf school.

Words by Beth Franklin

The UK is full of incredible surf sports, and experienced surfers who love to share their stoke. The Northeast is often overlooked when you think surfing in the UK, but the local surf scene is thriving and booming with amazing locals.
NE Surf is a surf school located in beautiful Northumberland. The school caught my eye with their incredible attitude to surfing the school exudes fun and stoke and makes me want to grab my board and hit the waves with them.
I spoke with co-founder and fellow north-eastern surfer Emily Grimes, to chat all things surfing in the north, her surfing journey and how NE Surf came to be.
Emily, could you tell me about yourself and your surfing journey?
I started surfing in Australia when I was 21 and working on a horse farm near the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I grew up riding horses and really got into surfing because I needed something different to do outside of work given that I was riding all day!

I was terrible but stubbornly dedicated to getting better while in Australia, but I never had any lessons or followed any guidance. Those first few years were slow progress, the real turning point was being forced home by visa issues.

I was so terrified that my way of life would change for the worse and that I wouldn’t get to surf as much, it drove me to surf way more. Also, realising that I absolutely couldn’t surf the way-too-short for me board that I brought back from Oz in a wetsuit encouraged me to pinch my uncle’s longboard, which was a game changer.
Since then, I’ve surfed a lot, at home and various other places around the world, qualified and taught as a high school maths teacher, became a surf instructor, managed a new surf school and then set up NE Surf with my partner Chris.
How did NE Surf come about?
I had been managing another surf school for a few years and juggling that with being a maths teacher (which was as exhausting as you might imagine!) and it got to a point where my partner Chris and I were so passionate about surfing and coaching that it just made more sense to go on our own.
It’s given us so much more freedom to provide higher quality coaching with private and lower ratio lessons as well as exploring other avenues which excite us.
Most exciting of all we have been able to set up NE Surf Society, through which we are working on improving equality of access to surfing in Northumberland. We have adapted kit on order and some projects in the pipeline to open surfing up to more people who will really benefit from it.
Starting NE Surf has made me stoked pretty much all the time, whether that’s surfing myself, teaching others or even the admin stuff like designing rash vests and applying for funding bids. I can justify literally any time I surf as continuous professional development… so overnight I got 100x more efficient and hard-working.
How do you find balancing your work and life?
What’s the difference?! Work kind of feels like life rather than the other way round, so I think that’s a good thing. Surfing or the surf school is pretty much always on the brain, Chris and I talk about it a lot. Maybe that will change after a little while, but who knows.
How has teaching surfing changed the way you approach surfing as a personal endeavour?
I never had a lesson or even internalised any feedback before I became a coach myself. I quickly realised how arrogant (or ignorant?!) the notion that I didn’t need (or want) help was. I’m not saying that you must get coaching, but if you want to get better, without bad habits and faster than at snail’s pace, then coaching or advice is a must, no matter what level you’re at.
For me, things that I’m good at have always been more enjoyable. Surfing is epic for so many reasons, and you don’t have to be a certain standard (or in fact any good at all) to have fun, love it and feel so many physical and mental health benefits.
However, if I don’t feel like my surfing is improving then I tend not to feel fulfilled. The longer I’ve surfed, and the better I’ve got, the more fun I’ve had. So, I have some surfs where I just surf, but a lot of others where I really focus on nailing something or developing.
What are your top tips/tip for people looking to improve their surfing? What’s a key detail that can change the way people approach surfing and improve their abilities?
Remove ego as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Ego is what stopped me from getting coaching or heeding advice when I first started. It also led me to drop volume too fast, thinking that riding a lower volume board made me a better surfer.

It’s so hard to remove ego from surfing as it’s a pleasure driven pursuit which puts you in a weird state of being, where you act more on impulse rather than thought. The temptation to see others as competition in the surf can also get you so far in your head that you end up surfing crap, but even worse than that have an awful time.

What’s your favourite thing about surfing in the Northeast? (I’m probably super bias cause it’s home for me but I think it’s the best!)
The set ups are incredible (if only we were drenched by more swell). The community is epic. The waves are quiet (some of them anyway!). The cold makes you feel accomplished. It is just insanely beautiful, there’s something so special about Northumberland. Every time the waves are perfect, the sun is setting and it’s just me and a seal bobbing about my mind fully explodes.