Everyone dreams of going to work and doing what they love. Kristen Montgomery is living that dream. She explains how a drawing she did in university helped her become the owner of Surf Sisters, a surfing school and shop in Tofino, B.C., that features an all-female staff.
How did you get involved with Surf Sisters?
I grew up in Nanaimo, B.C., and used to go to Tofino on the weekends to camp and surf. After my first year in university, I moved there for summer employment and to surf. That summer never ended because I never left! While I was in university I had doodled a silhouette of a girl surfing on the side of my binder, but didn’t think much about it until I found the drawing a few years later. I was familiar with Surf Sister Surf School, and had seen the owner, Jenny Stewart, in the water. I approached her with my drawing one day and suggested she use it for stickers or something. Not only did she use it as the company logo, but I also began teaching surfing and managing the company in 2003. After Jenny relocated to Hawaii around 2007, I continued to run the business and eventually bought the company in 2009.
What makes Surf Sisters different?
Surf Sister was founded in 1999 to promote women’s surfing in Tofino and worldwide. Surf Sister’s goal is not to exclude men from our lessons, but to make sure that women feel included when trying surfing in Tofino for the first time. Surf Sister introduces women and men of all ages and abilities to the sport in a safe, fun and supportive environment.
You currently have an all-female staff. Would you be open to hiring male instructors?
Surf Sister began as a women’s-only school. After the first few years, we opened our lessons up to guys as well. It was never our intention to exclude men in any sort of way, but rather to make sure that women felt included in the sport. It can be an intimidating sport, and our instructors try to provide a caring, nurturing and non- competitive environment. We’re open to hiring male instructors, but haven’t met the right one who would fit into our crew yet.
What has been your most memorable teaching moment?
Probably teaching Rick Mercer to surf. I have always been a huge Rick Mercer fan, and had written the show a couple of times to suggest he come try surfing with us. They finally filmed the Mercer Report with us in March 2011.
How are you able to stay open almost year-round, even in winter?
The water temperature drops from its summer high of around 14 C to around 7 C. We’re able to stay warm by wearing thicker wetsuits and using hoods, gloves and boots. The winter is a much quieter time, and our staff shrinks to about a quarter of its summer size. We save a dollar from every lesson that we teach and put it into a travel fund. Each January, we shut the shop for a month and use that money towards a staff surf trip. Since beginning the surf trip fund, we’ve been to Hawaii, Mexico, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Taiwan together.