Illawarra

Nic Squires – Illawarra Business Leaders Interview

Episode #2: Nic Squires – Surfer / Illawarra Surf Academy

Illawarra Surf Academy

Illawarra Surf Academy. Credit: Instagram @nic_squizza

For the Illawarra Business Leaders Interviews Trever Molenaar sat down with Nic Squires – Illawarra Surf Academy and world ranking local surfer (#35), as well as a father and businessman. From describing the ultimate feeling of coming out of a nice tube when you’re wondering whether you are going to survive or not, to all things business this is a fantastic interview for any budding entrepreneurs needing tips and advice on where to start.

Nic is inspirational, his drive has led him to compete around the world surfing, finding the best waves, out-of-body experiences, and meeting great people. And after retiring last year he can throw himself into the Academy, providing a school that helps people not only how to surf, but how to read the waves and the conditions and essentially fall in love with the Illawarra’s most amazing asset, the beach!

Sit back, relax and enjoy episode #2 of the Illawarra Business Leaders Interviews with Nic Squires.

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Transcript

Nic Squires
I think that’s what we live for as a surfer is to have one of those, a wave where you just you don’t know whether you’re going to survive or not. And then you just you come out of a really nice tube. It’s a good feeling.

Trever Molenaar
Welcome to series two of the illawarra business leaders here, I peel back the layers of a rich and diverse business culture, perfect for those interested in all things business. Now, let’s get into it. So Illawarra Business Leaders continues, and I’m talking with Nic Squires. So Nic, welcome.

Nic Squires
Thank you very much.

Trever Molenaar
All right, we’re going to be talking about you and your business. So Illawarra Surf Academy. Tell me all about it. Where did it start?

Nic Squires
Yeah, illawarra surf Academy started in 2013. Really funny how it started. So I competed professionally, for 10 years, on the WQS (world surf league). And my background, I kind of, I never had somebody who was in my corner who supported me at a young age, it was quite kind of quite the opposite people telling me that I couldn’t do it. And I got to a point where I looked back, and I was really happy with what I’ve achieved on my own bat. And I just wanted to give back. So I started coaching kids in the area. And, you know, regardless of whether they are good or bad, or great or talented or whatever, I just, I just backed them and wanted to give them the support to believe that they can do it. I think, as a child growing up, regardless of whether you’re five 6-12, or whatever, I think having somebody in your corner saying you can do it, regardless of what it is you can back yourself into it. It’s really important. So I kind of put myself out there as with surfing the person to do that. And just things slowly evolved. And we bought some soft boards and started doing learn to surf programs. And now we’ve got like two cars, three trailers, a big fleet of soft boards and wetsuits and full blown surf school doing learn to surf programs for kids that have never surfed before, and surf education programs for schools. The whole way up to elite kids that want to be professional.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah. Cool. So you are you had that void there. And you’re trying to be a mentor to a lot of kids now. So let’s talk about you though. You your past, two time Australian champion. Yeah, yeah. How did that how did that evolve? You’re a good surfer or any kid and then it just work from there.

Nic Squires
I was a competitor, like having an older brother. I used to play soccer when I was a kid. I yeah, then. So used to play soccer for figtree soccer club. You know, 8 or 10 years, I was at surf club competing. I was really good at the board and the swim in the Iron Man and all that sort of stuff. And I think deep down I’ve always wanted to win. With surfing, I wanted to be really good. I wasn’t very good. Back when I was young, there wasn’t much support for that. That goal, I guess in especially in the area, and in Queensland there was but not in Wollongong. So yeah, I just felt like I wanted to be a competitor. And at the moment, I decided I wanted to be a professional surfer. I just drove for it. And the inner competitor picked in and yeah, just kept going, just kept not listening to people. And all of a sudden, people were amazed at the progression I had.

Trever Molenaar
I think people who excel at sport are really good at business, too, because they have a drive and some people have a drive and some people don’t. And that comes down to it. And you actually once you retired, you move that drive into business. And that’s where you’ve, you’ve succeeded from there. And that’s it. Is that something that you see? Was your your biggest, I guess, reasoning behind that?

Nic Squires
Look, I only retired last year. Yeah, well, so this is the first year that I’ve put full focus into the business. And I look back at how well the business has gone in the last 7 years. It’s amazing of where it’s where it’s come considering of a balanced professional surfing and traveling around the world at the same time that I’ve been trying to run the business and yeah.

Trever Molenaar
traveling the world on a surf tour it tell us about that. You would have seen a lot of things, you would have done a lot of things. What’s some of the highlights?

Nic Squires
Yeah, I think for me, it was going off the beaten track. So I’ve been to China three times and surfing a place called Hainan, I would never have gone there in my life, if it wasn’t for that and to go to places that I know I never would have visited if it wasn’t for these competitions, and just seeing the local area and being really open minded was probably the thing and just meeting people in the culture and life experience. You know, I traveled a lot on my own. I really enjoyed traveling on my own because I didn’t want to do things on somebody else’s time. I wanted to do it on my own time, not just as a competitor, but just as traveling and stuff. So I was able to just do it, you know, throw myself in the deep end and travel to places and stay in places on my own and, you know, find out how I go figuring things out and yeah, it’s just it’s, I feel really, really lucky to have that experience to travel the world and, you know, there’s not not a lot of guys and girls get to do that. So yeah, it’s kind of self funded three quarters of my career

Trever Molenaar
Best place you He visited?

Nic Squires
I love Japan, Japan. I love Japan. Yeah. So I love I love the food. I love the culture. I love the people. The waves aren’t really the best they can get really good, but not a lot of the time. They’re not. But one thing for me I was really jet lagged the first trip to Japan and we got the train from the airport to where our hotel was. And I left my roller bag with my passport and everything on the train. I just wasn’t thinking and somebody grabbed it next train station dropped it off and it was at my hotel within two hours.

Trever Molenaar
They’re efficient aren’t they.

Nic Squires
It amazed me. You know if there’s any other country you’d almost just say goodbye to that staff. And yet, yeah, well,that was cool.

Trever Molenaar
Great food. Really good. Fresh Food out really efficient people really nice. Yeah, best surf break?

Nic Squires
I love Hawaii. I went to Hawaii two years ago. So that was my first time I went really late, just because every event in Hawaii is over 10 days. So the chance of traveling to an event on the cheap was pretty hard. So yeah, best waves is definitely in Hawaii. The biggest challenge was definitely in Hawaii. And that’s what I was there for. I loved I loved almost having that out of body experience where you’re looking at yourself seeing how well you go into challenge and yeah, that’s what I drove for.

Trever Molenaar
What’s your actually what’s your moment? Have you had a moment in the surf?

Nic Squires
I don’t know I think winning my first WQS event was really special. Yeah. I did get one really good wave at the volcom pipe pro at backdoor that I was really happy with and I think that’s what really for as a surfer is to have one of those away where you just you don’t know whether you’re going to survive or not. And then you just you come out of a really nice tube. It’s a good feeling.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah, and the worst one? Have you been nailed?

Nic Squires
I’ve seen a few sharks but i’m i’m very I think there there were in the ocean. I don’t worry about them too much. One thing for me is if there’s signs that they might be there, like a you know, a school of fish or something I don’t I don’t surf but um, I’ve seen a few sharks. I don’t think we’re there for them. I think they look for for something else. And yeah, where were mistaken identity. But I think the funniest thing for me was my first surf out pipeline. I got off the flight, the waves are really being like 12 feet four times overhead. And a wave I was I was with the pack of people. A wave came and I went to duck dive it and I just didn’t get out the back. So I ducked over the wave went up, didn’t get a breath in it just literally went straight over with the wave. It was pretty funny. Yeah, but survived dusted it off.

Trever Molenaar
So best break in Australia. Where’s that?

Nic Squires
I love surfing snapper rocks. Yeah, it’s very busy, though. It’s very hard to surf and get waves and you can you can surf there and have a great surf when you get the rhythm and then you can surf there and not even catch away for three hours. But um, I like surfing with less crowds. So just good conditions, offshore winds with nobody around. I have just a good surf as surfing the best waves in the world.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah, yeah. It’s something where it’s just you in the water, isn’t it?

Nic Squires
Yeah, yeah.

Trever Molenaar
Let’s peel back your we’re here for business. Let’s deal with your business now. So tell me about the Academy. You said nine years ago you started? I said seven years. So somewhere around this? Yes. So we started a few years ago. Yeah. Obviously just yourself. Yeah. Just grown too. So who have you got at the moment?

Nic Squires
Yeah, we’ve got eight qualified staff. We’ve got four helpers. So assistant coaches. I’m in a in a weird spot now where I kind of need a PA. Yeah. But because of my past competitive experience, and a lot of the money that I had went to that so not in a position to have somebody there. So that’s, that’s at the moment. I’m in this weird little spot where I’m still doing everything. Yeah. But it’s Yeah, it’s a bit of a juggle.

Trever Molenaar
The next question was, how much do you work on the business versus in the business? And this is what a lot of business owners struggle with. So how much are you in the water versus working on the business?

Nic Squires
I was thinking about this earlier today. I think the easiest way to explain it. Were a seasonal business. So in summer, I’m in the business. Yeah, that’s it. In winter, I’m probably 70/30 on the business. So that winter period from May till September, I’m building to get ready to get busy. So as soon as summer comes around, like the summer holidays, this holidays, I was like six to seven days, eight hours a day in the water. Just getting drowned. Yeah. So yeah.

Trever Molenaar
So how are your first year of business? It’s tough. It’s where most of the businesses do or don’t survive. Firstly, you did survive, but how did you and secondly, what would have you changed?

Nic Squires
Yep. I wouldn’t change anything. I opened the whole business on credit. So just building up slowly with with loans and stuff. I did the Niece Program, so I did that. So I’ve got the business plan and everything and then just kind of built on that. Like I said, I was I was probably it was a bit a little bit tricky with competing and stuff. So I was just rolling with the punches and just trying to try and stay busy every afternoon coaching and slowly we just built so yeah, it was it was there was some tough weeks where, you know, you’re, you’re living week by week, I think I lived week by week for five years. Yeah. So yeah. Which, which now that I’m not is I realized how much of a stress that is. If you haven’t lived, week by week, it’s, it’s pretty tough. And

Trever Molenaar
in starting your business, you have to have in your own personal life, so little or so few overheads, because it’s going to get you through those hard times to so if you’ve if you’ve loaded up with car leases and things like that, you’re probably going to fail a lot quicker. So what advice would you give someone who is starting a business now, like, what would be some of the things that you would say to maybe you 10 years ago, or the next person,

Nic Squires
I think the biggest thing for me is, is make sure your business is something that you love. Because even if you’re struggling, you’re still love getting up in the morning. And that was one thing for me like I knew I at times that money was really tight. I woke up and I just loved getting on to the beach and helping kids. So regardless of the money situation, I still had fulfillment. So now that I guess, I think I think it’s it’s a recipe for disaster if you’re doing something that you don’t love. You know, we’ve got so many opportunities in life, to do something you don’t love every day is just I feel like it’s pretty crazy.

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Trever Molenaar
Yeah, great. And because you’re not effectively working, if you love doing it, too. So we hear guys from resin brewery here before. And he his passion is brewing B. So he said I haven’t worked a day in my life. Yeah. And that’s effectively what people who are starting up their businesses and they’re listening to this. If you don’t love what you’re doing, and you’re doing it for money, or fame or whatever it may be, it’s probably not going to work. Would you say that?

Nic Squires
In the short term it might work though. Yeah, you know, I think but longevity if you’re looking to do it for the rest of your life. Yeah, I think. And I also think there’s a lot of different values for people, some people value money, a lot more sure. Whereas for me, I think lifestyles number one, so I always, I always make at least like five days a week, I make sure I make time to have a surf and try and do some training and stuff. So that’s, that’s what’s important to me. which complements my business to an active healthy lifestyle is, is pretty, pretty important.

Trever Molenaar
So taking time out for you is just as important as going to a seminar or anything like that, because that’s keeping your mind clean. So who who inspires you? Who has inspired you?

Nic Squires
Yeah, I look at everybody, I so the way that I approach my coaching is, there’s no one coach for everybody, it really, I get a bit drawn back by anybody that says you’ve got to do something this way. I think everybody should grab little bits from different people. And I try and look at, I get drawn towards people that are driven. Yeah, you know, like they, they get themselves up at a certain time and they get things done. They don’t, they don’t really muck around, and they actually tick boxes, you know, I’m a little bit of a list, man. So I wake up in the morning, and I spend that first, you know, half an hour writing a list of things that I need to get done during the day. And I just prioritize them and tick them off. And then if anything carries over I you know,

Trever Molenaar
it gives you clarity, doesn’t it? It’s the first thing I do. When I get in the office, I have to create a list or the night before of what I’ve got to do, because then it gives you clarity, okay, I can I can nail those 10 points and be gone with the rest of my day. So having a list is is really important. But somewhat what are some of the rituals that you have on a daily basis?

Nic Squires
It probably stems from my competitive, competitive surfing. So I usually get up I mean, COVID probably put a little bit of a little bit of a spin to it. A little slight slant but I I’ve felt best when I was eating really healthy. When I was competing my last two years. And that was every morning I’d wake up and have a glass or two of water. I’d have like a coffee later on after breakfast and stuff. But I was just clean eating nothing in a packet. Yeah, straight out of a fruit and vege, plenty of sleep, go to sleep at 8.30 or 9 o’clock up at six. Rest is really important. I know I don’t work very well at I’ll have days where I say I’m going to go home and work at 830 at night. As soon as I start, I just I just don’t work at that time. I’m better off getting up at five or four in the morning and pumping out two hours in the morning then trying to be a night owl and work late.

Trever Molenaar
Because effectively if you’re a pro athlete or a serious performer, you need to eat well and sleep well. But at the same in business too. So if you want to work to your optimum, you have to look after yourself. And there’s no there’s no ifs or buts around that. Yeah. So best advice you’ve been given in business?

Nic Squires
Don’t be scared to take a chance.

Are you a risk taker?

No, no, no, An educated backing like a lot of decisions you make as a business owner are scary. And but sometimes you’ve just got to go, you know what if it works, it’s going to work? If it doesn’t, you’ve tested it. So a lot of decisions, whether it’s been spending $20,000 on a new, a new batch of boards or whatever, you’ve just got to pull the trigger on that and see how it goes.

Trever Molenaar
So often, they’re educated decisions, though, yes, you’ve lived and breathed it for so long, it feels good here. So it’s an educated decision, you might spend 20,000, a million dollars, whatever it may be, as long as the numbers are right, it feels good. And it doesn’t matter what the risk is too.

Nic Squires
One thing with my businesses, I also want all my equipment to be pretty new. There’s been times where our equipment started to get a little bit damaged and stuff, and I just went “get rid of it”. Let’s replace it. And that’s just a cost that, you know, a lot of people think you can still get two years out of that, but I just get rid of it.

Trever Molenaar
But that’s your brand. And that reflects on you. So have you ever wanted to give up? I know you’re a driven person. But have you ever thought you know what? I’m done with this?

Nic Squires
No, no. I just make it happen. I actually work better when I’m when my backs against the wall. Yeah. So like, when I’m looking at my bank account, and that’s, you know, living week by week, I’ve got to make this much money this week. So it kind of picks me up to well, it did at that time. I’ve never wanted to quit, it’s what I want to do for a very long time. And I guess the end goal is to still be helping people with surfing and being happy, not just surfing but being active and healthy. And our business clients are very, very broad. So we have a lot of people that are whether they’re being fit and healthy their whole life or whether they’re looking for a life change, or they might be mental health issues, or, you know, all that sort of stuff. What we do is is beneficial for everybody. I think there’s nothing, nothing better than jumping in the ocean and clearing the head and being active.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah. And some people when their backs are against the wall, they fail. Yeah. And that tests your mettle. Yeah. And so you obviously you love that. It seems like it. That’s what drives you harder as well. Yeah. So tell me, let’s pivot a little bit. Let’s talk about the marketing of the Academy. How did you start? And what are you doing now with with success?

Nic Squires
So we started off by doing a lot of flier drops straight to our clients. So for the elite in the intermediate kids, a lot of our clients came from board riding clubs, so local local surfboard clubs. So I went straight to the people there and chatted to them and word word spread. And I’ve done a fair bit recently on Facebook marketing. It I feel like it’s hit and miss. I haven’t dived, like dived right into targeted strategy, which I know has been best. But once again, it’s been a lot of money to get somebody to take control of that. And it hasn’t been sitting there. flyers around all the cafes and stuff in Wollongong, posters around, word of mouth is definitely our best. Yeah. I love constructive criticism. I’m not I’m gonna be the first person to say that I’m not the best and most perfect business person, we make mistakes. And but I’d rather somebody be honest to me about that. So I can be honest back and, you know, try and work with that and take that on board. But yeah, marketing’s just we really rely on on word of mouth, I think at the moment and information out through an email.

Trever Molenaar
Yep. And more so now than ever before. There’s a lot more schools out there. So competition is fierce. How do you deal with that? And is there copying?

Nic Squires
it’s very easy to get caught up in that. I have had moments where I probably have, and I’ve been looking around and but I’ve got to a point where I’m like, I don’t really care. I love doing my thing. It’d be like a cafe worrying about what somebody else is doing around the corner. You know, I’m one for thinking of my own things. I know that there’s been times where, you know, things have been copied here and there and stuff. But our business revolves around term programs and holiday programs. So it’s almost like we get all going to do the same sort of thing, you know, especially with the kids.

Trever Molenaar
So effectively, more is more, isn’t it? more people serving more people will come. So what do you look for in an employee? Because the employees are the heart of most businesses? What do you look for?

Nic Squires
So I think for us, the most important thing is responsible. So we’re dealing with the ocean, it’s a it’s a dynamic environment that always changes. So we want somebody that’s, that’s really responsible understanding that, especially with the kids programs that we do, the kids, you know, the parents, number ones, so we want our coaches to be responsible. We want them to be enjoyable, happy and proactive.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah, I mean, responsibility is huge, like, effectively, there’s a lot of ramifications with that. So in a business, we’re in a cafe if you’re not responsible, you might drop a glass Yeah, in your business. That’s that’s high in the priority list, isn’t it?

Nic Squires
Yeah, I’ve I, when I started the business, my son was only four years old at the time. And I just made a plan and a pact that every parent that watched on the beach was going to be comfortable, and they’re going to be happy, and they’re not going to freak out. So our ratios for coaches to student is really low. So kids under 12, we do 1-4. For Kids, over 12, we do 1-6. So by law, we need to do one to six or one to eight. So we’ve we’ve loaded a lot. So you know, if you have 12 kids in the water, we’ve got three coaches, everybody has a great experience, and it’s all it’s all safe.

Trever Molenaar
So what is it that sets you and your business apart from most other? What is it that your, your business in the academy does?

Nic Squires
Yeah, I think we’re very similar to what other people do. Yeah, I like to hope that where we try and cover a lot more of The Basics and the detail, it’s very easy to teach somebody how to surf, it’s probably the easiest part. But getting them to be able to grow and potentially go out the back is the hard thing, understanding the weather patterns, understanding the tides and the daily changes and things like that. But um, we try and get right down into the nitty gritty of that each lesson and, you know, with the young kids trying to teach them about directions and how that affects little things on the beach. And and we cover all that, that that real details here.

Trever Molenaar
So learning to surf is actually the smallest component of what you’re actually doing.

Nic Squires
Yeah, we don’t want we don’t want I guess what I was trying to say that we don’t want to just have people come along, stand up on a board and just be like, Well, that’s it done. We want to encourage people to fall in love with the ocean and become… I look at Wollongong and I think the beaches apart from the mountains, the beaches is is our most amazing asset. So I want to help people fall in love with that.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah, sure. From the point of view of what, what would you do if you weren’t doing this if the academy wasn’t on the horizon? What would you be doing?

Nic Squires
I had done two and a half years of a carpentry apprenticeship. I really enjoyed it. So the timing wasn’t right I had a very young manix my son was was two years old at that time and money was a bit of an issue so I’d probably contemplate building maybe I like being you know, physical with my hands. I don’t know like I haven’t thought about that sort of stuff. Yes.

Trever Molenaar
Obviously you’re in your lane then. So I guess before we finish this is my my part of things is real estate. So if you were to live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Nic Squires
I’ve lived in East Corrimal for 14 years. Yeah, just rented there. I’d definitely look to buy in East Corrimal and not right down near the beach tucked up back a little bit from the beach. But um, yeah, I love East Corrimal.

Trever Molenaar
There is some beautiful parts of East Corrimal and I think it’s not one of the ones that people coming from Sydney know about, but when they find it, they do love it too.

Nic Squires
The word spreading.

Trever Molenaar
Nick, thank you for allowing us to peel back the layers of your business and the academy. Speak to you soon.

Thanks, Trev.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Coming Up

This season we’ll be hearing from Brendan Down (Resin Brewing), Nic Squires (Illawarra Surf Academy), Greg Flood (Inspect Wollongong), David Love (Sun People), Barry Pearson (Papi Dulce), Aaron Cowie (Seaside Building), and Leon Keir (One Wellbeing).

If you missed the previous season be sure to check out the last episodes showcasing the area’s most talented leaders, entrepreneurs, and business people.

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