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6 RULES TO HELP YOU TEACH YOUR KIDS TO SURF (AND LOVE SURFING)

If you want to teach your kids to surf, prepare for a major journey! “How did you get your daughter to surf? My kid won’t go near a board, he’s too scared!” Says an old friend from Surfing Mums that I bumped into in the water.  Not infrequently, parents ask me how I’ve taught my eight year old to paddle out the back with me and catch waves.  For any parent, teaching your kids to surf is a process with ups and downs.

My daughter and I have got through the tough times because we are a team.  We’ve built a strong foundation of communication and trust that allows me to encourage her to push her boundaries and confront her fear.  Yes, she gets scared.  Yes, she tells me “no, no, no, no” as I push her into a big wave which she catches and rides to the shore.  Yes, there are days when she doesn’t want to surf.  But every single time we surf together, she comes out happier than she started.  You probably already get the power of salt water and your kids will too as long as they feel safe, supported, and free.  The following are the rules I suggest you follow when you begin to teach your kids to surf.

1. LET THEM LEAD

This is a hard one for me.  I often feel like I am pushing a rock up a hill to get her in the water, but I have had to cool my demanding ways.  Now, I ask her if she wants to surf and explain the conditions.  If it’s onshore or too big, she’s tired, or her wetsuit is wet, I don’t push too hard.  If the conditions are perfect – 1-3 foot, not too dumpy, not too crowded – I will try to convince her and remind her that she’s always happy she went surfing afterward.  My aim is to get her in the water 1-2 days per week during the winter and more in the summer.  The key is that she gets in the water, that means boogie boarding, body surfing, or frolicking counts.

2. TEACH THEM TO BECOME STRONG SWIMMERS + BUILD OCEAN KNOWLEDGE 

If you wish your child would surf more or if he or she has stood up a few times but not really caught the bug, don’t fret.  Make sure they are in swimming lessons or nippers/junior guards.  For many families in Australia, swimming lessons are non-negotiable and I think that’s so cool. If you want your child to be a surfer eventually, make sure they can swim very well.  

When you are at the beach, take time to explain where the rips are and how the break works before they play in the surf.  Teach your kids how to do a proper surf check. My 4 year old can tell you the tide by looking at the beach. My 9 year old daughter has learned to read a beach for a rip and a channel to paddle out through because we are constantly pointing them out.  I always ask her to show me the rip.  We sit and watch the waves all the time and point out left and right peaks.  She can navigate the ocean better than many adults.

teach your kids to surf, start with a foamie

3. MAKE SURFING COMFORTABLE AND EASY 

On a recent trip to the Gold Coast my daughter fell in love with surfing… again.  You see, where we live in Sydney it’s mid-winter.  16 degrees celsius (62 Fahrenheit) may not be as bone chilling as a spring day in Southern California, but it still freezes a skinny little kid like a popsicle.  For her, a sunny day in her 4/3 on the Gold Coast felt like Hawaii.   

The point is that kids get cold easily and if they are uncomfortable, they aren’t going to enjoy their session very much.  Both of my kids wear 4/3s most of the year in Sydney.  My eldest has been wearing booties in the mornings when the pavement is extra cold.  I highly recommend finding a decent 4/3 for winter.  You’ll find they will stay out much longer and have more beach play days in the winter.  For under 6s, Quiksilver makes the only 4/3 I’ve found.  For older kids, we’ve used Rip Curl because they carry a 4/3 with a neck zip and booties in kids size 13

Another way to make them comfortable is to put yourself in the best position to help them in the water.  At the beginning, you will be standing in the shallows pushing them into white wash.  Once they graduate to unbroken waves, get a pair of DaFin’s and wear them so (a) you don’t drown, (b) you can swim in quickly and help them if they are caught inside, (c)you can push them around the break to the best spot.  After they become competent paddlers and are at least trying to duck dive, you can start to paddle a board out yourself.  Some days it works and others I get worked in the shorey with my board tombstoning behind me as I duck dive her through wave after wave.

Make sure your kids are comfortable and that you make the whole experience easy.  Help them turn their wetsuit right side out, put their leash on, and get into a hot shower as quickly as possible after they surf.  It’s difficult sometimes, but try not to make the kids’ experience hardcore! 

4. HYPE IT UP!

Whenever we surf a certain break up the beaches a bit, it means we’re stopping at the Captain’s Shop.  The Captain’s Shop is one of the old school corner shops that sells bread, eggs, baklava, and 40 different types of gummies in ziplock bags.  The kids froth on going to Captain’s Shop after their surf so it doesn’t matter how cold, windy, or dumpy the surf is, they are in! 

Another non-sugary way to hype a session is to get their friends involved.  If your friends are surfers, chances are they will want their kids to surf.  The more crew you can get to the beach, the easier it is to get your kids in the water! 

The last thing that works wonders for my daughter’s surfing and philanthropic values is doing a fundraising event like Make a Wave, where she surfs everyday in September each year for a good cause.  I am stoked because we surf everyday and she learns about giving back to those less fortunate than us! 

5. OUTSOURCE WHEN NECESSARY  

Yes, surfing is an amazing thing to share with your child.  However, sometimes your desires can get in the way of the child learning and developing a lifelong passion.  Like so many other things about adulting, sometimes it is better to outsource.  Our local surf school does group lessons that are perfect for absolute beginners – they have boards, wetsuits, and most importantly they are not you.  Your child is much less likely to throw a tantrum and kick sand at their teenage surf instructor.  They are also more likely to listen.  Responsible young surfers in your community can also be good to hire to assist the learning process.  They can help a beginner level pushing them into waves or even paddle out with them when your child is a bit more skilled.    

6. GET THE RIGHT BOARD for learning and progressing

Just like choosing the right surfboard for an adult, getting the right board for your kid can be tricky.  My daughter was 5 when she got her first board and was very tiny with exceptionally good balance.  She started on a 5’6” Mick Fanning Soft Top with a soft-fin thruster set up.  This board was perfect for her, but would not suit every young kid.  Many of her friends needed bigger soft-tops in the 6 to 8 foot range that were more stable.  A boogie board is great for kids of all ages to really feel what it is like to catch their own waves.  My daughter actually got her first boogie board after her first surfboard because she wanted to be able to ride waves on her own.  Also, no rush to move to a fiberglass board until they’ve mastered the foamy – this could take a couple of years!

If you want to teach your kids to surf, you must REMEMBER, SURFING IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN  

Surfing is not easy.  Think back to when you learned to surf…  Those first rides may have got you hooked, but it was a long, tough journey to where you are now.  We love the ocean because it is so humbling in so many ways.  But imagine being a little kid.  The ocean can be a scary place, especially when a parent with heaps of expectations is barking orders at you.  You can use the same tips and process you use for tackling fear to teach your kids to stay calm in the water,

The key is to be patient and set up an environment that is fun, feels safe, and not too difficult.  Surfing is a lifetime sport so set up your child’s journey to be positive for the long haul.  If you can do that, you can teach your kid to surf and love surfing for life.

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