How to introduce children to surfing
Here are some tips on ways to introduce your kids to surfing:
First of all, make sure your kids can swim!
Kids should be able to swim at least 200 metres in still water before they start surfing bigger waves in deep water. For smaller kids and weaker swimmers, catching and riding waves is safer in shallow, knee to waist deep water close to shore which normally occurs on lower tides.
For young kids, either take them into the surf at lifeguard patrolled, red and yellow flagged swimmers zones on a bodyboard to practise catching waves, or keep them under the guidance of a surf experienced adult or surf coach in a lesson so that they are safe at all times.
What age is right to start surfing?
Some kids as young as three or four are keen to try surfing, others are hesitant until they are in their teens - there is no right or wrong age, each kid is different. Take them swimming in between the red and yellow flags (the safest place to swim in the Australian surf). If they feel comfortable with waves rolling past them and even being dumped by a wave, then they should be ready to surf.
Ask yourself, do they really want to surf, or is it me who wants them to surf?
I have two daughters who enjoy swimming between the flags, bodyboarding and playing in the sand more than they do stand up surfing. To me, as a surfing parent that's OK as I can see how much fun they have at the beach and have even noticed how much their knowledge of waves and rip currents is improving and that a potentially lifelong love and respect of the waves is developing. They love the surf.
Whilst I would be stoked if they did, my kids may not want to surf much in the future and that's OK. As a kid, my dad (a golf fanatic) tried to get me into playing golf one morning at Long Reef, which overlooks the surf. After three holes I ran back to the car, grabbed my board and went surfing. Dad was cool, and happy that I had a passion - surfing. I still don't play golf!
Book your child into a surfing lesson
Accredited surf schools around Australia have a lot of experience in teaching kids how to surf. By learning about rip currents, the surf zone and the right technique, kids have fun improving their surfing more quickly and safely. Even mums and dads who surf really well enroll their kids into surf lessons because their kids enjoy learning from 'the really cool surf coach' in an environment with lots of other kids. Many surf schools run school holiday programs specifically for kids, which is a great option.
Learning to surf at low tide is easier and safer for kids
Whether practicing or taking a surf lesson, try to do so when the tide is lower. During high tide many kids (and adults) struggle to get out past the dumping shore break zone. After being dumped at this point (before they've even experienced the fun of catching a wave and standing up), some kids call it quits for the day, which is understandable.
During low tide, as whitewater waves roll to shore over a shallow sandbar they get smaller and lose their energy. Kids benefit from surfing at this time because they can walk out in shallow water to a position to catch their waves, choosing how far out they go, which makes them feel more in control. The rides are often longer too giving them more time to stand up before reaching the beach. Also after a wipe out, kids feel safer if they can quickly stand in shallow water, get their breath then regather their surfboard.
Go to the safer surf spots that are suitable for kids and beginners
Kids and beginner surfers have more success and fun when practising surfing at appropriate learn to surf spots and in the right surf conditions. Surf spots that have broad, gradually sloping sandbars free from rips where soft spilling waves break and that are also sheltered from wind and big swells are best for learning to surf. Of course, surf conditions vary greatly so the best surf spots for learning change daily depending on the conditions. Find out more about the best surf spots for learning and current surf conditions in your region.
Kids surfboards should be big softboards (foamies) when starting out
A surfboard that is too small will be almost impossible to even catch a wave on let alone for your child to stand up on. Surfing is much easier and therefore more fun for kids on bigger boards (boards with more volume). Softboards under 7 foot are often too small, and depending on the size of the child, even 8 foot boards can be best for older kids to learn on. Kids struggle on smaller boards until they have mastered catching green waves by themselves and are turning across the wave face. Learning to turn on a bigger board will also foster a smooth, stylish technique that will look better when or if they do ride smaller boards in the future.
So many kids are given boards that are too small (perhaps purchased because they are easier to carry or fit in the car) or that are poorly designed (some cheap brands don't maintain their flow with the wave, as they are too thin and flex too much (they bend like cardboard under your feet) or too thick yet too narrow (like trying to surf on a rolling log!). If you are unsure what size board your child needs, get them to take a lesson, and after the lesson, ask the surf coach what kind of board is suitable for your child.
If your child is struggling in the surf, make it easier for them by getting them a bigger board - they will improve their surfing skills more quickly and have way more fun...
Catching waves is the most important surfing skills for kids to learn
(Along with learning about rip currents that is...). Introduce kids to paddling and catching small whitewater waves in shallow water on a body board or surfboard to start with (push them onto the wave and bodysurf behind them holding onto the back of the board if they are really young, nervous or the waves are big).
As they become more confident, they will naturally progress to catching unbroken green waves when they feel up to it, or push them onto some smaller, spilling green waves so that they experience surfing down the face. It won't take long before they are hooked on the extra speed they get.
Once kids are able to paddle well and are independently negotiating and catching waves, their overall level of surfing improves dramatically simply because their wave count increases each time they surf.
Keep your child comfortable and sun safe
Kids can get cold quickly in the water so introduce them to surfing during the warmer months (water temperatures in most places around Australia are at their warmest from late summer to mid autumn).
To avoid sunburn, apply sun cream every two hours (including the backs of their legs as kids spend a lot of time lying on their boards) and take them surfing before 10am or after 3pm when the sun isn't as harsh. Surfing hats designed for kids can now also be found at most surf shops.
Full length wetsuits (called steamers) will stop kids from getting a rash when lying on their board, keep them warm, and help to keep them sun safe. Even in summer you see many kids in Australia wearing steamers as they spend the day at the beach in and out of the water.
Be sure your child (and you) can spot, avoid and get out of a rip current
To be sure your kid is ready to surf independently, ensure they know how to spot where the rip currents are and what to do if they get caught in one. Find out more information on rips. If you don't have the surf knowledge to teach them about rips with confidence, then get them to take surf lessons or involved in nippers (junior life saving) on the weekends at your local surf life saving club.
Finally, keep it fun
Like any activity, kids will learn more quickly, and perhaps grow a life long passion and respect for the ocean when learning to surf is fun. So choose the right surf spots and conditions, take along some surfing friends their own age and get out there and share the surfing experience with your child. Kids love watching mums and dads catch a really good wave and they love it even more when we wipe out! Enjoy!