Teaching a child of any age how to surf can be extremely tricky. Surfing requires confidence, endurance, fearlessness, and an appetite to explore unfamiliar territory. As the instructor, it is up to you to be patient and to take it slow. Remember, children need to approach surfing on their own terms in order for them to be completely comfortable.

How to teach your child to surf
Helina walking out with 3-year-old Mila, for her first time surfing

As a surf school, we understand the intricacies of teaching both children and adults how to surf. With that comes some challenges, but you can begin the curiosity for surfing before you even leave for the beach. Here are some tips to introduce your child to the world of surfing.

Get Them Intrigued

Children have to want to do something in order for them to tackle an activity with enthusiasm and effort. Get them excited and interested in the sport by showing them how much fun the surfers are having in the water, either at the beach in person or by watching surf videos. Allowing them to pick out their own equipment, such as a beginner board or a wetsuit, will make them feel more excited as well.

Introduce Them to the Water

Any experience in the water is helpful for surfing. If your child has had an swim lessons or experience swimming in a pool, they will already have a huge advantage in the ocean. With or without previous pool experience, you must introduce your child to the new environment slowly if your child is unfamiliar with the beach and the ocean. Being comfortable with crowds, the warm sand, the cool water and the waves are necessary before a child will want to get on a board. Play a game on the shore and have your child experience the ocean – the white wash, the force of the waves, the temperature of the water. Familiarizing your child with the environment as a whole will help ease any fears they may have. When your child is ready to immerse himself or herself further into the ocean, try walking out through the waves and teaching your child to jump and over the whitewash, but do not force your child to go further than he or she is feel comfortable.

How to teach your child to surf
2-year-old Luna, getting comfortable in the shallow, flat water

Practice on Land

If your child has never touched, laid, or stood on a surfboard or boogie board before, we recommend having them try it on the beach first. Make it interesting for your child by creating a game. For example, instruct them to pop up as many times as they can during a 10 or 20-second count. Not only will this exercise get them comfortable with the surfboard, but you will also be teaching them a necessary surfing skill and programming their bodies to learn the motions. Make sure to teach them the importance of proper positioning on the board and have them practice until they get it right (standing towards the back of the board with their weight centered over the middle of the board).

How to teach your child to surf
Mila learning proper positioning for lying on the surfboard before going in the water

Stay Close to Shore and Close to Your Child in the Water

When your child is ready to give surfing a shot, make sure to hold on to your child on the surfboard the entire time in the water. Only go out far enough to where your child would still be able to stand on the bottom if they fall or jump off the surfboard. When catching a wave, make sure to hold on to the back of the surfboard and the ride the wave in together so you are nearby in case he or she falls off and gets tumbled by the wave.

How to teach your child to surf
Luna’s father stays close and holds on to her while waiting for the right wave

Some Tips that May Help the Process:

  1. Keep them warm. It’s no secret that kids like warm water. Throw them into water that is colder than 70 degrees, and you’re bound to have a child retreating back to shore. Consider getting them into a full wetsuit because children get colder faster than adults.
  1. Chances are, your child won’t begin on a traditional surfboard. Get them started on a boogie board, or if they are grown enough, on a foamboard (they’re much softer, lighter, and safer than normal boards). Look for one between 6 and 8 feet.
  1. Give them a little push. Paddling out requires great arm and shoulder strength. If you wait for a day when the surf is small, you can assist them in pushing them out into waves. Pretty quickly they’ll be catching their own broken waves in the shallows without needing a push, and managing themselves in the water.
  1. Kids love to do things with other kids, so if you can get their friends surfing at the same time, they will likely progress faster. Also, having someone to explore the water with keeps anxiety at bay if they’re intimidated, and those early bonds can pay huge dividends if they result in a friend who grows up learning to surf alongside them. If looking after more than 1 child at a time, you also have the option of seeking out a surf school (like Wavehuggers), who offer group lessons for children of any age.

At the end of the day, remember that surfing should be fun. Should your child get scared or get knocked off of their board, it’s your job as the instructor (and as the parent or guardian) to calm them down and make them feel safe again. It’s okay to take breaks on the beach to recollect and build the courage to get back out into the water again.

If you think your child is ready to learn to surf, join us this summer for our surf camp in Huntington Beach! Wavehuggers surf camp is open to kids ages 5-17 years old, and is available in Full week, half day, and drop in sessions! Sign up today, or check our deal this month on private surf lesson packages, and take a lesson with your child! Private lessons are great for surfers of any age and skill level, and our instructors cater each lesson to the needs of our learners.