Before we had kids, my husband I surfed whenever and wherever we wanted. I even quit my job in order to surf and travel, and in one three-year stint we visited Costa Rica three times, surfed Hawaii’s North Shore, road-tripped the California coast, lived the van life in Oregon and Washington, and island-hopped in Fiji.
At the time, we knew plenty of people who traveled with their kids so we believed we could too. But in hindsight, there was no blueprint for how to make it all work. So when the time did come to start our own family, we had to figure most of it out on our own.
Here are nine things to remember when it’s your turn to raise a stoked little grom without completely sacrificing your own wave count:
1. Babies Are Easy
Unless you have a particularly cranky sweet pea, go camping and go on surf trips. As a couple, you’ll have to get used to trading off surfing, but it’s good training. This is your foreseeable future for the next several years.
2. Toddlers Are Not Easy
Toddlers are the toughest humans to travel with, so scale your adventures back. Make them about play: fly a kite, dig pits, get sandy and wet. Go camping, but expect nights of little sleep. Be prepared for very short surf sessions or surfing crappy waves because your only window to get out happens to be at peak ebb in onshore wind (go anyway). Brace yourself for the looks you will get from your camping neighbors due to your little one’s 5 am concert of inconsolable howling. And if your little pterodactyl falls asleep at 11 am right when you’re all about to hike down to the beach for a session, park the rig in a shaded spot, recline your seat, and take a nap, too. Think about the long-term gain here, not the session you’re missing.
3. Keep Junior Warm
My family lives in the chilly Northwest, so this goes without saying. But even in warm climates like Southern California or even Hawaii, little ones get cold. Have you ever tried to learn something when you’re uncomfortable? It sucks. Don’t force your kid to “be tough.” Getting them their own wetsuit is critical because you won’t have to rely on rental shops, free to roam as you please. Help your child learn how to put their wetsuit on and take it off. And be patient, this skill takes years. Encouragement helps, as does letting your child figure it all out without your meddling. Just because you put your booties on last doesn’t mean they have to. Letting them make decisions and learning from them will give them ownership, and from ownership comes confidence.
4. Go Catch Some Waves
Yes, play with your kids, let them quit when they want, (even if it’s only after 10 minutes), and make sure to call it a day on a good note. Somewhere in between all of that, go surfing. This is not just for your soul, but for the impression you’ll make on your little one once you’ve come in. Your kids will see your big smile and think, “I want to do that, too!”
5. The More the Merrier
This one’s bittersweet. I savor the moments my family spends together “off the grid.” But if we join up with another surf-stoked family, our kids will spend twice as much time in the water. These joint ventures are not as precious, but the increased water time is worth the trade-off. Definitely take advantage of the peer pressure too. I was able to convince my younger daughter to ride a wave with me because her friend did it with her dad.
6. Find a Pool
A lot of beaches are too hot and exposed for kids or are just unsafe due to giant surf. A warm, quiet pool is a perfect place for your kids to play while you and your spouse take turns surfing. It’s also a great way for your little guppies to work on their swimming skills.
7. Don’t Push Them (Unless They Ask)
Don’t be that parent forcing their kid to surf. It takes some kids years to want to get in the big, loud, scary ocean. Keep in mind that a two-foot wave is almost head high for a three-foot-tall person. Our youngest daughter didn’t get beyond ankle deep water until she was almost five and we made sure she knew it was no problem. She spent a lot of years watching and soaking it all in, weighing the risks. Now, when we get to the beach, she’s the first one to pull out her wetsuit and ask for help putting it on. Of course, if you’re in the surf helping your child catch a wave, then, by all means, give her a push.
8. Keep the Romance
Every parent needs a break from double-checking if the pull-ups are packed and pre-planning all the meals. Parents need time to be together, whether you both surf or one of you surfs and the other reads a stack of books. You might be surprised how much you like each other (cue salsa music opener). Once a year, my husband and I take a trip somewhere warm just the two of us. Even though it’s only for a week, it passes slowly, and it’s just enough time for us to want to go home when it’s over.
9. Go Tropical Once the Kids Are Ready
Taking your kids to surf in Hawaii when they’re five is a waste of money. Wait until all the pieces are in place. Can they swim? Do they feel comfortable in waist-high surf? Can they manage a surfboard safely? Do they have experience with timing? Are they stoked? If you answer, “Yes” to these questions, then they’re ready. Consider enrolling your kids in a surf school. He or she might learn better from an experienced adult that’s not you. It also frees you up to go surfing.
With that said, here are a few surf schools for kids worth checking out:
Mary Osborne’s Kid’s Summer Surf Series is located in Ventura, CA. It’s not tropical, but Mary’s popular camps cover everything from surf etiquette to how to catch waves. Instructors are CPR certified. Ages 3 and up.
Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica has the family surf camp wired. The whole family can get lessons or the kids can get lessons while the parents get shuttled to nearby surf spots. Lifeguards watch over the beach and the instructors are all lifeguard certified. There’s no age restriction and they can even hook you up with babysitting for the little ones.
Surf Buddy Bali is a service “at large” in Bali that provides 1:1 instruction for kids and/or adults, plus they can be hired as local guides to get you to the best and least crowded waves.