/ Feb 9

The Ultimate Guide to Surfing for Kids

Words by George Frost

Through our many years of running our Bodhi Surf + Yoga Family Surf Camps, we know a thing or two when it comes to surfing for kids.

Within the last 13 years, we’ve taught more families with kids to surf than we can count.

We understand the apprehension of booking an ocean vacation, especially with children.

We get many inquiries from families interested in our family surf camps but aren’t sure if it’s right for their kids. Whether they’re adults or youngsters, teaching people to surf safely and independently is our topmost goal.

We hope this honest and transparent blog eases your stresses and is the sign you’ve been looking for to book that family surf vacation!

“It was the perfect holiday for a family with kids. 10/10 would go again.”

backcountry2016, 2018

What do we know about surfing for kids?

Having had so much experience with families trusting us, we’ve become accustomed to teaching kids to surf and ensuring their safety in the ocean.

In writing a blog based on safety for kids, we want to keep it both informative and fun.

I sat down with the surf-obsessed 7 and 11-year-old daughters of co-owners Travis and Pilar and asked them their thoughts on surfing for kids. Who better to ask, right?

The thoughts they shared with me are scattered throughout the blog, but you can jump to the main part here.

Beyond this, co-founders Adrianne and Travis have also been surfing since they were young. Adrianne, aged 20, and Travis, aged 12. Travis has even been teaching kids to surf since he was 20!

Our home – the Marino Ballena National Park

We are beyond grateful every single day to conduct our surf lessons in the paradise that is the Marino Ballena National Park.

This is the ideal location for teaching kids to surf! The size of our waves varies throughout the year, but overall consists of smaller waves in the shallow part of the beach for beginners and kids, and larger waves further out for more intermediate learners.

The beach is wide and extends about two miles from end to end, meaning we never have to worry about it being crowded during our surf lessons.

You have your own space to make mistakes, learn, and get better.

The national park also has lifeguards on duty and park rangers doing regular safety patrols!

It’s a beach break with soft and powdery sand. That means that you don’t have to worry about falling off your board and landing on rocks or reefs.

We should also mention that the national park is absolutely breathtaking, just as a bonus.

Kid surfing a boogie board

At what age can kids start learning to surf?

This question is dependent on the kid.

Some kids pick up specific skills and abilities quicker than others, and can naturally be more physically and mentally adept to it.

Kids can start out on a boogie board as young as two years old, and then be on a surfboard not too long after. Again, this depends on the child, their abilities, and their comfort level in the ocean.

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga we feel comfortable teaching kids to surf from around the age of six.

But this doesn’t mean we won’t accept younger kids. We have plenty of experience teaching kids under the age of six!

A lot of the time, if kids have experience with sports such as skiing or skateboarding, they can be taught to surf from a younger age.

Having used certain muscle groups and built muscle memory, these kids will likely have the strength and abilities that make us feel comfortable teaching them to surf, albeit at a younger age.

For example, over Thanksgiving 2022, we had a fantastic family stay with us with their five-year-old kid. The family are big skiers, so the kid had experience controlling and using his muscles and body weight.

So we were able to teach him to surf!

The reason we say around the age of six is because we feel that at this age kids are more attentive and receptive to instruction.

The board can be a danger to the surfer and others if it isn’t controlled and is left to be slapped around by the waves. At this age kids have better control of their bodies and muscles, helping them control their surfboard.

We also feel that at around the age of six, kids are better swimmers. For obvious reasons, this is better for us as surf instructors.

What height do you have to be to surf?

For us, it’s less about the height of our students and more about their ability to manage themselves in the water.

We don’t want to place too much emphasis on the need for strength for surfing for kids. There’s no need to put your son/daughter through a HIT boot camp before your trip!

What we mean by ‘ability’ is:

  • Swimming skills and experience
  • Handling and managing the surfboard
  • Body control – i.e., their weight and muscles
  • Comfort in the ocean – the ability not to panic in the waves
  • Receptiveness to instruction – not just for proper technique, but for ensuring safety

Check out our video on Surfboard Control for Beginners in our Learn How to Surf series.

“The instructors are very knowledgeable but also know how to make surfing fun! Our kids are young and are new at surfing and the instructors were amazing with them.”

Hayley K, 2022
Kid falling off surfboard

Is surfing for kids difficult? Is it dangerous?

Surfing is an unpredictable sport.

Why is that? No wave is the same.

Surfing is unlike soccer or basketball, where you can stand in the same spot perfecting your shot for hours.

You can pop up perfectly on one wave and have a mouth full of salt water on the next (yum!).

Some waves are small and gentle, and others are huge and powerful. This variation of conditions can occur within just minutes.

This is why we’re cautious with the age of kids that we teach to surf. A five-year-old, for example, can be fine surfing the smaller waves but would be in trouble if a larger set of waves passes through.

In this vein, the only main danger that occurs exclusively to kids that adults won’t necessarily face is a lack of strength. It’s not just about their ability to stand up on the board, but it’s imperative that they’re not in danger of the force of the waves and conditions.

Having said that, we’re not silly enough to have kids paddling out and facing the same challenges that our adult students do!

When working with kids, we have a dedicated surf instructor who works with them.

Yes, this helps the kids tremendously.

In addition, it helps you, parents! We believe this allows you to focus on yourselves and not be concerned about your kids. Can you even remember what that feels like?!

But depending on the conditions on the day, even the whitewater (where the waves have already broken) and the midzone (between the whitewater and the lineup) can be challenging and tire kids out quickly.

These challenges posed by the conditions can include:

  • Being dragged by currents
  • Being pushed by strong waves
  • Having to paddle through and get hit by large waves

In true kid style, Maya was brutally honest in sharing that “the hardest part is paddling because it takes a lot of strength and is boring.”

We told you we’d be transparent!

Check out our blogs on Is Surfing Hard and The Dangers of Surfing for more information and how to deal with these challenges!

Kid surfing in Uvita, Costa Rica

There are advantages to being a kid, too!

While surfing certainly can be a challenge for kids at times, there are advantages to being a kiddo!

We’ve found that a lot of the time during our family surf lessons, kids end up picking it up a LOT quicker than their parents.

I’ve helped assist a few beginner family surf lessons.

Every single time, I’ve been blown away by how quickly the kids figure it out while their parents are still gripping their boards for dear life.

It’s actually hilarious seeing the sheer awe on the parents’ faces when, within 10 minutes into the lesson, the kids are up on their feet – and they’re still nosediving.

There’s nothing wrong with nosediving. It’s all a part of the learning process!

It’s just that kids have somehow been blessed with the ability to skip half of this process and get straight to the fun parts.

We put this down to a few things.

Kids aren’t necessarily so concerned with how they look while they surf. They don’t have the fear of failure and don’t put as much pressure on themselves.

We find that adults tend to see surfing as a test, while kids see it as a fun activity. Kids are also more resilient and bounce back quicker from wipeouts.

There’s a lot we as adults, can learn from kids!

“Once we got there the kids (8 and 10) had a wonderful week of surf lessons and fun and we enjoyed the relaxed vibe while learning, not quite as fast as the kids, how to get up and enjoy riding the surf!”

Steve A, 2019
Kids surfing at Bodhi Surf + Yoga

How do we teach surfing to kids at Bodhi Surf + Yoga?

Here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we have our very own curriculum for teaching surfing to kids.

Just like with our Bodhi Sessions lessons for adults, we start kids off with bodysurfing.

We’re obsessed with bodysurfing here.

We’re kind of pioneers in using it and teaching it with surf. We’re one of the only surf schools around that teaches bodysurfing!

So why start with bodysurfing?

There are immense benefits of learning to bodysurf.

One of our lead surf instructors and bodysurfing guru, Spencer, has written a blog explaining everything you need to know about bodysurfing.

But in a nutshell, bodysurfing allows kids to get comfortable in the ocean.

Instead of rushing straight into the water with a surfboard, bodysurfing helps children:

  • Read waves
  • Experience the feeling of catching a wave.
  • Surf without the pressure of having a board
  • Get used to being in the ocean

And not to be forgotten – it is SO much fun.

We find that having bodysurfed for a bit, kids (and adults) are pumped up, confident, and ready to head into the ocean with a board!

Surfing theory lesson on the beach

Fun and engaging theory formatted for kids

We’re not big fans of rushing students into the water as soon as possible.

There’s no rush. We teach our students some critical info on the sand first.

This includes theory aspects, such as:

  • What waves are
  • How ocean waves are formed
  • What affects waves
  • Reading the ocean conditions

Although this information is essential, we don’t want to make this part of the lesson boring for kids. Our surf instructors keep it fresh and entertaining by bringing pictures and diagrams for visual aids!

Our students are also taught about where they’re surfing, the beautiful Marino Ballena National Park.

We teach kids and other students about:

  • The significance of the national park
  • Its islands and the surrounding area
  • The animals that call it home – whales, dolphins, stingrays

We let kids play in the sand, exploring the shells, reefs, lizards, and birds – the surf lessons become an environmental education course!

Surfing for kids is all about safety

What’s the best way of ensuring safety? Teaching the correct techniques.

Again, we see from many surf schools the need to get their students standing up on their boards as soon as possible.

In doing this, a lot of important information is sacrificed.

There’s so much more to surfing than popping up and getting to your feet. Did you know there are even correct ways to fall off your surfboard?

Our surf lessons include how to walk your board out correctly, correct paddling techniques, turn around, stop, read waves, etc.

When teaching surfing to kids, placing importance on these things will help them be better surfers! But most importantly for us, this correct technique will keep them and those around them safe.

You and your families can practice these techniques before arriving here, FOR FREE! Head to YouTube and check out our Learn How to Surf Series.

Kid surfing at Bodhi Surf + Yoga

Creating independent surfers

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, our philosophy is to empower our onsite guests to be independent travelers.

In terms of surfing, this means that our goal is to empower you to be independent surfers!

What do we mean by this?

The goal is that after your week (or two) with us, you can continue your surfing journey elsewhere.

Many of our guests who have had previous surf lessons have only ever been pushed into waves by their surf instructors.

Yes, this is fun and easy. But it doesn’t teach you anything. You’ll still need to be pushed into waves anywhere you go.

We structure all of our lessons for kids by giving them the correct instructions and practice to take what they’ve learned with us and surf anywhere they go!

“My kids killed it out there and I couldn’t have been more proud to watch them tackle something difficult and succeed. Thanks to the instructors they were both surfing the green waves and having the time of their life.”

Laura J, 2023
Surfing for kids

Surfing for kids – the benefits

Surfing for kids (and anyone for that matter!) has immense benefits. Trust us, we know.

We’ve written an entire blog on the physical, mental & spiritual benefits of surfing.

What we love most about what surfing does for kids is that it teaches them to fall in love with the ocean from a young age.

Our thesis is that by falling in love with the ocean, we feel more strongly about wanting to protect it.

We at Bodhi Surf + Yoga refer to this as creating ocean guardians: people who care for the ocean and make it their responsibility to protect it.

Surfing for kids can be beneficial in that it teaches them from a young not to be fearful or scared of Mother Ocean, but to respect and admire her.

It will help kids become stronger swimmers, keeping them safer when they go swimming and teaches them skills such as:

  • Endurance
  • Patience
  • Determination
Kid surfing at Bodhi Surf + Yoga

Why not hear it from two kids that surf?

Here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we have two of our very own kid surfers!

They are Maya (age 11) and Clea (age 7), the daughters of co-owners Travis and Pilar (they’re in the two pictures above).

Before writing this blog, I thought, why not ask the two about the benefits of surfing for kids?

Who better to talk about surfing for kids than two kids who surf (very well) and love doing it? They both started boogie-boarding at four and learned to surf at five.

So, one day during their school summer vacation, I convinced them to pause a very intense game of Mario Kart and talk to me about their love for surfing.

My first question was, “Why do you love surfing?” The responses were as follows:

  • Maya: “It’s fun. I love being in the water because it’s refreshing and connecting. Whenever I get home from a session, I feel refreshed, but not in a cool way. Like, I’m in a good attitude.”
  • Clea: “It’s fun. It’s nice exercise. It doesn’t feel like exercise, but it is. It helps me recover when my legs hurt from doing gymnastics. I love the animals in the ocean.”

I asked, “Why are you glad you learned to surf as a kid?”:

  • Maya: “In the future, if I do wanna’ become a good surfer, it’s good to have the extra practice from early on. It’s good surfing from a young age because it helped me feel more comfortable in the ocean.”
  • Clea: “Because I get to enjoy my whole life surfing. Now that I’m seven,, I get to stand up, paddle out, and ride big waves.”

Their words are simple but straightforward. Surfing from a young age has helped and empowered them to feel comfortable and confident doing something they love.

We’re so proud of Maya and Clea.

Surfing is often viewed as a “boy’s sport” – but they don’t care. They’re helping break down this barrier and proving that surfing is for everyone!

They’re two of the most natural surfers I’ve ever seen.

Kid boogie boarding

Tips for surfing with kids

Having read up to this point in the blog, we hope you’re learning towards learning to surf with your kids!

Trust us, it’ll connect you and your family like nothing else.

Surf instruction makes a huge difference

A surf school recommending that you take surf classes? Surprise surprise!

But seriously, even just taking one or two surf classes can be the best thing you do for your surfing journey in the long run.

Through quality and intentional surf instruction, you have an educational experience and are being ensured safety!

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we always say, “You don’t know what you don’t know”.

Think about concepts like surf etiquette – how do you know what you’re doing is right? Are you following the rules or just being a straight-up menace out there?

Many students claim to be ‘advanced surfers’ because they can stand up in the white water but don’t even know how to attach their leash!

Like Clea said –taking lessons from a young age starts your surfing journey early and prevents you from having to take a few steps back when you’re older.

Kids attaching leashes before surfing

Surf equipment for kids

Just as if you’re an adult, using the correct board size as a kid is very important.

We usually have kids using a board that’s just a bit taller than they are.

We tend to put “newby” kid surfers on softboards. These are more buoyant and allow you to be more stable and balanced. It’s also safer than using a hardboard.

As kids generally have less control over their surfboards (as do new adults), using a leash is sensible. This protects others in the vicinity from the surfboard being pushed away and hitting them.

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, all of our students use leashes, whether in the white water or surfing the blue-green waves out back. Safety is our number one priority!

We also recommend that our kid students wear rashguards. These act as great sun protectants and prevent rashes on the chest or stomach from rubbing up against the soft deck of the soft board.

Surf hats are also highly recommended for protection against the sun.

Here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga we provide all of these things, but we also have the Costa Verde Surf Shop very nearby where guests can purchase their own!

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we partner with fellow B Corp company Badger Balm for their sunscreens. We’re huge fans of their kids mineral sunscreen.

Surfing can be pretty tiring, especially for kids who haven’t fully developed their muscles yet and haven’t reached their peak strength.

Because of this, bringing a boogie board to the beach can be helpful. This is slightly less tiring and physically demanding than surfing.

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we’re not huge fans of using life jackets while surfing. These hinder your ability to pop up on your surfboard and can be quite annoying.

We don’t find that they help safety-wise either, as we’d never have kids who aren’t confident swimmers paddling out in deep water. In this case, they’d be no further out than waist-deep.

Check out the Surf Gear for Beginners video in our Learn to Surf Series!

Family surf camp in Uvita, Costa Rica

Take your kids on a family surf vacation!

As we said, this blog aims to be honest and transparent.

We want to convince you that your kids can learn to surf.

But as a trusted family surf and yoga camp, we are also responsible for giving you the entire story.

We’d be stoked to have you and your family down here to learn to surf with us and fall in love with the ocean together.

And if not with us here in Bahia Ballena, we hope we’ve still made you feel comfortable learning to surf with your kids elsewhere.

And on that note, we’ll leave you with this profound quote from Clea: “Don’t be scared. Because then if you’re not scared, you can ride more waves and enjoy them”.

She’s not wrong!

Get Step-by-Step Surf Lessons in Your Inbox

Learn to Catch Waves with our free 5-day email series from one of our lead surf instructors here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga.

Get Step-by-Step Surf Lessons in Your Inbox

Learn to Catch Waves with our free 5-day email series from one of our lead surf instructors here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga.

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George Frost

George is a food, music, nature, and football-obsessed blog writer at Bodhi Surf + Yoga. He comes all the way from Bermuda and loves sharing his culture with everyone. He is passionate about traveling, as well as experiencing and learning from other cultures.
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