How to teach your kid to surf

With Surfing Worlds Resident Hero Dad Doug Lees
Illustrations by Nanda Ormond





Teaching your kids to surf is all about confidence in the water. Pushing them into Third Reef bombs at Pipeline first surf? Trust me, it will end in tears. Remember it only takes one bad experience to dramatically slow down their progress and that could cost you six months out of the water before they try again. Dad to dud in 0.1 seconds.





Along with the bogeyman and brussel sprouts, kids hate cold water. Therefore the best time to get ’em surf stoked is on warm sunny days in the summer months. And here’s an interesting fact: shallow water in the shorey is warmer than the deeper water out the back. I learned that from the shallow and deep ends of my pool.





The water in Australia stays warm right through into autumn but wind chill is a big factor, especially if you’re standing in waist-deep water waiting for the little rascals to paddle back out. You don’t want to go in because you’re cold right when they’re getting into the groove do ya? Even on the hottest day you will get chilly so rubber up.





Kids will always feed off the energy of other kids and so if you hit the waves with your grom and his or her BFF, not only will it be more fun, they’ll probably end up trying to one-up each other as well. Best case scenario you might just have a little Parko/Fanning friendship unfolding, and at worst an intense Kelly/Andy rivalry. Whatever the result, it’s a win as a parent.





Once they get to their feet kids naturally tend to ride waves as long as they can. How cool is that? Problem is they’ll never make it to the shore with those pesky fins dragging through the sand. The solution here is to get them started on finless boards. And while they’re at it, encourage them to grow a beard and wear an unbuttoned collared shirt especially if you’re holidaying in Byron.





You can do worse than kick starting your kids on gut sliders. They’re easy to pack in the car, carry to the beach and require no maintenance. Kids can ride them with friends, there’s no wax to worry about and no pointy edges to hurt themselves with. Best of all, they get to know the pocket of the wave all by themselves and when it rains you can bomb hills at the golf course.





A bad wipeout can be a dramatic psychological hurdle for any young surfer and has the potential to stop the enthusiasm to get out there dead in its tracks. However, wipeouts are also necessary in teaching kids to respect the power of the ocean. What’s needed here is reassurance and education. Like Jon Frank always says, “If you want to dance, you gotta pay the band.”





Paddling sucks for kids. Their bodies don’t have the right muscles and their twig arms don’t extend into the water much further than the wrist. Paddling speed can be a tough thing to muster. The equation here is this: the bigger the board, the easier to paddle, the easier to paddle the more waves to be caught, the more waves to be caught, the more fun will be had. Simple math.





Catching waves with just your body is as pure a surfing experience as you can get. It not only builds confidence in the water, but also gives each surfer a better understanding of how waves break and the movement of currents. Don’t forget to sometimes leave the board on the beach and just get out there for a swim with the kid. Making dolphin noises adds to the fun. E-e-e-e-e-e-e!





Kids always say, “Is there sharks out there Dad?” My reply is, “Of course there is, there’s millions of them and thanks to over-fishing they’re starting to look for alternative sources of food.” Truth is though, sharks are nowhere near as problematic for the young surfer as bluebottles. Those dreaded stingers will end a day at the beach faster than a dropped Cornetto.





As a surfer you have a vast amount of knowledge that you may take for granted. Things like which side of the board to wax, knowing that it will melt if left in the sun, sunscreen on your legs will make the board slippery, which leg your leash goes on and perving on girls should only be done while wearing dark or reflective sunnies. Share your wisdom no matter how small. It all helps.





Sounds obvious, but as I’ve already said, enjoying surfing is about confidence in the water and nothing gives you more than being a strong swimmer. It’s not just about swimming a few strokes and being water smart but also about being able to float in the water when you lose your board. Kids need to know that leggies are not a safety device for people who cannot swim.