As a veteran surf bum, I know in my heart that our sport is best learned over a (very) long sabbatical spent at a sleepy tropical beach. But if real-life responsibilities prevent the whole family from going on extended surfari, kids and adults can still get acquainted with the sport through the next-best thing: surf camps, which offer immersion in the surfing lifestyle for days or weeks at a time. Unlike surf schools, which break the spell of the ocean with gaps between classes, destination surf camps allow surfers of all ages and skill levels to dedicate themselves fully in watery fun in the sun, at least temporarily.
What to Expect at a Family Surf Camp
- Daily, professional instruction on land and in the water, usually split into two sessions of about three hours each: one just after sunrise, and one after lunch, opportune times for surfing at most breaks.
- Parents often enroll along with their kids. (Moms and dads should remember to bring cameras, too.)
- Accommodations can range from dingy to deluxe, with most outfitters offering a range of options suited to different budgets.
Surfing’s certainly suited to teens, tweens, and adults, but are very young children ready for the surf camp experience? Not really. Most surf-ready boys and girls have ages in the double digits, says Pat Weber, owner and head coach of San Diego Surfing Academy. “It’s not swimming lessons,” he adds. “You’re going to get knocked around. You have to have fortitude and swimming proficiency.” Non-swimmers need not apply. And strength is needed, especially for paddling out through the whitewater, which is often the most tiring, and challenging, part of surfing.
One last thing, says Weber: Make sure that surf camp instructors are CPR trained, insured and versed in safety procedures. With the right teachers, surfing families can expect “measurable tangible results within the first hour of instruction.” Also check with your surf camp in advance about any sea life concerns at the location, such as sharks. While bites are rare, you want to be aware of what the potential risks are.
Where to Wipeout
I learned to surf as a teenager in the waters off Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz in Northern California, but nowadays my favorite places to surf are in Indonesia and Nicaragua: The waters are warmer, and there are fewer great white sharks to worry about. For families with varying levels of surf experience, here are six surf camp destinations definitely worth checking out.
1. San Diego
Southern California’s surfing mecca is an excellent surf camp destination, especially during the warmer months of the year. From May until September, air and water temperatures typically hover in the mid 70s, which means that a wetsuit is optional, not required. Also at this time, smallish west swells, broken up by the occasional stronger south swell, gently massage the coast from Imperial Beach to Oceanside, making San Diego a learner’s paradise, especially at beginner-friendly spots like South Carlsbad State Beach and Pacific Beach.
San Diego Surfing Academy, tel. 800-447-7873, www.surfsdsa.com. Half-day, 24-hour and one-week surf camps available; one-week camp starts at $1,500 per person and includes 120 hours of surfing lessons, all rental equipment, tent (yes, it’s a real camp; you bring sleeping bag), all meals, field trips and more.
The birthplace of surfing is a great place to learn to surf, especially during the relatively calm summer. Oahu, Hawaii’s most populous island, has a higher density of surfing schools and camps than anywhere on the planet, and for good reason: The North Shore offers expert surfers challenging and perfect waves during the winter months, while the South Shore’s easy breakers are an ideal spot for learning. Try Waikiki Beach, where mellow rollers ease in before the shadow of Diamond Head. That’s where Hawaiian royalty practiced the sport for generations before Captain James Cook “discovered” the place in 1778.
Hans Hedeman Surf School, tel. 808-924-7778, www.hhsurf.com. Individual daily lessons start at about $80 per person. Overnight surf camps, run by Quiksilver/Roxy, from about $195 per day.
3. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is part of the small but lucky club of countries that has excellent surfing on two coasts from two oceans. The waves on the Pacific side are more suited to beginners, as coral reefs and erratic, powerful swells establish the Atlantic side as a Caribbean surf paradise for experienced riders only. Playa Hermosa and nearby towns offer the closest surfing to the international airport at San José, but a few hours’ farther away on the Nicoya Peninsula, sleepy towns like Malpaís and Tamarindo attract surfers from around the world to easy beach breaks like Santa Theresa, which are set before picturesque jungles.
Green Iguana Surf Camp, tel, +506-8825-1381, www.greeniguanasurfcamp.com. Overnight surf camps from about $230 per day. Basic surf camp packages in the low season (May 1-Dec. 14) for six nights start at $725 per person based on double occupancy, and include daily surf lessons, unlimited surfboard use, airport and beach transfers, and extra excursions.
4. Byron Bay
Byron Bay in New South Wales is probably the best beginner surfing spot Down Under. The gentle waves, sand-bottomed beaches and laid-back vibe can’t be matched in other places in Australia, which are either too busy, too remote or suffer from dangerous oceanic conditions that aren’t appropriate for beginners. Byron’s got a balmy year-round climate, and the Pacific waters here require a wetsuit only during the winter months of July and August, for surfing spots like the Bay’s famous right-hander.
Surf Camp Australia, tel. +61-2-9262-1757, www.surfcamp.com.au. One-day surf trips start at about $140 and cover two lessons, lunch, wetsuits and surfboards, and all transportation. Weekend trips, four-day and five-day trips available, also.
5. Cape Town
Nestled near the southern tip of the African continent, the city of Cape Town is like a slice of California in South Africa. The mild climate and mellow vibes there are a perfect compliment to the miles of pristine beaches that wrap around the region’s plentiful headlands and bays, all of which receive consistent Atlantic swells, largest during the winter months of July and August. Sounds idyllic, but cold water temps mean that a wetsuit is required year-round, and local surfers are quite familiar with great white sharks that densely populate these waters, especially around False Bay. Families can take heart in the fact that attacks are exceedingly rare, and most surfing beaks, such as Long Beach, have shark lookouts on duty who warn if sharks come near.
Cape Town Surf School, tel. +34-971-79-78, www.nomadsurfers.com. Overnight surf camps from about $122 per day. Seven-day surf camp packages start at about $840 per person, and include breakfast, lunch, all surf equipment, six days of lessons, seven days accommodation, all transportation and one yoga class.
Bali is the most tourist-friendly of the Indonesian isles, featuring a well-established international airport and diverse accommodations ranging from five-star hotels to budget lodges. It’s also the center of Indian Ocean surfing, with drop-dead, perfect waves that start surfers drooling. More than anywhere in the world, Bali’s the ideal spot for a family camp surfari: It has consistent year-round swells, a tropical climate and fascinating local culture. Beginners should forego some advanced spots, like the left-hander at Uluwatu, and instead focus on easier breaks like Dreamland.
Bali Surf Camp and Surf School, tel. +62-81-337-73721, www.balisurfingcamp.com. Overnight surf camps from about $87 per day. One-week surf camp packages with double occupancy lodging start at $450 and include two meals per day, surf guides and transportation to beach.
Article by Ben Chapman, originally written for TravelMuse