I’m not a good surfer—and it totally doesn’t matter.
I started surfing when I was about 10; as an adult, I can see how much I learned about life from the sport. Surfing is about patience, respect for nature, facing your fears, getting knocked down (a lot) and standing back up again, and having fun no matter what.
Those lessons from the water impact how I deal with challenges in work and life, my commitment to conservation and sustainability, and my can-do attitude.
In other words, surfing is an excellent sport to introduce your kids to. But it can be tough if you don’t live near a break.
Luckily, family surf retreats are becoming increasingly popular. You can join a surf retreat in many parts of the world—Indonesia, Hawaii, France, Portugal, South Africa and more. The Expedition team hasn’t been on any of those retreats, but I recently joined Holly Beck, former pro surfer and owner of Surf With Amigas for a week in Costa Rica.
Surf With Amigas originally focused on women’s retreats, but so many guests asked Beck if she could create a family version that she eventually did.
“Family surf retreats are some of our favorites, because it is so cool to watch kids fall in love with the ocean alongside their parents,” she says. Surf With Amigas now offers several co-ed and family-friendly retreats each year.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering a surf retreat for your clan.
How young is too young?
Experienced surfers say you can start teaching children how to surf as soon as they can swim—whether that’s at 3 years old or 13 years old. According to North Shore Surf Girls, which offers lessons in Oahu, Hawaii, many local surfers start riding waves with their kids when they’re only a year old. (!)
Whatever age kids you have, it’s most important that they feel comfortable in the water. You don’t want to me them (or yourself) miserable on vacation.
You can surf together and apart—or not at all
Surf With Amigas’ retreats offer kids the chance to learn to surf. But as with many other family retreats, if that’s not their thing, childcare and other activities are available, too. Creativity is encouraged with art classes, chocolate-making classes, scavenger hunts, and more. Staff entertain and keep an eye on kids in-between sessions.
Surf With Amigas also breaks up the group so parents can get in some adults-only surfing, as well as time on the waves with kids. For the mixed sessions, things are geared toward the children, with a focus on getting them comfortable in the water.
What about safety?
It’s one of the first questions a lot of parents ask when it comes to adventure activities—and surf retreats should be no different.
When choosing a school or retreat, check that instructors are certified by an international organization like the ISA, and have first aid and CPR training. Look for a very low instructor-student ratio (ideally 1:1).
Most family surf retreats won’t be located at dangerous or advanced breaks, for obvious reasons. There should always be access to a beginner-friendly wave. It should be easy to paddle out to, and have a sandy bottom or be deep enough that a fall isn’t too dangerous.
It’s a good idea to read reviews on the retreats and see if they discuss safety.
What to expect
Most family surf retreats are five to eight days long—a sweet spot for a family trip that is adventure- or activity-heavy.
The best retreats will offer instruction both in and out of the water. You’ll want to learn about surf theory (reading the waves, predicting swells, different types of breaks, etc.) and surf etiquette, as well as how to balance on a board!
Most surf retreats take a two-a-day approach—two sessions in the water per day, or one in the classroom and one taking what you’ve learned and putting it into practice.
How do I choose?
With family surf retreats are popping up all over, the choices can feel overwhelming. Start with the basics: do you want your destination to be easy to reach? What kind of climate are you looking for? Do they offer the amenities your family would look for in a “regular” vacation?
You can find reviews on sites like Book Surf Camps and Perfect Wave Travel; they let you sort by country, price, duration and more to narrow down the options. And, of course, ask for recommendations! After my experience, I would definitely recommend a Surf With Amigas retreat.
Pricing for retreats varies by the number of people in your family and your kids’ ages. They try to make it as affordable as possible for a family to come down and have this experience together. A Surf WIth Amigas retreat typically costs about $6,000, which includes everything except their flights and alcohol.
Still on the fence? Just think about how cool your kids will feel telling friends that they learned how to surf waaaaay back.