When you visit Hawaii you attend a luau. When you travel to New York you walk through Central Park. When you visit the California coast you go surfing. Some trips just call for trying new experiences and although California offers families a lot of opportunities for adventure, surfing is probably one of the top ideas for a coastal visit.
As part of a Southern California trip my son and I took, we made a brief stop in Huntington Beach, one of my favourite coastal areas in the state. Even since our last visit the area continues to grow while still maintaining its laidback charm.
If you’ve ever travelled with a tween, you know it can be a difficult age to entertain, not quite the young kid but still shy of more grown-up pursuits. My son likes to skateboard so surfing seemed like a natural transition. Thankfully the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa where we were staying is home of Toes on the Nose, an adventure shop offering bike and boogie board rentals as well as surf lessons. In case you’re wondering “toes on the nose” it turns out is part of surfing lingo, meaning standing (toes) on the end of a longboard (nose).
When you’re trying something new, especially something that falls in the more adventurous category, I would recommend taking lessons. This will help ensure your experience is the best possible within the short window of your visit. Along with understanding the importance of a lesson, my son and I also made a few other discoveries as first time surfers:
Pick a Reputable Company. Since so many people visiting the California coast want to experience surfing either for the first time or as a something they tried on their last vacation, you can imagine how easy it may be to find someone providing lessons throughout town. Grabbing a cheap lesson isn’t always the best, especially when you have your child’s safety in mind. Having the Hyatt endorse Toes on the Nose went a long way in adding to my comfort level.
A Surf Instructor with Patience. Having talent and skill might make someone a great surfer but that skill isn’t always easy to transfer over to someone else. It can be frustrating for a person at a higher skill set to step back into the basics for a beginner. Find an instructor who understands and has patience, knowing kids (and some adults) might take a while to develop a technique if they develop it at all. We were fortunate with our instructor John from Notes to Toes, a surfer I heard is well known and respected in the Huntington Beach area. He was patient, offered encouragement and didn’t push either my son or myself too far out of our comfort zone.
Plan More Than One Lesson. If this is the first time you plan on trying surfing you may be full of excitement and fear, at least that’s how we felt. This can be draining physically and mentally. I found the first lesson gives you a sense of what it feels like to balance on the board, wipeout, feel the rush of the wave push you, and if you’re lucky, the thrill of actually surfing a wave to the shore. That’s a lot to take in during one lesson. Our window was limited since we were only in Huntington Beach for the day but should you be there longer I would plan at least two lessons during your stay. The first one helps prepare you and the additional lesson(s) enable(s) you to enjoy the experience.
Avoid the Pier. The Huntington Beach Pier is a popular spot for beach goers and surfers. We found ourselves entertained, watching surfers handle the waves not far from the pier. But not only will this area be busy with others surfer (and an audience watching), the current can often be stronger. A reputable instructor will probably have you surfing away from this area for these reasons but if not, you might want to second guess that lesson.
Wetsuits Are Warm and Buoyant. Sure, slipping into one of those second skin suits may not be that flattering to your figure – again I’m talking about myself since my son looked like he belonged in his suit – they are surprisingly warm. Although surfing in the ocean was cold on our feet, we felt no discomfort on the rest of our body. Certainly a bonus if you want to spend more time in the surf. These suits also offer you a little buoyancy which is comforting during a wipeout, something my son discovered.
Paddling Out is a Lot of Work. To get out to waves you will have to paddle your board, laying on your stomach and doing a front crawl manoeuvre. As someone who doesn’t swim often, this was a lot of work. I could really feel this in my upper arms to the point that by my third run out I didn’t think I had enough energy for an additional surf. This wasn’t something I was expecting at all. It just means I need to work on my upper body for our next visit.
[Try to] Grab a Photo. If you’re lucky this won’t be the last time you try surfing. However, if you’re not on the coast again or decide it isn’t an activity for you (it’s not for everyone), you’ll want a record of what you accomplished. This can be easier said than done. If you take turns surfing, someone on shore can try to grab a shot though you may find the surfing party drifts down the coast due to the current, making it harder to grab a photo. Don’t worry about it being a professional photo. Even a blurry shot on the water or a shore shot will evoke memories of your experience for years to come.
Surfing Isn’t Just for Kids. It’s easy to relegate anything athletic or adventurous as something the kids will do while you sit on the sidelines. I’m not very athletic and the thought of surfing did freak me out but just like we encourage our kids to step out of their comfort zone, so must we. That’s what I did on this trip with surfing and and a few other things and I’m glad I did. Not only did it help create a unique connection with my son, it also reminded me to not to get stagnate by letting opportunities and experiences pass me by.
Southern California offers great dining and scenery but also a good dose of adventure. If you’re planning on trying your hand at surfing on your next visit or maybe never gave it much thought, hopefully our experience will prepare you to get out on that board.