A Parent’s Guide to Choosing the Best Santa Cruz Summer Surf Camp

parent's guide to summer surfing camp

I will never know what it’s like to grow up Californian. Until recently, my life had always been landlocked, and surfer movies were cool and adventurous in a far-away sense. I had never been forced to confront their reality until the fateful day when my daughter came into the living room and announced, “Mom, I want to learn to surf.”

Suddenly, gruesome images flooded my mind: choppy waves under stormy skies, a cracked green longboard, a horde of shark fins circling nearby. I shook my head and responded with the tried-and-true parent’s credo: “We’ll think about it, okay?”

I definitely didn’t want to hold my children back from learning new things. As a mom, I’m already a stick in the mud compared to California’s parenting style—undoubtedly, most of my daughter’s friends would be returning to school that next fall raving about how they “hung ten” or something during surf camp. We now live in Santa Cruz, the “best surf town,” after all… can I really keep my kids from surfing forever?

Safety Concerns to Factor Into Your Summer Surf Camp Decision

Safety is easily the most important concern that new parents have when starting their kids on their surfing journey. There are many issues to think through, and you may benefit from calling prospective camps to ask about these items specifically before signing up. Those phone calls (and this following list) should help assuage some of your worries. When choosing your camp, be sure to consider:

  • Staff experience. As deep as surfing goes in Santa Cruz, it’s easy to find a camp with instructors who have at least 5 years of surf instruction experience under their belts. Instructors are commonly surfing locals, familiar with all the environmental nuances (and potential dangers) because they’ve surfed our beaches for decades. Kennolyn has chosen to partner with Club Ed, whose instructors are all lifeguards certified in CPR and First Aid.
  • Instructor-to-camper ratio. Most of the big-name Santa Cruz surf schools that partner with camps maintain a ratio of one instructor to five or six campers. Club Ed maintains a ratio of one instructor to every four campers, meaning there are anywhere from three to six qualified supervisors active with program participants at all times. In the most common surf spots for beginners, there are also multiple lifeguards posted on the beach as well as traveling sheriffs who patrol the waters. In addition, some camps (as we do) may send their own certified lifeguard for added safety.
  • Sharks and other wildlife. There are indeed sharks in this hemisphere—15 great white sharks were spotted this summer alone off the coast of Santa Cruz. However, the director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz wrote multiple articles in the Santa Cruz Sentinel this summer assuring readers that the risk of a shark attack is actually startlingly low. The beginner-friendly waters are more often frequented by dolphins and sea otters.
  • Ocean safety. One thing you can take for granted is Santa Cruz’s reliable and consistent surf. Kids won’t be let down by a lack of waves, but it is crucial that campers are confident swimmers and learn to navigate these conditions. At Kennolyn Camps, we hold safety as a number one priority and only partner with companies that hold the same value. Kids learn about wave dynamics along with paddling, maneuvering, and safe riding techniques.
  • Water cleanliness. Despite doubts, water quality is actually very high during the dry summer months. As long as you avoid surfing or swimming for three days after a rainstorm, you should experience water that’s low in the indicator bacteria that could cause human sickness. Again, using local providers means people who grew up in these waters and know how and where to monitor water quality.

Consider the Bigger Picture

If you’re looking for programs in Santa Cruz, you’re already looking at one of the best surf spots in the world. You’ll find that surf lessons are a popular choice, but these are typically offered for just a couple hours at a time for perhaps a total of two lessons. This might be a good option for those who have plenty of opportunities to practice on their own—and are willing to purchase or rent the wetsuit, longboard, leash, etc.

On the other hand, day or overnight surf camps typically last for a week or more and provide all the necessary equipment. Through this immersive experience, versus a brief four hours of lessons, kids receive a daily dose of board time and gain far more on-the-water experience. With this extended activity they’re also benefitting from the community sports participation that can enhance physical, psychological, and social development. That community benefit goes even further when the surfing program runs in the context of a traditional summer camp experience.

At Kennolyn Camps (in partnership with Club Ed), we offer an all-inclusive overnight summer camp with a two-week surfing program that addresses all of the major parent concerns. Our surf camp incorporates experienced instructors leading small groups, in some of the best surf spots for beginners, and provides the benefits of a residential camp community built around our favorite summer camp traditions. Ten years of experience leading this particular program means that we are very familiar with what kids love (and what parents worry about). At Kennolyn, we strive to take care of both.

Your kids are sure to enjoy the in-depth surfing instruction and fun growth-encouraging atmosphere. Parents benefit as well: after one summer at Kennolyn, you will be a seasoned surfing parent and might even be excited enough to go watch your camper ride the curl.

If you’re interested in giving your children a dedicated surfing experience alongside the spirited community traditions of a summer camp, check out Kennolyn Camps. Surfing programs are available for campers 7th grade and above, with other options for all students 1st through 12th grades. With countless activities to choose from, your child can have the experience that fits them best.


Lead Image Source: Flikr user Edmund Garman

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