I’m not a native Floridian. I didn’t grow up with the beach just down the road and year-round sunshine. My kids, however, were lucky enough to be born here. I never learned how to surf, and I am amazed when we go to the beach and see small kids surfing. How do they do that? I want my Florida boys to experience the salt life, so I am setting out on a quest to find out how to turn them into groms.
When I see kids surfing, I assume they started very young. However, I’ve learned that is not always the case. For example, local girl Ella Cornett, age 10 has been surfing for only two years and yet has developed contest-winning surfing skills. In December 2011, Ella placed 3rd in her age group in the Florida Surfing Association State Championship in Jacksonville Beach, and 2nd in her division in the Annual Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic in September 2012. Her mother, local photographer Amy Cornett reports that Ella learned to surf in one lesson while on vacation, then came home and asked for a board to start practicing. Since then, she has repeatedly participated in a local surfing camp for kids called Surf into Summer.
Many surf camps are offered for kids during the summer here at the Beach. The longest running camp, Surf into Summer, offers instruction for surfers of all experience levels. Classes begin with an introduction to safety and surfer etiquette, and then they hit the waves. With some of the top surfers in the area instructing, your kids will be off to a great start. Surf into Summer hosts camps in Jax Beach at Seagate Avenue and Ponte Vedra at Mickler’s. All necessary equipment is provided. (904) 962-SURF www.surfintosummer.com
The Florida Surfing Association sponsors the Endless Summer Surf Program near the Jacksonville Beach Pier. FSA features an experienced staff with a proven track record working with surfers of all skill levels as well as special needs children. A CPR certified instructor is on duty during every camp, and in the early stages, training is one on one. They recommend that your child is old enough to learn if he or she has a solid level of comfort in the water and can listen to instruction. Children as young as 4 have learned to surf using their program. All equipment is included–just bring a towel, sunscreen and a water bottle. (904) 383-0443 www.floridasurfing.org/endless-summer-surf-camp
EPIC Surf Ministry’s surf camp has been voted number one by local parents for two years in a row. Their headquarters are located across from the beach at the corner of 1st Street South and 3rd Avenue South, so even in the event of sudden inclement weather, campers have a place to retreat and hang out. The youngest recommended age for participants is 6, and campers should have adequate swimming skills. Dolsey soft-top boards are provided to make those occasional wipe-outs easier on little bodies. Scholarships are available. (904) 249-1201 www.epicsurfministries.com/day-surf-camps
In Atlantic Beach, Jax Surf Training hosts a summer surf camp on a less-crowded location at 7th Street and Beach Avenue. They offer a low camper-to-instructor ratio of 5 to 1, and all their instructors are female. In fact, one week in July, camp is for girls only! All other weeks are co-ed. At the end of each week, campers receive a goody bag and Friday beach pizza party. Equipment is provided, as are rash guards. Make reservations online at www.jacksonvillesurftraining.com or call (904) 435-7873.
Even kids with special needs can learn to love surfing. The HEAL Foundation and the City of Jacksonville Beach sponsors a two-day surf camp for kids with autism at 16th Avenue South every summer. Instructors have special training in working with these special kids. Participants have to be at least 8 years old and be able to swim. Softboards are provided. See www.healautismnow.org/surfcamp.html for details and information about registration. This camp is limited to the first 25 kids registered.
If you’d like to give your kids a taste of surfing before signing up for camp, a free local event offers the perfect opportunity. For five years in a row, the Florida Surfing Association has hosted the Super Grom Surf Festival at Jacksonville Beach Pier. From 9am to 1pm, free surfing instruction is provided for pre-registered kids ages 10 and under. This free event takes place three times during the summer and includes lunch, a medal, a t-shirt and a goody bag. Participation is limited to the first 150 kids who register, and you may only register for one event per year.
With a little encouragement and some instruction, your grommet can be shooting the curl in no time.