Surfing, like many outdoor activities, has surged during the pandemic, as more people opt for longboards and sign up for lessons. Many of these new skaters are children or teens, like Caitlin Summers, 16, of Oceanside, Calif., a local who has been rapidly moving up the competitive ranks of the sport.
During the pandemic, [surfing] It was one of the only things you could do, so there are now more people in the water,” said Caitlin’s mother, Ali Summers.
With sandy breaks, beach promenades, and tidal pools for young children to explore – not to mention fewer crowds and a steady swell in the winter – Southern California is the perfect place for families to learn to surf all year round. And the fact that there are a growing number of young surfers who master the waves out there is inspiring.
“When you see someone who’s similar to you, whether they’re of the same gender, age, or skin color — someone that reflects who you are or who you want to be — it inspires you to follow in their footsteps,” said Huntington Beach surf coach Rocky McKinnon of McKinnon Surf and SUP Lessons, which offers adaptive browsers for all ages and ability levels.
“What’s happening is that the next generation … is taking the sport to the next level,” says McKinnon. “Maybe it starts with this little pocket of women making it, and girls seeing it. Instead of hanging out on the beach, he says more and more, ‘I want to catch the waves too.'”
When local Vanessa Yeager launched Surf Mamas on Facebook seven years ago, it was a local get-together of a few interested young moms taking turns catching surf with babysitting duties on the beach. Renamed Women Who Surf, the group now has over 21,000 members from all over the world.
“To this day guys still dominate surfing, but I see more girls here, especially on weekends, and I love it. You two smile at each other and feel the camaraderie,” says Yeager.
Expand the surfing attraction
Several organizations across the California coast are working to diversify the sport and make it more attractive to newcomers, especially children. The Los Angeles-based nonprofit Surf Bus Foundation has been introducing inner-city youth to surfing every summer since 2003. Visiting families have become the most regular customers for surf lessons at Oceanside’s Whitlock Surf Experience and at the North County Surf Academy, which Specialized in 90-minute lessons suitable for families.
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When Nicole Peterson and her family began visiting Encinitas, Calif., from Park City, Utah, she and her husband put their children at surf camps at Eli Howard, which offer surf lessons year-round seven days a week.
“None of us knew how to surf the Internet when we started going down there,” Peterson says. “There are a lot of lessons and summer camp opportunities on all the beaches. We’ve had the girls on these for five or six years. We’ve been dropping them off at 9 [a.m.]Bring them at noon. It worked out amazingly for everyone.”
These days, the Peterson family, which now includes girls aged 16 and 14, hits the beach together, even if they’re not riding the same waves.
“Our youngest child prefers to walk around on her dance board,” Peterson says. “No matter how big the waves are, you’ll be putting on your fins and paddling with all the surfers or putting on a snorkeling mask and looking for fish. You can park your car and stay parked, go surfing, cycle around, look for shells in tide pools, walk to shops, whatever.” “
In Newport Beach, the female-owned and operated Endless Sun Surf School offers women-only surf camps, private lessons for singles and families, and after-school surf programs for kids. Here owner Amy Reda learned to surf at the age of eight. As she excelled in sports, she used to be one of the very few women who made it to the break every morning.
“Sure, being a kid and a teen surfing and looking around, I was almost always the only girl,” says Reda.
However, the tides are changing on the south coast, even in Orange County, which is more rooted in military history and traditionally defined gender roles than anywhere else on the California coast.
While early morning breakouts still find female surfers often outnumbered by males, demographics may change.
“In the after-school classes, there are two classes where there are more girls than there are boys,” says Reda. “Right now, girls are totally supported surfing. I also think being a lady owner of a project helps people feel comfortable. They want their daughter to go here to learn.”
Not only are more young girls learning to surf in California, they are really good at it.
In 2021, 15-year-old Caitlin Summers became the second youngest surfer ever to win the US Open Surfing Championships in Huntington Beach. “I used to be…one of the girls watching,” Simers says. “It’s weird that you’re the one signing autographs now.”
Fans may get a chance to meet the Simmers at events such as the Super Girl Surf Pro competition, an annual family-friendly festival that was launched in Oceanside in 2007 and attracts hundreds of female surfers from all over the world.
“One thing to remember is that every city and beach has its own character,” Peterson says. “If Huntington isn’t your scene, five miles along the way is another beach, and that vibe might be more than you like.”
Peterson consults Surfline to check conditions at various beaches when her family visits. When families’ feet aren’t getting wet, really, they can enjoy the surf scene of Southern California at the California Surf Museum, which features a special exhibit on Simmers and a comprehensive display of surfboards through the decades.
Not only does Dana Point offer a friendly atmosphere and nice breaks, but it’s also home to a dedicated Baby Beach as well as the Ocean Institute, with pool hikes every weekend and opportunities to learn oceanography year-round.
Most of all, Southern California literally offers softer entrances to the sport of surfing.
“When I’ve been to the big waves elsewhere, she’s been on the reef, which is even more scary,” says Caitlin Summers. “Here, you know that if you fall, you will fall on the sand.”
Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer based in Colorado who has high hopes of becoming a better surfer, but is often found surfing on frozen water. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.