Watching Kids Learn to Surf in Tamarindo A Parent’s Reflection

Written by guest contributor: Liisa Vexler

I grew up a skier. We took family ski vacations. My dad learned to ski so we could enjoy the activity as a family. When my husband and I arrived in Tamarindo ten years ago, we enjoyed a beer at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp and watched surfers of all ages ride the endless waves.

Shall we try it, we asked ourselves?

Of course!

We took a lesson. I rode a wave.

You’re expecting me to say I was hooked, aren’t you?

I wasn’t.

Surfing is hard work at first, and since we were only in this part of the country for 3 days, I wasn’t able to take the time to really connect with it.

But what I did connect with was the lifestyle. I wanted my yet unborn children to learn to surf.

Introducing our kids to surfing

I have two boys. They have personalities that are as different as night and day. One is a pleasure seeker. Fun is the name of the game. The other is intense and analytical. He needs a process and an attainable goal or he loses interest.

We were deliberate in our efforts to keep the boys constantly exposed to surfing, without any pressure to take part. We introduced them to the sport, but they arrived at their love for it in very different ways.

The kids’ personalities guided their approach to learning to surf.

Here’s how it happened:

As soon as they could swim, they took a lesson. They were ages 4 and 6 at the time of their first rides. We left it at a couple of lessons. You’ll remember that we are not surfers and thus we were paying someone else to work with them. If they didn’t love it, we weren’t paying. We left it for a while.

Eighteen months later, they are now 6 and 8. They are strong swimmers who spend hours in the water fearlessly boogie boarding on anything Tamarindo Beach will throw at them. They can paddle well on the boogie board, duck dive under the waves, imitating the motion they see from the nearby surfers.

And their friends surf.

Suddenly surfing is where it’s at. We hire a babysitter who is also a surf instructor. The kids want more… a couple of sessions a week is not enough.

The younger one, the pleasure seeker, likes the social aspect of the sport. The cool clothes, the ‘surfer speak’ and the thrill of the ride.

The older more analytical child loves the sense of accomplishment. He speaks in a language I don’t understand about the left he took or the moves he made (do you even call surf maneuvers ‘moves’?). He has also absorbed the culture and the clothing – an improvement over cartoon characters for sure!

Photos courtesy of

What I love most about watching the kids learn to surf here in Costa Rica

So much is written about surfing as a metaphor for life. You miss a wave, there’s always a next one.

I see watching my kids learn to surf as a similar metaphor for parenting. My boys approach surfing from different perspectives and love it for different reasons. They set out on different paths but both arrived at the same place in their own way, following their own rhythm.

This has been a lesson in parenting for me. I set out a foundation, and let them explore.

I asked parents of other little surfers what they like best about watching their kids learn to surf, and more specifically what they think their kids get out of surfing. Here’s what we think:

Confidence and Determination: One mom said, “I love seeing them be so fearless and brave. I love seeing them be braver than me!”

Whether it’s the confidence they get from taking risks and being rewarded, or perhaps confidence generated from mastering a skill before their parents, this quality can cross over into other areas of their life. One parent told me she has watched the fearless confidence her once painfully shy son has on the waves help him to make new friends and be braver at school.

Sportsmanship and community: Surfing, even in contests, encourages participants to congratulate and celebrate the accomplishments of their fellow surfers. Traditionally, surfing has always had an undercurrent of camaraderie that is absent in many other sports. Surfing families enjoy the achievements of each other’s children as much as their own, and what better way to get to know each other than hanging out at the beach.

Patience: I watch my kids who can’t wait a minute for my attention, float out at the break staring at the horizon waiting for the next wave. As far from them as I am at the shore, I see a relaxed look on their face as they learn that it might not be immediate, but there is always a next one.

Living in the Moment: Sometimes my younger son rides a couple of waves and then decides to play in the waves instead of surf. He is simply happy being out in the ocean. Another mom said her less athletic son learned to relax and enjoy the ocean in his attempts at surfing. He was learning to live in the moment.

 Help your kids learn to love surfing in Tamarindo

  1. Encourage your kids to swim and spend time in the ocean. Understanding the power, the currents, the undertows and all the sensations and inherent dangers allows them to feel comfortable away from the shoreline.

  2. Give them a good boogie board. They will learn about wave selection and timing and they will become more comfortable in the ocean.

  3. Wait until they want to surf to avoid any resentment. In our case, as soon as surfing was the kids’ idea, they couldn’t get enough of it.


Want your kids to learn to surf? Come visit Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. My kids love hanging at THE surf spot in town. After a hard surf session, they celebrate with a well-earned icy-cold frozen lemonade.


Liisa Vexler is a writer who lives with her family in Tamarindo, Costa Rica and Ottawa, Canada. You can follow along with her current project at or find her on Facebook, Twitter or email.


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