Creating Beach Babies From Birth
When we love something so much ourselves, its natural as a parent that we want to share that with our children. I grew up on the beach, and I love being in the water and I love surfing. It provides so much richness to my life (mentally, physically and socially) and I want that for my daughters. I want to give them the best opportunity to fall in love with the beach (and surfing too!). As we all know, there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to children but here are some ideas which might work for you.
Get your baby use to the beach without water. The beach experience in itself, before you add the water, is a sensory overload for little ones. Get them use to the sounds of the waves, the breeze and the feel of the sand with lots of mini beach picnics before introducing them to the water. Sometimes babies struggle with the sensation of the sand and it takes lots of exposure to make them feel comfortable enough to venture off a towel. Then there is a short-lived phase where against best efforts, most bubs manage to eat the odd handful of sand. My daughters learned relatively quickly it was not a great idea, and I noticed it did make it out the other end eventually.
Build water confidence. It starts from birth in the bath at home, enjoying splashing about. Maybe a little toy watering can to pour slowly over them. Down at the beach dip their toes in at the water’s edge. Let them sit in the sand with you as water washes up and over you a little. At about 8 weeks I started to take my daughters swimming, in the pool and ocean (see how to make them comfortable below). When they are a bit older, if you’re able to join a local nippers club, it is a great way to build confidence at the beach. My daughters are still too young but, as a nippers graduate myself, I will be signing them up.
Teach your kids to swim. Swim Schools take children for water familiarity classes from 6 months (some even younger). Make it a fun quality time with you. Babies and kids love playing with their parents and nothing beats exploring the water from the safety of mum and dad. We started by building trenches by the water’s edge and allowing them to fill as the tide comes up. We play with the kids on stand-up paddle boards, they have tea parties on the front, search for fish and use it as a diving platform or humpty dumpty wall. We sit on the surf boards bobbing in the water and ride little waves together on our bellies to shore. A fun way to safely feel the exhilaration of a wave.
Make it fun with other kids. Playing in the water with friends, particularly slightly older friends, has always seemed to make our daughter more excited and confident in the water. Kids go through all different phases of being nervous when they learn about new things sharks, scuba divers, even, pirates. Seeing other children enjoying the water and wanting to be involved seemed to quickly kerb any apprehension surrounding the water.
Make them comfortable. I found success with wide brimmed hats to help with sun glare (and of course for sun safety). There are ones made from swim material for in the water. Babies also struggle to regulate their temperature so we want to make sure they don’t get too cold. Wetsuits for keeping babies and kids warm so they can enjoy the water (or water’s edge) for longer has also helped us. They have the added benefit of helping to protect from wind chill on breezy days. I find ones with Velcro for babies under 1 and zips at the ankles for children over 1 the easiest to use and most comfortable. My daughter also went through a phase of opting to wear her goggles in the salt water. She loved to be able to see what was happening beneath the surface. While my four year old is getting better at swimming in a pool with no floatation, she is way more adventurous and comfortable in the ocean with a buoyancy vest on.
Make the “wipe out” part of the fun. One of the reasons I wrote my book ‘Surfing Ballerina’ was to help normalise the wipe out experience for children. Whether it is falling off a board or being knocked by a wave, we tumble all the time at the beach and it can be fun. Now I see my daughters face pop up after a washing machine moment, she has a split second of disorientation then she breaks out in a smile and asks me if I saw her awesome wipe out. I give out lots of praise when she pops back up and if she ever gets upset and has had enough I give lots of hugs and say how proud I am she gave it a go.
Get them excited about the beach and learning to surf when they are young. Read to your baby and small child books about the beach and surfing. Let them play on surfboards at home. Since my daughters were babies, we would go to the beach and I’d take my board so they can crawl on it, build sand pies on it and I started by catching a few waves and riding up to the water’s edge on my belly to let them see me doing it. I let them sit on the board with me in the shallow water. At home, they help us wax the boards, pretend to pop up or use it for building mud pies.
Be guided by their interest and let them decide when they are ready. Build momentum in line with any interest shown. Don’t push too hard. They might try jumping over one wave and we get excited and want to keep going but let that be enough if they want to call it. Celebrate that they gave it a go. You can try with them again another time or maybe it’s just not their thing and you can connect another way. In terms of surfing, we have lots of equipment on offer (body boards, soft surfboards and SUPs) we tell our four-year-old daughter that if she wants to try any of them out she can let us know and we will be very happy to take her.
Greta is a Freshwater Beach local surfing mum and author. She is the creator of Surfing Ballerina. A sweet and playful learn to surf picture book which encourages young children to give anything a go and teaches them to be present, resilient and to support one another. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram @officialsurfingballerina