Teach Groms Surf School

With no less than 75 surf breaks in the Margaret River Region, there are a few good spots to teach the groms (kids) how to surf.

For over 25 years, former pro-surfer Josh Palmateer taught people to surf from as young as four to as old as 88. Now run by Simon Tien since 2022, the Margaret River Surfing Academy still practices the same philosophy – tailoring its teaching methods to suit the individual, even in group lessons. “Sometimes kids are a little nervous and that’s totally normal. We’d allocate a coach to them and sometimes that might mean sitting back and watching the other kids for a while, or just spending time getting comfortable in the water,” Josh says.

“It would always start with surf safety, ocean awareness and knowledge, things like identifying rips, explaining how they work, pointing out the shallow sand bars, teaching them how to fall off their surfboard safely and get back on. Then do some practise on how to quickly go from lying down to standing on a board.”

And there’s different methods for different sized people, fitness levels and those with dodgy knees and the like. “By identifying the dangers in the ocean that they are going to face, by educating everyone how to enjoy the surf and stay safe, their confidence grows, they have a better feel for it and aren’t as nervous. We would go through how to control the surfboard, how to enter the ocean carrying a board, how to turn around and paddle, also landmarks so they know where they are in the ocean and know where to stay. With the little ones between four and six years old, we’d do a bit of a safety talk, have them do an activity, go back to the safety talk, another activity – they have shorter attention spans and won’t sit still for long.”

By identifying the dangers in the ocean that they are going to face, by educating everyone how to enjoy the surf and stay safe, their confidence grows, they have a better feel for it and aren’t as nervous

Learn to surf with Margaret River Surf School
Margaret River Surf School. Photo: Supplied by Tourism Australia, Scott Slawinski

Surfer and mum to two boys (now in their teens), Jane Seman says the key is to let kids build confidence in the water from a young age.

“I took up surfing in my twenties, but my boys have been at the beach with me since they were born and have always played in the waves and the ocean – they got their first boogie board when they were about five years old, first foamy at four and six, and their first fibreglass board when they turned seven,” Jane says. Now, Jane and her boys go out surfing together all the time and surf the same waves.

“Between the three of us, one always wants to go surfing and we amp each other up.” Jane’s advice is to start with letting kids get comfortable in the water at their own pace, then introduce some sort of board like a boogie board. Also let them get smashed in the waves without boards at Rivermouth and at Gnarabup.

“My boys have always just loved the wipe outs, they come away laughing, they’ve always really enjoyed getting tumbled in the ocean – they think it’s awesome. It’s an early experience of playing in shore dumps, getting smashed, having a ball. Their memories and experience of that are positive which help them learn and understand the ocean. It’s also important not to push them too hard to surf straight away. Let them learn, get confident and have fun in the ocean first and it doesn’t matter if they are surfing or not.”

Kid surfing at Smiths Beach. Credit Rachel Claire
A grom catching a wave at Smiths Beach. Credit Rachel Claire.

Jane, who incidentally finished second in the Pro Women’s division in the 2022 International Windsurfing Tour Wave Tour (while her then 15-year-old son Jake, placed third in the Youth section of the tournament), says both of her boys did surf lessons with Josh through their school.

“Sometimes kids will listen to a coach or teacher – someone that isn’t mum or dad,” Josh says. “Gaining confidence and learning about ocean safety is hugely important in a place like Margs where the surf breaks are famous for being big, powerful and raw, one reason why it’s on the World Surf League Championship Tour, the sport’s top tier. And there’s a lot of deep water out there.”

“For beginners and first timers, we go into a beach break situation, the Margaret Rivermouth, Grunters beach, where there’s no rocks. When it’s big everywhere else, Gnarabup Beach has waist high waves which is perfect for beginners. Intermediate surfers go to the same beaches, as well as reef breaks like Huzzas, inside Grunters on the reef, and the advanced surfers, well, they can do anywhere,” Josh says.

Jane says that once the kids have some ocean confidence, start slowly and start surfing small waves. “When they are really little, Joey’s Nose at Kilcarnup (accessed via 4WD track) is great, it has a sandy bottom and is really shallow,” says Jane. “Inside Grunters is awesome, it’s almost so small that most adults don’t go there, it peels really well, perfect little reef break, one of the best.”

Groms kids surfing
Photo: Surfing WA

Best Beginner Surf Breaks

Top Tips for Teaching Kids

  • Slowly build up confidence by letting them play
  • Teach them about ocean safety
  • Enrol them into a few lessons with the professionals

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