Trying2getanswers wrote:Thank you all who responded to my questions..
As someone who has just gone through this (and still going through - kids are now 8 and 10):
1. I highly recommend starting her off bodyboarding rather than surfing. Its much easier to learn, she can do it on her own fairly quickly but it will still teach her lots of important things for surfing (like waves, being dumped, feeling the wave catch you etc). To be honest, my kids found that even large bodyboards were just too hard to handle surf of any size, even whitewater; so a surfboard will just be ripped out of her hands constantly. Indeed, I suggest buying the lightest cheapest bodyboard you can find to start off, rather than a quality one, because she can handle a light board by herself. Which means you dont have to spend your time pushing; but also means she feels confident rather than worried about the board flying around and her being dragged about by her own board (so the cheap ones at the supermarket with barbie or clownfish are the ones to start with - this is only for a year or so, you will then move onto 'proper' body boards). No need for fins, she will be jumping into the wave rather than paddling into it for a while.
2. if you do want to push for surfing, then you need a flat beach with a lot of white water. Even a beach with small unbroken waves will be too hard for a 6/7yr old to learn on, you need white water. Get a 6-7ft softboard and push her into the white water and get her to practice standing and riding into the beach. I doubt, even as a good swimmer, she will be able to paddle into a wave by herself for several years. Get a good quality softboard, as the cheap ones are basically large bodyboards and arent very stable; plus in 3 or 4 years the board can become her actual surfboard. I have seen kids around 8 riding unbroken waves, but not paddle into them (and, for this reason, I'm not sure surfing lessons are warranted unless you want to spend your whole time swimming her out and pushing her onto the wave).
3. as to wetsuits, I found that the short arm/leg ones werent much use, because the arm and leg holes were much bigger than the actual arm/leg, so it let a lot of water in - provided sun protection but not much else. If you are somewhere warmish I recommend instead a 2 or 3mm full sleeve rash vest (for kids you can get one with a full length front zip, which is easy to get on/off) and dont worry about the legs. If colder, then a full length wetsuit is a much better option. But just get the cheap one (there are plenty on ebay or your local walmart or equivalent). The kids will grow out of them in a year or two and will probably only spend 20-30 minutes a day wearing the suit, so longevity isnt really an issue nor is flexibility etc. Some of the cheap ones are a bit rough on the inside but you can sand them down (literally - use a really fine grain sandpaper). Sometimes there are good sales on - a local store had a '2 for 1' sale over my (Australian) winter, so I bought a size 10 and a size 12 wetsuit - so keep an eye on those kind of things for the longer term.
Of course I dont suggest not trying her out surfing, but I do think its a progressive thing and starting off with bodyboarding then white water surfing then venturing a bit further when she is bigger is the way to go. Probably by 10, perhaps younger, she will be ready and (more importantly) physically able to start learning how to surf by herself, rather than being assisted at every stage.