Get them stoked

Give your kids the gift of stoke by introducing them to boardsports like surfing and skateboarding, recommends our resident 'Rad Dad'.

If your household is anything like mine, then it’s often the dad who gets roped into getting the grubs out of the house to do all sorts of cool, fun stuff (my official title around here being the ‘Minister of Entertainment’). And as an avid surfer and skateboarder, boardsports have been the most naturally easy way for me to hang out and have fun with my boys.

With International Surfing Day (June 16) and Go Skateboarding Day (June 21) coinciding with Father’s Day this week, now is the perfect time to get your kids outside and stoked on the boardsports that many of us grew up with.



Why grab a board?

Though considered dangerous by many cautious parents, the truth is that boardsports like surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding, all similarly present the perfect blend of energy-burning fun and a healthy workout, and they tap into a unique source of creative expression and spatial awareness in young minds and bodies.

“There are a host of benefits that include fitness, confidence building, and self belief, to mention a few,” says Eben Combrinck, a former skateboarding champion who owns and operates SApumptrax, a skateboarding training facility deep in the cane fields outside Durban, South Africa.

“Even if the kids are not particularly good at riding boards, the environment lends itself to a number of other skills that allow for other areas of creative self expression, like photography, videography, designing art logos/graphics, and understanding geometric specifications in building and designing rideable terrain.”



“Surfing and the lifestyle behind it can improve your patience, physical health and strength,” says Alex Van Rijswijck, a surf instructor based in Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. “For kids, having something to do is a big benefit, as are the friends you make along the way. If you ever have problems with kids playing video games, get them to surf and you’ll hardly see them in the house.”

Explains Eben, “Although there is a space for technology, the importance of active play teaches kids the value of real life experience. They learn to not become accustomed to instant gratification, but rather to understand their bodies, and the capability of their minds to overcome fear. They build confidence in an environment that is constantly changing and challenging according to their level of competence and creative visualization.”


Safety first

Whenever my kids pick up my skateboards and start messing around with them in the driveway, I always warn them: Skateboarding hurts. If you step on a skateboard, you will fall off it – my scars and broken bones are testament to that.

However, with the right protective gear – helmets, knee and elbow pads, appropriate clothing and good closed shoes – as well as attentive supervision, skateboarding is arguably one of the most accessible sports in the world. And as the millions of kids around the world who are devoted to it will tell you – it’s just pure fun!

“Find a park or environment that is safe, controlled and well designed to accommodate a progressive learning environment,” says Eben. “At SApumptrax, we have a strict ‘no helmet no ride’ policy for under 18s, as safety is an important factor during the early stages and protective wear is highly recommended to reduce risk.”



Meanwhile, in surfing, the ocean presents its own dangers, from rash and sunburn (load up that SPF!), to riptides and hidden rocks. One key piece of advice is be sure your child at least knows how to swim. Beyond that, at almost every beach in the world conducive to beginner surfers, surf schools have exploded in recent years and are highly recommended to teach kids the basics before they go out on their own.



“Although the ocean is a dangerous place,” says Alex, “if you are aware and recognize these dangers you can successfully avoid putting yourself in potentially harmful situations. Surfing doesn’t have to be a extreme sport, and I would reassure any fearful parent that if the conditions are right, and with assistance from a surf coach or friend/family member with surfing experience, there is really nothing to be afraid of. Avoid surfing alone, especially as a beginner. Ask lifeguards or fellow surfers for advice on what to watch out for and where to surf.”


But be patient, Rad Dads

This past summer I introduced my oldest son to the joy of surfing. Granted, he is still lying prone on a bodyboard, but within a few days had progressed from playing in the shorebreak to catching larger 2-3 foot unbroken waves out the back.

“Surfing is now my second favorite thing to do, behind Legos,” he told me with a huge smile one afternoon, before eating twice the volume of his normal dinner and crashing out exhausted.



As a so-called ‘Rad Dad’ (surf/skate parlance for old farts like me trying to pass on the torch), I must admit I got a bit overzealous in trying to teach him to surf initially. I pushed him a little too hard in the beginning, forcing him to wade out too deep and catch waves that were too big for his little heart. Fortunately the sheer ecstasy – the stoke – of surfing won him over and he now bugs me constantly to take him to the beach (a little too much actually).

I made the same mistake with his younger brother, who is only 5 and fearful of the sea. I pushed him too hard to join his brother and he dug his stubborn size 1 heels in and refused to ever surf again (though I am sure I will win him over next summer).

So lesson learned – be patient, and back off when they’re not feeling it. There’s nothing worse than being a helicoptering, red-faced parent, shouting at your kids from the sideline or shore. You may end up dissuading them from doing something they could grow to love.



“The key is to not to force anything your child is not ready for,” says Eben. “Always remember that this is a lifestyle and journey, and learning and having fun is the important factor to the longevity and progression.”

Alex agrees. “I think it’s awesome when parents want to teach their children to surf,” he says. “But it’s important to allow the kids to find their own motivation to surf and not to feel forced into it.”


Get ‘em started young

The best age to start surfing or skateboarding seems to be around 5 or 6. Some kids have better balance and gravitate towards it a little earlier – especially if exposed to it through a family member – but as our experts advise, it is always best to let them be your guide. They will know when they are ready.



“There is no wrong age to start surfing,” says Alex, “and I would encourage everyone to give it a try regardless the age. However, young children do tend to get the hang of it a lot easier, so starting young I would say is best. That can range between as young as 5 to about 15 years old.”

Eben (below with a few of his students), an accomplished skateboard, surfer and snowboarder who, in his late forties has the physique of someone in his 20s and retains all the bubbly enthusiasm of a young kid, expresses a similar sentiment. “I don’t think there’s a recommended age to be attracted to boardsports,” he says. “I have seen kids and adults of all ages express interest, and it’s the determination, connection and persistence that determines the level of progression, which is not age specific.



“At SApumptrax, our age demographic ranges from 2 to 57 years old,” he adds. “The benefits are endless and add great value not only in boardriding, but translate and crossover into so many other areas of life.”

I couldn’t agree more. So from this Rad Dad and son, prepping for a summer in the surf and skateparks, we’ll see you out there!


Special thanks to:

Eben Combrinck –

Alex Van Rijswijck –