Learning to surf in South Florida

For the past three years, Kali Putzig, of Pompano Beach, has hit the beach each summer with her dad, John, to do a little surfing.

Kali, 8, learned to surf at the ripe age of 5.

“Kali was able to stand up surfing in the first couple of days,” said her mother, Jenny Putzig. “I love that she’s outside doing something active.”

Most Florida parents don’t realize children can learn to surf at an early age, said Kali’s instructor, William “Skeeter” Zimmerman.

“People don’t even realize we have waves down here,” said Zimmerman, who runs Living Water Surf School in Pompano Beach. “The ocean is great; the water is blue. I think it is very underutilized. That’s why we’re about teaching people how to have fun in the ocean.”

A professional surfer, Zimmerman learned the sport at age 5 when he was living in Hawaii.

“My Dad is a surfer, and I just tagged along with him,” said Zimmerman, of Deerfield Beach. “I fell in love with it at a very young age and have been hooked ever since.”

He won his first surfing competition at age 11 and started teaching others how to surf at 16. Now 28, Zimmerman has taught thousands of children how to surf through summer camps and lessons in the past 10 years.

“There are so many people who don’t take advantage of the ocean,” he said.

William Kimball, who runs Blue Water School of Surfing, the first surfing school in Palm Beach County, also started surfing when he was 5. Kimball, 42, has been teaching the sport for 20 years to kids as young as age 4.

“The biggest challenge with kids is getting them over their initial fear of water,” he said. “They’re used to a pool, where the farther out you go, the deeper it is. But once you teach them that waves break in shallower water, they get over their fear.”

Both surf schools run summer camps for children.

“Surfing is our main goal, but we understand how kids are. Kids aren’t going to focus just on one thing for six hours,” Zimmerman said. “So we try to make it about having fun in the ocean.

His camp includes lessons on stand-up paddling, snorkeling, skim-boarding and ocean safety.

“We teach kids that the beach is an awesome place to have fun, even if you’re not surfing,” Zimmerman said.

Here’s what you need to know if you want to introduce your kids to surfing:

What age can they start?

Living Water Surf School accepts children as young as age 5. The key is kids have to be able to swim, not necessarily laps, but be able to tread water and keep themselves afloat without holding onto anything, Zimmerman said.

 “As soon as they can swim, you can bring them to the ocean to play around in the water,” he said. “But the ocean can be scary for kids; you have to be careful.”

Parents should avoid taking kids out into rough water. Look for tiny waves, he said.