School or Camp: Though the terms are used interchangeably, when I speak here of a ‘surf school’, I think of a place – perhaps open beyond summer – where people go for surf lessons. When I say ‘surf camp’, I’m referring to the place where you drop the kids off every day during summer, a summer camp (Banzai does both).
On a side note: The word ‘camp’ can be a misnomer too: There are NO ‘overnight camping’ surf camps in northern OC.
Otherwise, picking the right surf camp is a lot like picking a baby sitter; Trust is everything. Here are a few pointers on how to quiz your prospective surf camp.
• Ask what the camps ‘student-to-instructor’ ratio is. This will give the best indication of how much personal attention your child will get. The younger the child, the lower that ratio should be. (This is why Banzai Surf requires a private 1:1 lesson for kids eight and under, and we can’t accept them in our summer camp).
Surf camps typically staff anywhere from three to ten kids per instructor; The ratio may vary depending on ages, skill level, and surf conditions.
• Ask how much actual water-time your kids will get. Most schools will rotate students, being as there may be sixty kids and only twenty surfboards. The amount of actual time they spend surfing might take some of the shine off the “bargain” price.
• You should also find out if a surf camp/school has an actual permit to operate on the beach, and where. This would seem obvious, but the illegal (“pirate”) surf schools have gotten more brazen, using expensive websites and marketing. Having your kids at a “school” that doesn’t have a permit exposes them to a variety of risks, such as a lack of safety oversight, and a staff that isn’t background checked or qualified. Also, if they are caught, you could lose your money.
Legally permitted schools – through the fees they pay – contribute to the care and maintenance of beaches. Illegal schools not only don’t pay these fees, they compete with an unfair price advantage (ie Groupon deals, etc).
In reality, a rogue surf school would be unlikely to offer a week-long surf camp; It’s too conspicuous. It’s more likely they would try to talk parents into a ‘package of lessons’ at a variety of locations, with the selling point being that they can ‘do lessons anywhere you’d like’. This is because they aren’t permitted in any one location, and keep moving to stay ahead of the authorities. They may offer to pick-up and drive kids/customers, also illegal.
They may also have a ‘shop’ where you’d meet, make payment, and do all the basic land instructions, so as to not call attention to themselves on the beach.
Remember that anyone can put up a nice website and get a business license, but an actual contract to operate on the beach is much more expensive and harder to qualify for. Below, I’ve included a list of legally permitted surf camps/schools in North Orange County.
Legally permitted surf schools in northern Orange County, CA
If you don’t find a surf school named here, it is very likely operating illegally.
Updated 7/2020 (Note that many operate during summer only)
Under permit from the State of California:
Banzai Surf School
Corky Carroll Surf School
Salty Grom Surf School
Under permit from The City of Seal Beach:
Chas Surf School
M&M Surf School
Under permit from The City of Huntington Beach:
Clint Carroll Surf School
HB Surf School
Little Surf Co
Rocky McKinnon Surfboards
Under permit from The City of Newport Beach:
Endless Sun Surf School
Erik Nelsen Surf Camps
Newport Surf Camp