Admit it: There is something cool about surfing and the surfing lifestyle.

Well, perhaps not as a full-time vocation, but for a weekend, hanging out on the beach, catching some rays and the occasional wave is a relaxing and healthful way to unwind. And it's fun. And you don't have to be a teenager.

Of course, its easy to spot obstacles (real and imagined) that make it easy to leave the urge to surf unfulfilled. “I don't live near the ocean,” for example, or “I don't have the time.”

But we all know those are just excuses. The real issue is fear — fear of the ocean, fear of getting “rag dolled” (surfer parlance for being smashed by a wave) and even the fear of being labeled a “hodad” (a beginner) or, worse, a “kook” (a neophyte who thinks he knows it all) by radical surfer dudes (guys) and gidgets (gals). You can even learn the lingo by visiting www.riptionary.com/index.shtml, an online surfing dictionary.

But not to worry. A recent explosion of surf camps means it is now easy to overcome these reservations and to learn surfing basics in a safe, easy and fun environment. Kid's camps, girl's camps, co-ed camps, weekend camps, international camps — there's a great summer vacation waiting for just about anyone who aspires to surf.

We've chosen Kim Hamrock, 11-time U.S. Champion, current world longboard champion and owner/operator of Surf City Surf Lessons in Huntington Beach, Calif., as our guide to summer surf camps. Kim, 42, and a mother of three surfers, conferred with some of the sport's top surf instructors to come up with these tips on how to pick a program that's right for you:

For starters, figure out what type of camp suits your needs best:

  • Private or semi-private lessons
  • Day camps
  • Overnight camps (five to seven days)
  • International camps
  • Specialty camps (adult, kids or women only)

Each has its advantages. You'll definitely learn faster with one-on-one instruction, for instance, but then sometimes it's more fun with a group of friends or fellow beginners. Regardless of what sort of camp you pick, the following factors should be considered.

Instructors and Staff

Always check the qualifications of the instructors. Don't be afraid to ask for a reference. They should have plenty of surfing ability, but just being a good surfer doesn't make someone a good instructor. Look for someone with some teaching background. Have they been trained in first aid/CPR? Always ask about the ratio of instructors to students. Also, inquire about who trained the staff. (This is especially important with overnight camps.) Be sure to talk to the camp owner/manager and get a feel for their organizational skills.

Equipment

First, always make sure that equipment is being provided. And ask what type. At my school, I really push soft and soft-top boards. They're safe, fun to ride and really cut down the intimidation factor. There are plenty of great soft boards out there. Lightness and durability is, of course, a plus. But regardless of what construction is used, remember that learning on a short board really makes leaning to surf a lot more difficult. I always suggest starting on a longer board.

Location

This is very important. Always look for a camp that can provide a slow, gentle rolling wave, one that can be ridden for some distance. Don't just ask what beach. Always inquire about what sort of wave you will be learning in. Is it crowded? And with whom? Better surfers, or beginners? And what about accessibility? Parking? Sometimes a walk is worth dodging a crowd, but will you be too tired carrying your board by the time you get to the surf? Check into all these details.

Overnight and International Camps

Ask all of the above questions. Then if possible, visit the camp location and meet the staff first. Check out the accommodations. Are they comfortable? Warm showers? Proximity to the surfing area? You don't want to spend all day driving to and from the beach. Food is important, too. Always ask about the menu, including snacks, drinks — especially water. Parents who are sending kids should be clear about camp policies on both smoking and drinking (for both staff and guests) and on evening supervision. (One instructor watching 20 kids at a beach party? Probably not a good idea.) Info on first aid and emergency evacuation plans should also be provided.

All of this goes double for international surf camps. When leaving the country, it's best to go with a well-established domestic surf camp that operates overseas. Make sure you know what you're getting for the price. Is airfare and accommodation included? Medical and health issues should be explained clearly. And be aware of how many hours per day are actually going to be devoted to surf lessons. The main goal of any sort of surf camp, after all, is being able to help you learn how to surf, and improve those skills for the rest of your life.

Writer's BIO: Sam George
Sam George, the editor of Surfer magazine, has been a professional surfer, world traveler, television host, and magazine writer. When not out searching for surf, he lives on a bluff overlooking the sea in Dana Point, California.

How to Book It

Paskowitz Family Surf Camp

On the Web: paskowitz.com
Location: San Diego
Year founded: 1972
Instructor-to-student ratio: 3 to 1
Price: $1,200 for 6-day camp (accommodations in tents)
Specialty: Adult camps, luxury camp (in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico)

Surf City Surfing Lessons

On the Web: dangerwoman.com
Location: Huntington Beach, Calif.
Year founded: 1995
Instructor-to-student ratio: Private instruction
Price: $195.00 for two hours
Specialty: Women and girls

Surf Camp Wrightsville Beach

On the Web: wbsurfcamp.com
Location: Wrightsville, N.C.
Year founded: 2002
Instructor-to-student ratio: 3 to 1
Price: $450 (excluding accommodations)
Specialty: Kids and families, ecological instruction