If you and the kids are dying to learn how to surf but just don't know where to begin, you could take the approach pioneered by Keanu Reeves in Point Break: Buy a goofy-looking board and wander around Malibu until Patrick Swayze shows up to teach you. Or, you could go to surf camp.
Be prepared to spend long days in the water--paddling, turning turtle, dropping in, and, hopefully, standing up--then swap surfing stories around the nightly campfire. All camps listed below provide wetsuits, leashes, boards, wax, all meals, and tents. Just bring your sleeping bags and pads.
Club Ed Surf School and Camps of Santa Cruz sets up class on Manresa State Beach south of town, a primo summer break. If the waves don't deliver there, you'll travel by van to reliable breaks like Pleasure Point or Cowell's Beach farther up the coast. Club Ed uses video coaching and includes a field trip to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum at Steamer's Lane, where you'll see a photo of Ed's grandmother surfing back in 1915. The camp is limited to just 14 students, but families also can customize a mobile surf camp, in which three to five people share a well-stocked motorhome and two instructors, and cruise the coast looking for that perfect wave. Club Ed Surf Camp; 800-287-7873 or 408-459-9283; $690 per person for seven days/six nights.
Summer Fun Surf Camp in San Clemente has sessions geared especially for kids 10 to 18 (parents are the only adults allowed). At nearby San Onofre State Beach, home of some of California's gentlest waves, beginners start out on soft foam boards, then transition to fiberglass as their skills progress. In the evenings you'll watch surf videos and listen to visiting pro surfers. Summer Fun Surf Camp; 714-361-9526; five days/four nights $495 per person, seven days/six nights $695.
If all that California sun sounds too warm for you, sign on for a cold-water surf camp with Adventure Surf Unlimited, which runs weeklong camps along the Oregon coast at Nehalem State Park and Cape Lookout State Park. This is the most rugged of the surf camps, but after a day in that chilly water you'll camp in state park campgrounds with hot showers. Adventure Surf Unlimited; 617-648-2880; $659 per person.