Happy birthday to my amazing baby bear!
Caroline’s 9th birthday party was a bit epic this year and fell the week before our holiday to Madeira, so it’s taken a while to write. She always has an outdoor birthday party (I must blog them all sometime), not through a specific decision but more that I love being outside and if the weather’s good around her birthday why not opt for an outdoor party? It’s not for faint-hearted parents though!
Caroline turning 9 is a huge milestone in her cancer journey, one we weren’t sure she’d make when she was diagnosed as Stage 4 in 2017 yet here we are almost a year into remission awaiting the results of a recent MRI check with quiet positivity.
She is fit, strong and healthy though her energy reserves are low so she tires easily. That said, I think she does more than most childhood cancer survivors I’ve met so she’s entitled to some fatigue now and then.
A sure sign of her continuing health was her desire for a proper birthday party this year. Last year she didn’t remotely feel like celebrating and just asked a few friends round to ‘play.
Surfing Party & Sleepover
This year is the total opposite and we matched her enthusiasm with an outdoor extravaganza – a surf lesson party at the beach followed by a camping sleepover in the garden!
The fabulous Sally Cook from Surf Northumberland provided an excellent lesson for Caroline and 9 friends. Sally looks like she was born for the sea, with long, surfer-girl blonde hair and a brilliant way with the kids. She did a lesson at our recent Cub camp and there, in my head, became Sally Sea Hare, a play on words for her fantastic locks and the sea hares we’d recently spotted at the beach (she’ll probably not speak to me again after reading this!)
Sally offered a 2-hour surf party which we booked for 3 pm on a Saturday based on her advice re tide times etc. She provides all equipment including surf boards, wetsuits, gloves and boots if required, though Caroline took her own Iglu wetsuit.
Surf Lesson with Surf Northumberland
We were blessed once again with the weather. It was a bright and sunny day with little wind though the air was cool. Perfect really considering the time of year.
It took a while to get the children measured and kitted up before they raced though the dunes to the beach, desperate to get started.
The 2-hour lesson began on land with an explanation of safety, basic technique and board use. Everyone then headed into the water to get the feel of the waves and practice simply body boarding in, rather than standing up straight away. Sally helped balance and push each child off on suitable waves.
After a while she called everyone back to shore for more instruction to the next level. This involved lying on the boards on the sand practising ‘chicken wing‘ amongst other techniques, for standing on the board once you catch a wave. The kids loved it and were raring to get back in the water.
In this 2-hour lesson every single child, aged 7 to 11, managed to stand up on their boards and they were all exhilarated and thrilled to tell us how it felt when they came out of the water. Even two who weren’t so confident in the sea achieved this and were euphoric that they’d done it. It’s a real credit to Sally’s calm encouragement and confidence-boosting assurance with the kids.
Thank you Sally!
Hot Party Food & Campfire Marshmallows
After a really enjoyable lesson everyone got dressed and warm and helped return the surfboards back to Sally’s van. We gave them all a chocolate bar for instant re-energising and made woolly hats obligatory for 10 minutes to ensure nobody got chilled. There was also warm blackcurrant to drink, though I think we forgot to get this out – they all drank water.
With the firepit lit on the beach we served up hot jacket potatoes with savoury minced beef (Caroline’s choice!) with quiche for those who didn’t fancy the meat and marshmallows for a cook-your-own pudding.
Wild Daddy made and decorated another spectacular cake – check out his mini clay Caroline – and there was even a dairy-free version for one of the girls!
The archery set kept everyone moving and warm before it was time to leave the beach and head home to camp…
Camping in the Garden
We set up and decorated the tent in the morning so it was ready for them to get straight into once home, with a hot chocolate and biscuits of course. Lots of spare blankets and cushions were added for cosiness and overnight warmth and after toilet and teeth we left 8 excited (but fortunately tired) girls to sleep in the garden… It was after 10.30 before they slept and before 6.30 when they awoke (sorry neighbours!) and they all had hot porridge before being picked up to recover at home.
It was EXACTLY the party Caroline had wished for and made up for her downbeat feelings at last year’s birthday with a vengeance!
How To Organise a Surf Lesson Birthday Party
It’s a party that requires more forward planning and coordination than most. Caroline’s idea was as follows: –
Caroline’s Basic Plan
- 2 hour surf lesson
- Campfire and beach games
- Hot food at the beach
- Marshmallow toasting
- Camp in the garden at home
- Hot chocolate and biscuits
- Sleep (Ha ha!!)
Book Lessons or A Party With Surf Northumberland
I can’t recommend Sally and Surf Northumberland highly enough. The kids warmed to her and every single one of them achieved more than they expected. Check out Sally’s website to discuss and book your own surf lesson or birthday party – adults too, not just kids.
Thing to Consider
Everything can go wrong on an outdoor party so try to prepare for any occurrence.
Cater for weather changes and forgetful kids – even on a hot day and in wetsuits, two hours in the sea will leave kids chilly and zapped of energy, more so on a cool September day. We took spare towels, hats, coats, windbreaks and picnic rugs in case kids had forgotten theirs or got really cold. We also took out two waterproof-backed picnic rugs in case it rained and we needed a quick shelter!
Energy and Food
Provide high-energy snacks (chocolate, warm juice) for an instant boost as soon as they come out of the sea.
Cater for dietary requirements – providing the right food for allergy sufferers or fussy eaters is imperative as they will need so much energy replenishing after surfing you can’t afford to say ‘tough’. We catered fully gluten-free for one, and dairy-free for another child. None of the others noticed they were eating gluten-free.
Choose food you can easily cook and keep warm – Caroline chose the menu, within reason of what we could cook in advance and keep warm. Jacket potatoes wrapped in foil and transported in a cool bag were perfect and the meat kept hot in an insulated pot.
Take a first aid kit (and emergency toilet kit!) – of course Sally was fully insured but we took a mini first aid kit anyway in case of need. I also have a ‘toilet kit’ with toilet paper and doggy poo bags in case of dire emergency, otherwise wild wees have to do in the absence of a toilet block.
Being safe in the water at the beach is top priority for any visit to the coast. Read my family beach safety guide for more information and importantly, read my rip tide survival guide should the worst ever happen.
- Plan and make organisational lists in advance
- Choose a trusted surf instructor and coordinate date and timings with them before fixing a date
- Send invites, including times and location for drop off and pick up plus any kit requirements (swimsuits, warm hats etc) and overnight gear
- Prepare food to keep warm in advance
- Take a rubbish bag and a separate bag for putting dirty plates and cutlery in (no single use plastic here!)
- Enlist help transporting everything to and from the beach
Swimsuit, towel, warm hat and gloves, warm layers, waterproofs, water drinking bottle, plastic bag for wet things.
Sleeping bag, carry mat, pillow, sleepwear, hat and socks for in bed, wash kit, teddy
For more outdoor birthday party ideas read about Caroline’s Harry Potter 7th birthday party at the beach
For more on Caroline’s cancer journey read Caroline’s Rainbow.