Most people wouldn’t consider an adventure activity like coasteering suitable for children but if you’re looking for things to do at the beach with your family it’s definitely worth a try.
When I first heard about coasteering it sounded frankly terrifying. Why would anyone fling themselves dangerously, if not recklessly, into the savage jaws of the sea, near cliffs and rocks on which one could easily be dashed and injured, if not killed? Really, why?
Then I witnessed actual real live (crazy) people leaping like Lemmings from the rocky Northumberland cliffs into choppy seas, and I found myself wanting to try coasteering for my impending birthday…
I didn’t try it, since nobody would come with me, and risking one’s life and limb for a birthday celebration can’t really be done in the company of strangers!
It still didn’t seem that coasteering was an activity for kids though I knew Caroline would try it in a heartbeat given the chance.
We were destined to find out, and we quickly learned that it’s safe and strong to stop before adventure turns to tragedy.
What Is Coasteering?
Coasteering is essentially a water sport for the adventurous (and possibly mildly insane), exploring rocky coastlines by swimming in the sea, jumping and scrambling. All in a special wetsuit with handy reinforced knees for those dratted barnacle infested rocks.
Fully kitted out in wetsuits, helmets and buoyancy aids, coasteers go adventuring in all weathers (tide dependant), and look like they’re having the time of their lives. And presumably they know when to quit if it’s too tiring or dangerous to continue.
I now find Coasteering exhilaratingly terrifying (spot the minor description change?!)
Coasteering for Kids
Yet again it’s the wonderful institution of Scouting that has provided the opportunity for me, Caroline and her adventurous group of Scouts (aged 8 to 15) to experience coasteering, and survive!
In the expert hands of the specialist team from Adventure Northumberland, I can safely say that the children had an absolute whale of a time, and not a soul was lost at sea!
But it is pretty nerve-wracking.
Adventure Northumberland clearly know the coast intimately. They understand the swells and the currents and how to keep the kids warm, when to rest them, when they need an over-excitement break and when it’s time to call it a day.
It’s a massive confidence boosting exercise for all involved.
How To Try Coasteering
Firstly, as I stressed in my Cairngorm snow-holing post, coasteering is another of those activities that should only be done in the hands of experts. Always book a session with a reputable, qualified company. Secondly, as we shall see,
⚠️ Safety Alert ⚠️
“It is a far stronger and smarter thing to admit that something is too much/ hard/scary or tiring for us, than to forge on and risk our safety and that of others around us.”
To The Coast…
We kitted up on the cliffs in wetsuits provided by the company. It can take children quite a bit longer than putting on a normal wetsuit, as we discovered. It’s the reinforced knees.
Everyone was nervous – there were smiles and bravado but we all had a look of uncertainty as we trooped down to the sea.
The adventure began with a long scramble to the shore to warm up and practice clambering on wet, sea-weedy rocks and through rock pools.
We then wallowed in a deep rock pool to acclimatize to the cold. At this point nerves were jangling and the excitement palpable.
Leap of Faith
Our first experience entering the sea was intense. Not a gentle wade, paddle nor slide-in but a now-or-never-style leap of faith into pitching waves where we couldn’t see the bottom.
Lots of the children stood and stared. One point-blank refused, another took a lot of support and persuasion from us adults but eventually slithered in.
All but one of them achieved it, Caroline one of the first few in! It was such a proud moment for me given all that she’s been through with her cancer.
Lead by Example
Here’s the thing about being a leader. It has a habit of making a leader of you! You can’t be fannying around on the rocks, dithering with nerves or panicking in the sea in front of a bunch of kids. You’re the leader; you have to suck it up and lead from the front by example. Good example, obviously. So off I went!
It was pretty epic, as so many of my outdoor experiences are turning out to be! And cold, as you can imagine.
And then laugh out loud funny as the swell pushed us towards the shore to climb out, before, having teased us into feeling able to crawl to land, mischievously sucking us out to sea again.
OK, it was funny for me but some of the kids were less amused at being at the mercy of the waves. They resorted to using giant kelp attached to the rocks to haul themselves up while we, from below them in the sea, unceremoniously pushed bottoms, legs and any accessible body parts to get them out of the water.
Check out these tenacious young adventurers; action and activity everywhere!
It was so much fun that even the most nervous, all bar one, leaped in several times.
Next was more scrambling to a narrow chimney tunnel in the rock, squeezing down to a channel of sea below. More nerves of a different kind.
Interestingly here, the girl who’d refused to jump into the sea was confident enough to climb down through the tunnel and happy to wade into the sea and swim at the bottom. She didn’t quit or give up, she simply knew her limits.
For me, this is where the adventure ended.
About To Faint
Caroliney, who hadn’t stopped leaping and jumping and climbing and laughing, went down the tunnel with no qualms, swam out into the channel and sat waiting on sea-level rocks with the others, where I joined them.
For a moment of proper panic I thought Caroline was going to faint.
She was milk-white, could barely keep her eyes open and was slumped forward about to slide into the sea.
She perked up when I grabbed her, said she was tired but ready to carry on and got very cross when I suggested we should call it a day given her fluctuating post-cancer energy levels. Off she swam, determined in the extreme.
She took three strokes, turned round looking paler than before and said she was ready to get out.
Even though this meant the end of the experience for us both, I was not remotely sorry but merely incredibly proud that Caroline had made the decision. She could have forged on and ended up really ill or injured due to her lack of energy.
It’s OK to Quit, It’s Safe & Strong To Stop
As in my snowholing adventure, we didn’t complete the whole activity, but that in no way detracts from the experience, the adventure, the lessons or the achievement.
Another girl, aged 10, who interestingly is just as adventurous as Caroline if not more so (is that possible?!), turned out to have a temperature and she also chose to leave the sea when Caroline did. Another incredibly sensible, outdoorsy young girl.
Caroline, her friend and I made our way slowly to get changed at the van while the rest of the group, leaders and instructor team continued for another 80 minutes at the coast! Both girls could have been in serious difficulty had they carried on for such a long time feeling under par.
The Proudest Mummy in the World
As we walked up the cliffs I couldn’t stress to these girls enough, nor to you readers, the massive importance of knowing when to say enough is enough on any outdoor activity. It is the number one lesson to learn.
Refusing to quit when you no longer feel that you or the activity is safe can turn an adventure into a tragedy in seconds.
I am SO proud of my girl and her outdoor buddy for quitting! Far more than I felt when they were leaping into the sea, or had they completed the activity with no problems. The life lesson they learnt was more invaluable than the adventure they would have had.
And we’ll all do it again sometime anyway!
I’d love to hear your experiences of abandoning or aborting adventures and how you felt about it at the time and afterwards. I’ll reply to all comments below.
Here’s to a generation of safe, sensible wild adventurers (and their awesome parents!)
Check out Kids of the Wild’s beach category for more fun things to do at the beach.