I often go down to the seashore on Pensacola Beach or Perdido Key and watch the surfers glide over the waves, glassy and emerald-green in the morning light. They make it look so easy. Meanwhile, the only surfing I seem adept at is of the Netflix variety.

As a young boy, my father and I went on a surfing trip together. Luckily, I managed to pick up the technique pretty quickly and caught my first wave on my first day. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life and I wish I had pursued it.

Children aren’t frightened by the prospect of hopping up on a surfboard and carving across the clear waters. If only someone had encouraged me to stick to it, perhaps I’d be out there today instead of sitting on the beach in contemplative admiration.

Fortunately, the Pensacola Bay Area offers plenty of opportunities for young travelers to soak up some new skills while their parents soak up the sun. Here are our top four picks, and some honorable mentions, for summer learning camps — from catching waves on the beach to tinkering with robots in Downtown Pensacola.

Help them catch their first wave.

Because you really can’t get too much beach time, Waterboyz offers kids a chance to learn how to surf the emerald-green waves on Pensacola Beach. Campers will learn about surfing etiquette, culture, wave science, tides, marine biology and — most importantly – surf technique. Each camper will also receive a bunch of surfing goodies. Take it from me, your child will never forget catching that first wave.

Dates: Camps run in four-day sessions from May 30 through Aug. 4.
Times: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Ages: 7-13
Where: FL-399, Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
Cost: $170


Let them make a MESS of things.

The Pensacola MESS Hall, located in Downtown Pensacola, is dedicated to helping kids develop core science, engineering and math skills through hands-on experimentation. Whether kids want to create their own games and animations in the Code Academy camp or train like an astronaut in the Space Explorers camp, the MESS Hall is sure to be the highlight of their trip.

Dates: May 31-June 3, June 6-10, June 13-17, June 20-24, June 27-July 1, July 6-8, July 11-15, July 18-22, July 25-29, August 1-5
Times: Morning sessions 9 a.m. – Noon/ Afternoon sessions 1 – 4 p.m.
Ages: 6-14
Where: Pensacola MESS Hall, 116 N. Tarragona St., Pensacola, FL 32502
Cost: $100 for members/$125 for non-members


Send them off to university

The University of West Florida, located a half-hour north of Downtown Pensacola, provides a number of fascinating camps, including Elementary Robotics, CSI, Marine Science, Dinosaur Dig and Mad Scientist themed camps.

Dates: June 6-10, June 13-17, June 20-24, July 27-1, July 5-8, July 11-15, July 18-22, July 25-29, August 1-5
Times: Varies
Ages: 5-17
Where: 11000 University Pkwy., Pensacola, FL 32514
Cost: Varies

Let their imaginations take flight.

The other camps on our list aren’t exactly rocket science, but we can’t say the same for the Flight Adventure Deck summer programs. During this fun-filled, week-long program — held on the grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola — kids will launch their own rockets and build gliders. They will also be invited to attend a practice session for the Blue Angels, the Navy’s world-renowned flight demonstration team, see a giant-screen movie and climb into the cockpit of an immersive flight simulator used to train actual pilots. Besides all this, campers will gain insight into the dynamic world of aviation with tours of the adjacent National Museum of Naval Aviation, one of the largest museums of its kind.

Dates: May 22 – August 19
Ages: 10-12
Where: NAS Pensacola, 1 Fetterman Way, Pensacola, FL 32508
Cost: $165

Honorable mentions:

● First City Arts Center “Creatisphere”: http://www.firstcityart.org/events/53-creatisphere-summer-art-camp
● Pensacola Yacht Club: http://www.pensacolayachtclub.org/Jr-Sailing.aspx
● Pensacola Museum of Art: http://www.pensacolamuseum.org/art-camps.html
● Pensacola Cooks Kids Summer Camp: https://www.cookingschoolsofamerica.com/pensacolacooks/index.php?page=cl...

By Freddie Haydn-Slater