Samantha Laurie flags up some high-energy activities and sports for kids in Surrey
Sometimes you need something more than a walk in the park to lure kids from their screens. Competing with the pulse-racing pleasures of computer gaming is not easy – and it’s only going to get harder. Time, perhaps, to danger up your children’s outdoor experiences with some real life adrenalin rushes….
“Imagine a cross between waterskiing and fighting a very large game fish,” says Mark Parker, founder of Richmond-based Kitevibe, about the fastest-growing adrenalin sport in the country.
For the past 10 years, Parker has been teaching powerkiting and its thrill-seeking sister sports, landboarding – using kite skills to propel you along on a board not dissimilar to a skateboard but with pneumatic wheels – and kitebuggying – same but in a buggy – on the open grasslands of Richmond Park.
All participants (min age 10) begin with the basics of kite handling, with a one-hour lesson on a two-line kite (£30) or a two-hour lesson on a four-line kite (£55). Those that get the bug can move on to the high speed thrills of buggying or landboarding, with balletic jumps and nifty mid-air turns.
Lessons take place most Saturdays – anything above a 5 mph wind is fine for kiting, though rain can stop play. See kitevibe.com for details.
Mud, speed, breakneck twists and turns – Surrey Hills has some of the best mountain biking in the country. Leith Hill, Holmbury Hill and Pitch Hill form the triumvirate of the off-roading world, but a lack of marked trails makes it hard for novices to get started.
Bike tour operator Singletrack School suggests joining one of its guided trails and recording the route on GPS (Global Positioning System) for future use. The school also runs a family skills course (half or full day) on the basics. Visit: singletrackschool.co.uk.
Another option for families with older kids who are confident riders is to join one of the free guided rides run by bike shop Nirvana Cycles in Westcott (nirvanacycles.com). These leave at 11am (Sun, five hours) & 10am (Sat, three hrs).
But for a genuinely family-friendly experience, the place to go is Berkshire’s Swinley Forest, near Bracknell, with its 24 kms of dedicated, twisting trails through the pine forest. This is perfect for beginners, with trails graded as per ski runs – green, blue and red – and challenging rollercoaster trails for the more ambitious. All routes start at the Look Out centre, with a bike hire shop (wellingtontrek.co.uk) in the car park open for half-term. And there are plenty of other activities nearby – try Go Ape and Coral Reef Water World.
Time was when woods were full of dirt bumps and jumps for kids to hurl themselves around on bikes. There are fewer now, but they do exist. Visit moredirt.com for info on dirt trails, such as those at Teddington Lock – 6 kms of riverside jumps and bumps – or the rather more terrifying Kuoni Trails, near Dorking. For purpose-built tracks, try the Mitcham BMX track, one of the longest in Europe: taster sessions in BMX skills and daily pay and play sessions (merton.gov.uk/leisure/sport/facilities/bmxtrack).
Take the rules of dodgeball and the intensity of paintball, throw in some bows and arrows and you have archery tag. Essentially, players (min age nine) use special bows and foam-tipped arrows to take out the opposing team.
Arrows are reusable, so no need to buy more – and, unlike paintballs, they don’t hurt. The game is played indoors or outdoors, with participants strategically hiding out behind inflatable bunkers or other obstacles.
Perhaps it’s the Tarzanesque allure, but indoor climbing is on a massive upward swing. Most popular is rope-free bouldering which requires gymnastic skills, balance and huge conviction. White Spider Indoor Climbing Centre in Surbiton is running a full holiday climbing programme over half-term: three sessions a day for over 5s (£15). Visit: whitespiderclimbing.com.
Of all the classes and clubs my kids have been in over the years, Circus Suburbia is just about the tops. Kids really do learn how to swing from trapezes and juggle knives, all under the calm control of professional aerialist Katie Hardwick. Courses run from Hollyfield School in Surbiton (circussuburbia.co.uk).