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August 1, 2012

Learn to Love the Sea – Sailing and Wind-Surfing for Kids

My 7-year old windsurfing on what looks like a big tub – the Mediterranean!

Now that my girls have a year in swim team in their arms, they are open water ready. Since their school doesn’t start until Labor Day, they’ve got a few weeks to get a taste of sea splashing and water sports. Fortunately my dad’s house is 20 minutes away from the Mediterranean in southern France and it’s the perfect place to try out water activities. Think a big blue tub with no swells, light breeze, hot days and half-day camps to feel on vacation. Much more kid-friendly than the cold San Francisco Bay waters. So I signed up my girls for a week of water sports discovery and they’re loving it.

Besides the fun factor, I wanted my girls to acquire two concepts. First, I want them to feel comfortable in the sea, not apprehensive or afraid. This is huge for me as we’re planning a Caribbean vacation in the fall and snorkeling is going to be on the menu. I was also raised on a tropical island and spent most of my childhood swimming. Being able to feel at ease in the water is an important life skill. Second, I support my girls in trying out new things and hope that one day, they’ll find a passion that drives them through life. With a little bit of toe dipping here and there, I”m confident they’ll find something that corresponds to their personality. Experimenting with new sports might open up new doors and they’ll surely make new friends.

Before I found out about this summer camp, I had no idea children as young as age 7 could get into wind-surfing at all. I knew about sailing dinghys though, because every Friday during my 6-year old’s soccer practice on the Marina Green, I watched the Yacht Club kids sailing the bay with envy. Two weeks ago I found out about this sailing school that offers a week of water sports sampling and the deal was sealed.

The school’s located on a fine sand beach, right in front of a cove sheltered from the wind by a jetty. Just outside the jetty, winds blow hard and you can windsurf your heart out. Inside the cove, shallow waters and weak winds allow young children to learn to be comfortable with the liquid element. In just three days, my girls have already tried three water sports.

On day one, they sailed small dinghys in groups of 3. I liked that all the children were responsible for carrying their boats and storing them away. My girls couldn’t believe how lucky they were that a child-size boat existed and proudly told me that now, they mastered sailing the seven seas.

On day two, they were paired in twos and learned balance and propulsion on a kid-size windsurf board. Waist-high in the water of the cove, they pushed their partner standing upright on the board and switched at the end of the cove to try to maintain their balance too.  After they were comfortable with the standing part, the instructor inserted the sail and one by one, the kids took turns holding the sail as far as the buoy line. At the buoy line, they jumped and found themselves waist-high in the sea. In a rather organized line, they pulled back their windsurf while another child got a shot at windsurfing. It was so sweet!

On day three, the instructor pulled out mini-catamarans called funboats and that was a big blast. On these kid-friendly catamarans, children get to steer, hold the sail, and enjoy open seas beyond the jetty. Yes, outside the cove and without adults! Of course, the instructor is closeby in a motor boat but the kids are really by themselves. All they got to do is sit on the hull and the wind does the rest. Sailing doesn’t get any easier than that.

I don’t know what the two last days of this camp will bring but I know one thing. Each day I’ll go get my girls before lunch time, they’ll  be ravenous, thirsty, happily tired from a morning at sea and ecstatic about their new skills. They’ll probably mention a new friend as well. Isn’t that the best introduction to water sports?

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