Water Camps

Summer and water. The two go together like macaroni and cheese. For many kids, you can’t go wrong with a summer camp that involves activities on water. Whether it’s surfing, sailing, paddle boarding, kayaking or rowing, they are all fun and excellent exercise.
You’re missing out if you don’t participate in some kind of water sport during the summer, says Travis Lund, executive director of Treasure Island Sailing Center (TISC), which offers sailing camps for ages 6 to 18. Being on the water “is like going to outer space,” he says. “You’re on a boat. You’re not walking on land. It’s exhilarating, especially if you haven’t done it before.”
With its close proximity to San Francisco Bay, the ocean, lakes and other waterways, the Bay Area is the perfect place to try out a water sport this summer. Here are a few of the many local camps that take full advantage of our location near the water:
Sailing for All
Many of the kids Lund has worked with have never been on a sailboat before, or even a bridge. TISC offers a generous scholarship program that allows kids from lower-income families to go to sailing camp for free or at a low cost. Some kids in the program don’t have the opportunity to leave their neighborhoods much, let alone go sailing.
“I think what makes us special is we offer scholarships to kids from backgrounds who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn to sail because many yacht clubs are very expensive,” Lund says. “I haven’t had to turn away anyone because of finances.” For those not on a scholarship, the camp costs $350 for one week and $600 for two weeks.
The center holds its sailing camps at Clipper Cove, between Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, where it’s protected from the harsh winds and waves of the bay. Camp runs between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. with extended care before and after camp. The program is designed to allow young sailors to move at their own pace as they progress from novice to advanced.
The youngest camp, Harbor Seals, gives campers on-the-water confidence through a variety of water sports and activities such as sailing, paddle boarding and kayaking. Older campers are introduced to sailboat racing and instructor training. In some of the most advanced camps, teens teach their own class to prepare them for the internship TISC offers. Some campers end up becoming instructors at the center, Lund says.
The center also works with the Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors (BAADS) to provide camps for children with disabilities. BAADS provides the location, with boats designed for disabled sailors, and TISC provides the instruction.
All sailors receive an understanding of sailing fundamentals, water safety, knot tying, nautical terminology, boat handling and race theory. But it goes beyond that, says Lund. “All of our courses try to teach life skills such as goal setting, communication, decision making, leadership, citizenship and environmental stewardship,” he says.
While kids aren’t required to know how to swim, Lund says instructors do make sure campers are comfortable in the water before they start the program. “It’s not typically an issue. Kids are pretty brave,” he says. “It really empowers kids to build confidence. Just knowing how to handle yourself around water is important.”
Cazzie Cutting, 17, of San Francisco, who now teaches at TISC, started attending the sailing camp when he was in the fifth grade and it’s become a “home away from home” for him. Initially, his parents sent him there because he was a kid with nothing to do during the summer. After learning how to sail and being a junior instructor for two summers, he fell in love. Since then, he’s been working at the center every fall and summer for the last two years. “I’m in my dream job now,” Cutting says. He describes himself as a “water kid.” “It has a very therapeutic effect on me,” he says.
The attitude at the Treasure Island Sailing Center and its location makes his job even better.”In terms of sailing, there is no better place. Because we’re in Clipper Cove, you get some wind, but not the waves, which is great for teaching,” Cutting says. “Treasure Island Sailing Center is very low key. It’s not pretentious like some yacht clubs. We have a lot of kids on scholarships. We take anyone who wants to sail.”
Surf’s Up
Since 1990, Richard Schmidt and his wife Marisa have run weeklong overnight surfing camps during the summer for kids as young as 10 and parents who want to join. Campers don’t need any surfing experience, but they must know how to swim, Richard Schmidt says.They stay at a KOA campground in the small town of Aptos near Santa Cruz, and the camps cost $1,200.
One thing that makes this camp unique is that before campers hit the waves, they do some yoga and stretching with Marisa Schmidt, who is a yoga instructor. “The stretching and yoga is really beneficial for when they are surfing,” she says. “We had one student tell us they became a yoga instructor because of this camp.”
Campers spend each day getting a good foundation for how to surf, and when they return to the camp they watch videos from the day so they can talk about areas in which they can improve, Richard Schmidt says. “We have some nice protected areas in Santa Cruz where the surf isn’t as rough that are great for teaching,” he says.
Schmidt has been teaching surfing since he was 18, and he surfed professionally for nearly 20 years while also spending time as a lifeguard.
A few kids who have been through the camp went on to surf professionally, Marisa Schmidt says, including professional big-wave surfer Tyler Fox, who is now a surf instructor. “Richard is known for big waves. He’s mentored a lot of big wave surfers,” his wife says. “He’s a pioneer in the sport.”
Up the coast at Surf Camp Pacifica, the summer camps focus on ocean safety and water awareness, says Hans Ages, operations director.
The week-long day camps are offered for ages 5 to 18, and Ages says you don’t have to know how to swim to participate. It costs $345 for the week, which includes the surf board and wetsuit. “We are flexible with the kids we work with,” he says. “Linda Mar (Beach) is perfect to learn on because the southern side of beach is really shallow and it makes it easier for beginners. As you get better, you can move to the northern side of the beach.”
All of the campers, Ages says, get one-on-one attention. “Every time a kids stands on a board, there’s going to be an instructor there holding the board and making him or her feel comfortable,” he says. Campers learn a lot of the safety skills that a lifeguard would learn.”If they don’t focus on safety, they could get hurt,” he says.
Kayak Adventure
Trackers Earth Bay Area offers unique kayaking camps where campers learn more than how to paddle a kayak.
At these week-long day camps for kids entering sixth through eighth grades, campers go on adventures to places such as China Camp, Tomales Bay, the Petaluma River and reservoirs around the East Bay, says Max Berryman, kayak coordinator at Trackers. Camps are $480 per week.
The campers paddle through these local waterways on traditional handcrafted skin-on-frame boats and watch for wildlife such as birds, deer and otters. They also learn the fundamentals of boating related to safety, paddling techniques, knots and other mariner skills. “There’s usually a kid who falls in on the first day so we use that to talk about rescues,” Berryman says.
They also talk about ecology and how ancient cultures used kayaks and other boats. “It isn’t all centered around kayaking,” Berryman says. “They are learning skills that teach them how to survive in a marine or aquatic setting.”
Summer Strokes
While Oakland Strokes’ summer camps are meant for kids to learn basic rowing strokes in a no-pressure environment, it often becomes a competitive sports activity down the road. Beth Anderson, program director, says many of the campers continue on to competitive teams and classes after the summer is over.
The day camps are offered to kids entering sixth through 12th grades. Three weeks of the camp are held at the San Pablo Dam Reservoir in Orinda, and three weeks are at the Tidewater Boathouse in Oakland. There are also intermediate camps for more experienced rowers and volunteer opportunities. Requirements for these camps include at least one session of the introduction to rowing camp or a middle school rowing program.
Camps cost $315 per week and campers don’t need any rowing experience, but they do need to know how to swim. 
After a week of learning basics, campers participate in a race, Anderson says. “For many of these kids, rowing is something they’ve never done,” she says. “I would say about 99 percent haven’t participated in any rowing.”
But for many kids, it becomes a needed athletic activity after summer. “In middle school, there’s a huge void of activities for kids to be involved with,” Anderson says. “We’re giving kids an athletic outlet that is positive. We end up sending a lot of kids to Ivy League colleges to compete.”
 Teresa Mills-Faraudo is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent and mother of two.
For more information on these camps, visit:
Oakland Strokes: oaklandstrokes.org
Richard Schmidt Surf School: richardschmidt.com
Surf Camp Pacifica: surfcamppacifica.com
Trackers Earth Bay Area: trackersbay.com
Treasure Island Sailing Center: tisailing.org


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