There are still openings for participants in the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors Water Awareness, Training, Education and Recreation (W.A.T.E.R.) Youth Program local surf, sailing and water activity camps.

The program is open to county youths and is designed to raise awareness of ocean and beach safety through organized activities at local beaches, according to Stacy Smith, coordinator of the W.A.T.E.R. Youth Program.

“The program fills to capacity over the summer, but with weather conditions the way they’ve been, people forget the beach is a good place to be,” Smith says.

For spring vacation, the weeklong camps began Monday, March 21st, but those interested can still sign up for the camp that begins Monday, April 11th.

Participants can choose between three different camps — surf, ocean sports and beginning sailing. All equipment is provided.

The Ocean Sports Camp welcomes ages seven through 14.

For those interested in sailing and surfing, the age range is 11 through 17.

All new applicants must complete a pool swim test prior to registration, according to Smith.

The three different camps operate Monday through Friday.

Both the Surf and the Ocean Sports camps run from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Sailing Camp runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Fees range from $100 to $135 for the one-week camps, but financial aid is available.

Free transportation from non-beach communities may also be available, with pickups at county parks and pools for those whose parents can’t drive them to the beach.

The Ocean Sports Camp is designed to give youths the opportunity to experience and acquire skills in a variety of ocean activities, including body boarding, kayaking, sailing and surfing.

The class focuses on ocean skills in the morning and boating skills in the afternoon.

The Surf Camp provides beginning and intermediate students with basic surf instruction in the water.

Students practice paddling through the surf, catching waves and standing up and maneuvering the board.

Self-paced and noncompetitive, the course emphasizes ocean safety, surfing terminology and etiquette and even talks about surfboard type and selection.

The beginning Sailing Camp meets in Marina del Rey and teaches basic sailing knowledge and terms, boat maintenance and rigging, knot tying, tacking, docking and introduction to ocean sailing.

Instructors are county ocean lifeguards who have received special training in working with young people.

Each week the classes meet in the parking lot at various beach locations, such as in Venice.

The lifeguard checks on the waves and tides, and the group may drive to a different location if the tide is too strong in one area.

The W.A.T.E.R. Program began in 1986 as a way to recruit youths into ocean lifeguarding, according to Smith.

Organizers hoped that if the youths experienced the excitement of water activities and learned about water safety at a young age, they would be inspired to pursue lifeguard, marine biology, harbor patrol or other related careers.

The initial program consisted of sailing and junior lifeguard instruction, but due to demand for the program, it has expanded over the last 15 years to include year-round camps as well as day classes.

Through the wide variety of ocean-related recreational activities offered in he camps, youths gain skills, knowledge and positive personal experiences, according to Smith. She adds that marine life education is also incorporated in the programs.

Smith says that community outreach is another part of the program and school groups from all over the county attend the activities.

The county makes a special effort to reach young people with limited access or opportunity to experience ocean and beach activities.

One-day safety classes bring 80 to 100 students to the beach at a time and are a component of the county outreach to schools.

Smith collaborates with the teacher and develops a customized program based on the age of the students.

“A lot of the kids who have participated in the camps have gone into the Navy and other safety careers, and a couple of dozen have become ocean lifeguards,” Smith says.

The program has evolved over the years and the current goal is to provide as many youths as possible with the opportunity to experience the ocean and the numerous fun water activities available, as well as educate them in water safety.

“At the beach, there are constant risks and hazards, and you don’t always have a lifeguard around. The kids learn skills they can use their entire life and they can share the skills with family and friends.

“I hope every child will be able to try the program,” Smith says.

Information: (310) 305-9587 or www.beaches.co.la.ca.us

(click on the W.A.T.E.R. Youth Program link).

Julie Kirst can be reached at juliekirst@yahoo.com

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