The Boys & Girls Clubs’ educational boating program sails on

By Kellie Chudzinski

Launched by Best of the Westside winner, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice, the Fast and Fun program gives kids across LA County the chance to sail

It’s common to find kayaks and paddleboards laying on the shore of Marina Beach. But on any given Saturday a special group of kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs take to the water in Marina del Rey.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice launched the Fast and Fun program for sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and water safety 20 years ago. Since then, the program has expanded to over seven clubs around the Los Angeles area, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of West San Gabriel Valley. The expansion has allowed over 11,000 inner-city kids the opportunity to get hands-on learning and some fun in the sun.

For many of the kids from inner LA County, they see and experience the ocean for the first time with their participation in the seaside programs at the Boys and Girls Clubs.

In a promotional video for the program JR Dzubak, former executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice and current CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of West San Gabriel Valley, explained, “A lot of the kids who come to the club are kind of landlocked into the community they grow up in. … So getting them out of that to see the Westside part of town, they get to see opportunity within just the larger county of Los Angeles.”

“I don’t live near the water and so when I got a chance to experience boating and kayaking, I really didn’t want to pass it up,” Colleen, a six-year member from Monterey Park, said. “I experience most things firsthand at the club.”

Despite the constraining nature of the novel coronavirus pandemic, leaders of the organization have adapted, allowing kids to have an oceanside reprieve. With smaller groups, all-masked, the kids get a break from at-home learning and the pains of the pandemic to let loose and learn useful skills.

After school on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings groups of six to eight kids travel from their homes in the West San Gabriel Valley to the calm beach on the Westside. Accompanied by two group leaders, they set up camp under a pop-up tent next to the shore with their sailboats and kayaks nearby.

“It’s really nice because like, not only can you see your friends, but you can just have fun with them,” eight-year member Hunter said of the program.

“They teach you how to be safe while you’re on the water,” Hunter added. “And then most of the time you just enjoy.”

Classified as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program for its pairing of math and ocean biology with hands-on learning, the sailing program provides not only recreation but educational components. The club members get to make friends and spend time with them in a new environment, too.

“The club still really gets us connected, it’s fun to be together,” says Kelly a six-year member of the West San Gabriel Valley club. “I really like sailing and when we’re all together.”

The six-week-long program arms the members with skills they take far beyond their days in the Boys & Girls Clubs.

“We teach them sailing, fundamentals, communication, teamwork,” said instructor Grant Lee. “We’ll do lessons about the basics of sailing and water safety is a huge part of it. … It’s good to be hands-on.”