Students who attend schools in Costa Mesa’s west side have been enjoying the smell of salt air, thanks to a partnership that lets youth try their hand at sailing and, in some cases, access local waterways for the first time.
Orange Coast College’s School of Sailing & Seamanship offers scholarships to students served by the Costa Mesa nonprofit Save Our Youth (SOY), allowing them to participate in a weeklong sailing camp where they learn and try out boating basics.
SOY aims to empower teens within Newport-Mesa Unified School District through academic and social programs that inspire them to learn, grow and make positive choices in life.
Giving kids a chance to sail helps create more equity between schools in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, according to SOY Executive Director Mary Cappellini, who noted that Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar high schools in Newport both have sailing teams and programs Estancia and Costa Mesa high schools don’t.
“We believe in providing access to the world that is around our students,” she said. “What we always try to do is level the playing field for our students who go to the school district, giving them the same opportunities students in Newport Beach have to take sailing.”
The program also gets kids thinking about the kinds of courses they might take at a school like Orange Coast College, which has operated a sailing program for more than 70 years and maintains an annex facility in Newport Beach, where the camp is held.
Spencer Lopez is a rising junior at Estancia High who started taking part in SOY programs in seventh grade after an older cousin convinced him it would help him out in school. He attended OCC’s sailing camp in 2019 and was hooked.
“That was my first time being in a boat,” the 15-year-old said of his first time at camp. “I learned how to tie knots, how to get a boat ready and to sail. I actually got to [pilot the boat] — I was in total control.”
Although OCC’s sailing program offers lessons to hundreds of young people each summer, SOY students are able to attend thanks to a grant from California State Parks’ Division of Boating and Waterways, whose mission is to provide safe public access to the ocean, lakes and rivers.
“One of the stigmas [of boating] is it’s expensive and not available to everybody, and our facility makes sailing available to everybody,” said Mette Segerblom, a sailing program coordinator at OCC.
Exposing youth to boating not only improves their knowledge of water safety but helps build their confidence and skill set and gets them thinking about courses offered in college and about future career paths, she added.
“They’re learning sailing terminology and learning about different parts of the boat. They’ll learn how to steer the boat and how to read the wind and use the wind,” Segerblom said. “[And] maybe, down the line, they’ll think about a career in the maritime industry.”
For Spencer, continuing his introduction into the world of boating and seagoing is a distinct possibility.
“I love being on the water and steering the boat, just looking out onto the water,” he said. “I’ll definitely do this every time I get the opportunity.”
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