FORT WALTON BEACH — In a small corner of Choctawhatchee Bay, about two dozen children were spending the week learning how to harness the power of wind in one of the Emerald Coast Sailing Association’s summer sailing camps.
Working in pairs, children piloted their 8-foot Optimist prams around a small course set up near the Fort Walton Yacht Club, tacking and jibing their boats around the buoys and, hopefully, around each other.
“We’re trying to get the kids used to being on the water,” said ECSA Director Paul Beaudry. “They learn how to work in teams and how to work with different individuals, and they learn how to take responsibility for their vessel and getting it back to the beach.”
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Now in its 30th year, ECSA offers a series of week-long sailing camps through Aug. 5. Camps are open to youths ages 7 to 18, and are designed to accommodate both new sailors and those who already have some experience.
New students start out in the smaller Optimist pram boats to learn the basics of rigging and sailing. As they gain experience and confidence, they move on to the larger Laser or International 420 sailboats.
Many of the instructors are older teens or adults who went through ECSA camps when they were young. On Wednesday, recent Fort Walton Beach High School graduate and ECSA sailing instructor Olin Wolfgram was piloting a small powerboat around the group of young sailors, keeping watch on them, offering advice and helping to right the occasional capsized vessel.
Wolfgram’s first experience with ECSA was as a youth, learning the fundamentals of sailing during summer camp. He later joined the high school sailing team and plans to sail for his college team when he attends Stanford University in the fall.
“We’ve had numerous kids that have gone through the program who went off to good colleges and are now on their sailing teams,” Beaudry said.
One of the highlights of the camp comes at the end of the week, when students can take family members out sailing to show off their new skills.
“I had an 85-year-old grandmother get in the boat last year,” Beaudry said. “She used to sail and she wanted to see her grandson sail. We got her in the boat and it was the thrill of a lifetime.”
For more information on sailing camps, visit ecsasailing.com.