Junior sailing programs a big success
Eight-year-old Wesley Sergent manned the rudder of the Rhodes 19 sailboat as it inched its way across the waters of the Jordanelle Reservoir on Thursday afternoon.
Joining him were his mother, Sara, his five-year-old brother Rhys, who was waving to the other youth sailors as they passed, and Park City Sailing Association Vice President Ken Block, who was trying to coax as much wind into the sail as possible on the nearly breezeless afternoon.
The Sergents were taking a family lesson with PCSA, with Wesley and Rhys set to enroll in the organization’s junior sailing program on Monday.
The junior sailing program, according to Block, has been taking off since it started a few years ago.
"This is our fifth season," he said. "We’re just completing our fourth week the midpoint of the season. [The PCSA] started out as a bunch of guys racing Olympic-class Laser boats. At the end of the second season, a couple of the dads said, ‘This is great, we’re having fun, but what should we do about the kids?’ They had a couple kids who were getting close to the age where they could start sailing.
"So we created a plan and took a leap of faith. A few members put down some money and we bought a fleet of Optimist dinghies, the most popular, universal sailing trainer for kids that are a little over eight feet long."
From there, the number of kids enrolling in the classes exploded.
"It was like 50 kids, 100 kids, 200 kids and I’m pretty confident 300+ kids will go through the program this year," Block said. "We now have 13 or 14 of the Optimists and we have six Club 420s, which are popularly raced throughout the world by high school and college racers."
To meet demand, Block said the organization added more instructors for this season, aiming for quality first and foremost.
"We have a full-time staff of six instructors from all over the country," he said. "I’ll compare the quality of our teaching staff now to almost any elite junior sailing program in the country, except we’re doing it in Park City."
The junior sailors are divided into different classes, beginning as young as five.
"We’ve expanded the program to include 5- to 7-year-olds in a program called ‘Guppies,’" Block said. "Guppies sail in the mornings, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. There’s a little bit of instruction, but the emphasis is on fun and safety. Then we have Optimist 1, 2 and 3 programs 1 and 2 are in the mornings for 8, 9, 10, 11-year-old beginner sailors. The emphasis there is good, solid sailing fundamentals with the goal, but it’s not mandatory, that they make it to our Optimist 3 program in the afternoon, which includes learning to race."
Head instructor Sumner Fisher, who has 14 years of teaching under his belt, including some time running a program in Maine, echoed Block’s sentiments about fun.
"It’s pretty much just getting kids sailing and getting them to have fun and making them see how great a sport it is," he said. "A lot of it is teaching, too. We’ll take kids who have never sailed before and have them sailing all around the lake by the end of the week."
And, for worried parents, Block added that safety is also a big priority.
"The emphasis is on safety," he said. "Everyone on staff and the kids, the moment they start walking down from the clubhouse, they have life jackets on it’s just a smart protocol."
By the end of a week of sailing lessons, Block said he and the organization hope kids have learned skills that will stay with them for a lifetime.
"Sailing is a sport that, like others, teaches life skills," he said. "The environment throws so many things at us as sailors, so we learn to adapt, solve problems quickly and, when there are two or three people to a boat, we learn teamwork."
For more information on the junior sailing programs offered by the Park City Sailing Association, visit http://www.sailpc.org .
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Chase Campbell, a Park City High School sophomore, has a busy summer schedule, including the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships on July 22-23.