Sailing attunes kids to what's going on around them, says Jay Ginter, a board member of Juneau Youth Sailing.
"And it's not on the TV screen. This is not virtual stuff. It's honest-to-God real fun," he said Saturday at the Juneau Yacht Club. JYS was training teen volunteers to help with the usual slate of summer courses.
Juneau Youth Sailing was established in 1997 as a nonprofit trust. It's a member of U.S. Sailing, the sanctioning body for sail racing and Olympic sailing in the United States. U.S. Sailing certifies the local group's instructors.
JYS offers one-week courses for children ages 10 and 11, two-week courses at three levels for youths ages 12 to 19, and programs for adults.
Students sail two-person, 15-foot fiberglass boats of the "420" class, the standard boat for collegiate competition, Ginter said. Students wear drysuits and flotation devices. Instructors are nearby in small motorized boats. The idea is to learn by doing, including making mistakes.
"This is a sport of finesse," and it's suitable for girls as much as for boys, Ginter said. "Physical strength is important, but it's not the case that the bigger and stronger you are, the better you are."
The program is funded by fees and grants. Financial assistance is available. See www.juneauyouthsailing.org, or call 789-3546, for details.
Good sailors have an awareness of the environment - the wind, the weather, the tides, Ginter said. Sailing - with the boat skittering over the surface, the sail an edge in the wind - is a careful balance of the wind and the water. Alek Carson, 15, a volunteer assistant instructor, said he finds himself being more aware in general now that he's a sailor.
Matt Callahan, 16, is another one of the volunteer helpers this summer. He's been through the courses and has been sailing for four or five years.
"I liked it a lot so I kept coming back," he said. "It's a lot of fun because - why are any sports fun? You're just out on the water, outside."
"It's also just so much quieter than a motor boat, it's that much more enjoyable," said Dane Harlamert, 16.
"With sailing it takes expertise," Callahan said.
"It's also just the peace of being there - the waves and the wind, that's all you hear," Harlamert added.
"It's peaceful," agreed Carson. "You can think. It's sort of fun, getting to teach it - pass it on to people."
Ginter said he's seen students gain in confidence from "tackling something that seems almost impossible and taking command of a situation. ... I've seen kids come down and they're just completely bamboozled by this, and within the space of a week get a huge feeling of self-confidence because they're able to master it."
Students also learn teamwork in the two-person boats. One youth steers and runs the mainsail. The other provides balance and runs the jib sail and the spinnaker sail.
"There's no choice - you have to work together," Callahan said.
"If you don't work together, the boat's going over or someone gets hit by a boom," Harlamert said.
Actually, students like to capsize the boat, which means putting it on its side in the water. They practice righting it by climbing on the boat's centerboard, which extends from the bottom.
"A part of sailing these boats is they are going to tip over," Harlamert said.
"It's not a big deal," Callahan said.
The boats can travel at up to 10 to 15 mph, Ginter said. But speed's not the only point.
"You're making this go," he said. "It's kind of like riding a bicycle in a way. When the wind's in your face and you're going down a hill, it may be only 5 mph, but it's an exciting 5 mph."
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.
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