By Ely Gonzalez, LLA Staff
Despite living near one of the most famous bodies of water in the U.S., I’ve found that most Life Learning Academy students harbor an intense phobia of the waters that border their beloved San Francisco. Rumors of sharks abound, and most students have never been swimming outside of their own bathtubs. Needless to say, “tough guy” facades fall quickly when you put an inner-city teenager on a boat.
This year, nine of the bravest LLA students have determined to put their fears aside and learn to sail with gusto.
Every Friday, I escort this gutsy, spirited bunch to the Treasure Island Sailing Center (TISC), an organization that prides itself on bringing sailing to communities that would otherwise lack access to this historically privileged sport.
Nick Reed, a freshman, was only at LLA for a few weeks before he decided to brave the waters. The very first thing he walked into was a lesson in capsizing: deliberately tipping over the boat, jumping into the water behind it, flipping it back upright, and climbing in through the rear end. This is every novice’s worst nightmare, and one that is necessary to face in order to successfully learn to sail.
“It’s been scary,” Nick admits, but it’s been worth it. LLA’s sailing class has taken him out to test the Bay waters for the very first time, and he’s not looking back. “You just have to try it,” he grins.
LLA junior Amane Eid sees the sailing lessons as applicable to all realms of life. “I first thought Dylan was crazy when he told us to flip over the boat,” she recalled, referencing TISC sailing instructor Dylan Skeffington, who teaches the young seafarers. “I know now that it’s important to stay calm. If you know what to expect, you can stay calm in the most emergency situations.”
The Treasure Island Sailing Center first opened its doors in 1999, just one year after LLA was founded. Over the course of our shared existence on the Island, LLA and TISC have teamed up on a number of occasions. In fact, TISC’s first youth class was a group of girls from Life Learning Academy. Since then, the center has generously provided LLA with sailing excursions and lessons for our youth, free of charge.
Last year when I first came on board as the English instructor, I worked with TISC Program Director Chris Childers to recreate some of the experience of being lost at sea and beholden to the winds that The Odyssey relates. Chris and I quickly realized that some of my students so delighted in the experience that we resolved to design a regular sailing course that students could take for P.E. credit.
Chris and I were thrilled to launch the TISC-LLA sailing course this September. To teach the class, Chris hired Dylan, a recent Cal alum and long-time member of the Cal Sailing Team.
Reflecting on his month and a half of instruction, Dylan writes, “It’s been great watching students come to understand what a joy it is to be able to go out on the water at the end of a long week, even if it requires some work to get there. It’s wonderful to introduce something new to the students. Although they seem daunted at first by even the simplest things, I watch them progress rapidly, so that the things that seemed a hard task before now come to them as second nature.”
Five weeks in, Dylan notes, students know how to independently rig and de-rig a sailing boat, and they’re building on their steering skills.
“I hope that the students will gain a new appreciation for their surroundings of the Bay, and that they hopefully come across a great life skill and sport. Sailing is one of our oldest traditions, it is complete freedom, and it is something that can be carried with them for the rest of their lives,” Dylan writes.
Indeed, students referred again and again to the extreme luxury of bobbing on the Bay. LLA students Aldrina Dawkins and Dalia Sanchez both recalled the blissful experience of “listening to the water” and “getting fresh air.”
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” sophomore Dalia Sanchez explains. As she experienced first hand, it can be very easy to drift if the sailor takes their hand off the tiller for too long.
Fortunately, Dylan keeps a close eye on our students. With two decades of sailing experience, he offers our students instruction from a place of clear joy and confidence.
What’s next for this group of gutsy youngsters? Students are ready to learn to swim and to test out the wide variety of vessels on TISC’s campus, ranging from kayaks to motorboats, and even wind surfing gear!
In spite of all the dangers –whether real or perceived– nine LLA students are taking to the waters every Friday, and they’re loving every minute of it.
“It’s kind of scary not knowing how deep the water is, but there’s nothing more relaxing than looking up from your boat and seeing nothing but your sail in endless sky and water, thinking about life,” Amane reflects wistfully.
Ely Gonzalez teaches Language Arts and leads the Sailing Club at Life Learning Academy.