Anchors Aweigh

A group of sailors compete in a recent regatta at Lake Eustis.

A group of sailors compete in a recent regatta at Lake Eustis.

Looking for a sport that will blow your kids away? Try sailing. You’ll be surprised at all the options right here in Central Florida.

Written by Lupe Tucker

When brother and sister Justin and Leah Harper were ages 8 and 9, respectively, they enrolled in the Learn to Sail program at Lake Eustis Sailing Club. Within a few days, they were at the helm of their own boats. Now, the Harpers, ages 10 and 11, from Oviedo, sail Optimist dinghies on Lake Eustis every Saturday and even compete against other local children.

For mom Connie Harper, sailing has helped her kids be more confident and independent. “They learn how to be brave and not depend on their parents and teachers for every little thing,” she says. For the kids, it’s just plain fun. “You can go wherever you want on the water. In a car, you can’t do that,” says Justin.

Just Add Water
One of Central Florida’s best-kept secrets is that there are quite a few kid-friendly sailing schools in the area. And if your child can swim, he or she can learn to sail. Sailing doesn’t discriminate on physical prowess — children of all heights, sizes and even mental abilities can excel equally at sailing. The best part is by your child’s learning to sail, you put him or her in direct contact with nature. “I’ve seen fish jump out of the water,” says Justin, “and you have to find where the wind is, so you have to learn about that.” The unique thing about sailing is that children are in charge of their own boat. They have to engage the brain and adapt to the shifting winds to navigate themselves around a lake.

Safety First
Worried about having your little one all alone on a boat in the middle of the lake? Don’t be, says mom Connie. “The coaches are always out there with a safety boat, and the kids always have their life jackets on,” she says.

A typical first class for any sailing program is spent teaching the children safety procedures and drills, such as how to flip a boat that has turtled. “The teacher taught us how to flip it over, how to bring it back up and right it,” explains Leah. “[We learned] how to sail it in the pool. Then she took us out on the lake and taught us the basics.”

Both Justin and Leah sail for sport. Because lakes are abundant in Florida, there are many opportunities for young sailors to compete in friendly races around the state. “Just a few weeks ago, there was a regatta at Lake Eustis,” says Leah. “I raced and got fourth place overall. There were like 20 boats.”

Not Just for the Elite
One misconception is that sailing is an elite sport, and therefore expensive, but in reality, at the entry level, the costs are about the same as for any other sport. The biggest investment is sun protection, a life jacket and sunglasses. Beginner lessons run about $200 at Lake Eustis. And the benefits are endless. Sailing can open a child’s eyes to the world around him or her, and it teaches the child to respect the elements, all while having a blast in the great outdoors. Sailing moms, including Connie, agree. “I think they gain a lot of confidence,” she explains. “They learn how to deal with situations on their own because they’re by themselves on the boat.”

“What’s cool about sailing,” says Leah, “is you get to meet a lot of really cool people. You get to travel to different places for regattas. … It’s really fun.” If you want to give your child an adventure and instill a positive change in his or her life, try sailing. You’ll not only be giving your child something to do this summer, but you also will be embarking with them on an adventure of a lifetime.

Where to Go
• Lake Eustis Sailing Club offers sailing with Learn to Sail summer camps from July 9 to 19. Call 352-357-5976, or visit www.lakeeustissailingclub.org.
• U-Sail of Central Florida offers one-on-one and parent-child sailing instruction year-round on Lake Monroe in Sanford. Call 407-330-0633, or visit www.usailflorida.com.

Takeaways From Olympic Contenders:
Brother and sister sailors Zach and Paige Railey started sailing as 8-year-olds through the Clearwater Community Sailing Association in Clearwater. Now in their 20s, they’ll be sailing for the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team in the 2012 Summer Olympics. And believe it or not, their parents didn’t know anything about sailing before the two started lessons. The reason they tried sailing? “We always loved being around the water,” says Zach.

If you want to get your feet wet and give sailing a go, here are some of the benefits the Raileys gained from sailing as youngsters:

LIFELONG FRIENDS: “For us, sailing was about being with friends, sailing to the next island, beaching our boats, then sitting around, talking and swimming,” says Paige.

INDEPENDENCE:  “The biggest thing about sailing at a young age is that it develops your independence very quickly — not the kind of independence where, ‘I don’t need mom and dad anymore,’ but it helps kids take responsibility [for] doing things at a younger age,” explains Zach.

DISCIPLINE: “A lot of discipline comes with sailing because at such a young age, you’re [responsible for taking care of your boat and staying safe],” says Paige. “Sailing teaches you the simple things, like how to be clean with your stuff and appreciate your equipment.”

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