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Okoboji School Teaches Children To Sail

June 14, 2012, 10:00 PM by Hailey Higgins

Okoboji School Teaches Children To Sail

Hundreds of children as young as five-years-old will set sail on Lake Okoboji this summer.

Children learn the basics of operating a sailboat at the Okoboji Yacht Club Sailing School. It's become second nature for 11-year-old David Alexander who's sailed since he was four-years-old. 

"It's a lot of fun. You kind of have to think about what you're doing because if you don't know what you're doing you're going to screw up or fall off the boat," Alexander said.

At Okoboji, the children are given an opportunity to learn a sport not many people know. And while sailing is complicated, Program Director Kirsty Thoreson says young children have an advantage in the boats.

"It's hard enough to teach adults which way the direction of the wind is, so if you can get little kids to understand where the wind is coming from, they learn faster. And they don't have the fear factor that older people and adults have about the water, the wind, the boat, the boom and all that," Thoreson said.

While the school's boats are kid-sized, there are some drawbacks as the small bodies try to harness the wind.

"It's not easy to do. You have to pull a lot of ropes but a lot of the kids have trouble just with the strength issue of doing it. But they usually catch on pretty fast. It's pretty crazy how the young kids get it so fast," Instructor Chris Moen said.

The sailing school is teaching 225 students this summer in classes ranging from the Little Puffs to X Boat Racing and many of the school's graduates come back as instructors.

Moen learned to sail as a child and now he's the head racing instructor. Safety is the highest priority for the staff, who come from across the country to teach. They say it's a thrill to share their love of sailing with new students.

"The kids have complete control over the boat. It's like no other sport they really do. They make all the decisions themselves at a pretty young age. They are out there by themselves. It's a pretty independent sport," Moen said.

While getting out on the water clearly is a lot of fun, the instructors say they're not only learning how to sail, but the kids are also gaining confidence.

"They're so proud of themselves, especially when they learn to steer the boat themselves. They go home and I think they get the opportunity to tell people about something that they do themselves that is a pretty big deal for them," Thoreson said.

And for Alexander, he races competitively each weekend and dreams of owning his own boat.

"You learn a lot from it and you just want to come back and improve more," Alexander said. "You want to become a more accomplished sailor."

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