Something unusual was seen skimming the waters of Belvedere Park Lake in East L.A. on Saturday. It was sleek and maneuverable with a triangular fin-like object jutting above the water … No, it was not a shark. It was a sailboat!
The boat came courtesy of LifeSail, a non-profit that teaches underprivileged kids science, math, leadership, and other life lessons through year-round activities centered on sailing, held its first ever “Sail-a-thon” in Belvedere Lake.
Its founder, Matt Schulz, believes that sailing is a wonderful vehicle to teach kids how to apply concepts learned in school while motivating them and building up their confidence as they learn to sail and, yes, even build a sailboat. In fact, the boats used in the sail-a-thon are all student-built. It takes about 30 to 40 hours to build a boat like the ones used on Saturday, an “Optimist” class sailing vessel (a type which has been around since the late 1940s). As they do so, kids learn about technical skills, teamwork, and trusting each other.
Schultz, who started sailing in the 1950s and has been running his organization for the last ten years, said he enjoys “kids developing so beautifully because … we are focusing on the individual.” Kids get a lot of opportunity to apply skills and do hands-on activities in LifeSail programs, something he feels is not always possible in a regular classroom.
About 100 kids signed up for the event. For many, it was their first such experience.
Mario, an eight-year old boy who came with his East L.A. Cub Scout group, Pack 668, lead by Cub Master Omar Loya, was excited while he waited his turn to board a sailboat. He’d never been on one before and was eager, although he was “a little scared.” Not to be outdone, Jonny, a four-year old boy, too, was all smiles after his ride aboard a red-and-white sailboat, exclaiming, “wow, I was floating on the water!” as he took off his life jacket.
Many kids were lucky enough to get a ride on a sailboat. However, some parents expressed a little concern with the $1 raffle system of choosing who got on and when because of the long wait and because siblings may not get to ride around the same time. There were about eight sailboats in operation, each trip carrying one guest rider and lasting about 10-15 minutes. Nevertheless, LifeSail committed to offering rides to as many kids as possible and even offering vouchers for a later event if needed.
All in all, the sight of the graceful sailboats proved to be a memorable event, one that many hoped would return to East L.A. Edgar Cisneros with the Office of Gloria Molina, Supervisor, First District, which helped with arranging the event, said they would be looking into whether sail-a-thon would come back someday, depending on the response from the community.
C.J. Salgado is a resident of East Los Angeles