Sonoma County's junior lifeguard camp stresses ocean safety

  • Camp director Laura Paneno helps Olivia Williams, 11, of Sebastopol shred some waves at the Open Water Junior Lifeguard Surf Camp at Doran Beach in Bodega Bay on June 5, 2014.

BODEGA BAY — Seconds went by, and 10-year-old Hudson Fraser was still on his feet, riding a wave at Doran Beach almost into shore.

Then he collapsed into the surf, but rose with a whoop, flexed his biceps a-la-strongman and flashed a thumbs-up.

It had been only a day or two since the Santa Rosa boy managed for the very first time to get his legs under him long enough to stand atop a wave. But that time was short. This was long.

"Awesome!" Fraser yelled, beaming and pumping his fists.

Like his fellow campers at Sonoma County's Junior Lifeguard Surf Camp were learning, a lot can change in a week. One camper, though a strong swimmer, had to master a fear of open water, though by Thursday she was riding the waves repeatedly.

"They really learn everything fast," Camp Director Laurie Paneno said. "They suck it up like a sponge."

Most of those participating in the camp, now in its second year, were new to surfing when they arrived Monday morning and fought their way into rented wet suits. Early instruction centered on reading waves, digging in when paddling out, and figuring out how to balance their weight on a board.

But intermixed with the surf instruction were ocean rescue skills designed to enhance the kids' comfort and confidence in the water as well as lay down basic lifeguard skills in hopes some would pursue it further.

The two activities go hand-in-hand because so many lifeguards end up surfing, and vice versa, "just because of an affinity to the water," said Ryan Branche, aquatic assistant for county parks. "Surfing is just one of those things that water people kind of gravitate toward."

And even though some participants will never take another lifeguard lesson, learning the basics just puts more people out in the world ready to respond in a crisis, he said.

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