Rusty Perez is always ready to try something new. And when he had a chance to take windsurfing lessons two years ago, he did not hesitate, even though he has been blind since birth.
On Wednesday, Perez, 20, will take to the water again, along with about a dozen other blind students from the Orange County Braille Institute. The yearly windsurfing excursions began in 1987, when one of the institute's instructors, who also happened to be a windsurfer, asked Hobie Sports in Dana Point to adapt its lessons for the visually impaired.
Lynn Butler, who taught those first classes, said only one real change had to be made for the students. "We had to let them feel our feet and our hands so they could understand the positioning," she said. "And during the rigging demonstrations, we had to let them feel the various pieces of the sail board."
On the water, instructors used tethers on the sail boards, but Butler points out that tethers are often used in teaching sighted students how to windsurf.
Instructors start with a demonstration and lecture using a windsurfing simulator on land. "We talk about the sail board and its components and about the sail and its components. Then we let them feel their way through it," said Butler.
One of the biggest differences between blind and sighted students, Butler said, is that blind students are better listeners. "They picked it up easily," she said. "By the end, we were surprised they did as well as they did. A few even came down after the lessons and rented boards. One guy even bought a board of his own."
The quick success of the students did not surprise Donna Wager, a secretary for the youth program at the Braille Institute in Anaheim. "For our students, we like to offer them experiences that are challenging. We want them to get out and have a good time, but also to improve their coordination and gain some confidence," she said. "For example, we also take them rock climbing, snow skiing, water-skiing and river rafting. We like to think there isn't anything they can't do--or at least anything they can't try."
For Rusty Perez, an aspiring radio announcer and a student at Fullerton College, the institute's "try anything" philosophy seems to work. "I figure if someone is willing to teach me, I am willing to learn. If they feel I can do it safely, then I will do it. I am always willing to try something new and different."
The institute's windsurfing classes are aimed at teen-agers and young adults. The minimum age is 13. "We expect a good turnout again this year," Wager said. "It is one of our kids' favorite activities."
Perez, who has participated in nearly every sports activity offered by the institute, said windsurfing produces a "unique feeling. I could actually feel the boat pulling me along. It was an interesting feeling, being pulled by such a strong source, then sometimes not even feeling as if you are moving. The people who taught us said we should have a much better feel for the wind--being blind."
Wager recalled that during the first lessons, the instructors wanted to discover what it was like windsurfing blind in order to relate better to the students. "So they put on blindfolds and went windsurfing," she said. "They said they were even more impressed with our kids after sailing blindfolded."
Most students--like all beginning windsurfers--took several spills into the water, Butler said. "But when they fall, we teach them how to get back to the board, and it all worked out great. No one got hurt."
Said Perez: "We'd run into each other, fall over and it would be fine. It was a shocker falling into the water, but they taught us that when you felt like you were going over to let off of the sail."
He said that when this year's excursion is over, he wants to continue the sport on his own. "I really got into it. I would do it again on a personal basis," he said. "What bums me out is I don't have any friends that want to do it. And I'd want to have a sighted person with me. But I definitely would do it again. I take any opportunity to express myself. I want people to know we are not just a bunch of idiots who sit on our duffs all day."
For information about the Braille Institute's windsurfing program, call (714) 821-5000.
Governor's Cup--Junior match races for some of the top teen-age sailors in the country will continue Saturday and Sunday in the ocean off Newport Beach.
The races, which began Thursday, are part of the Governor's Cup competition, which involves 36 junior sailors around the country. The race is being staged by the Balboa Yacht Club, 1801 Bayside Drive in Corona del Mar. Call (714) 673-3515.
Row your boat--The Newport Aquatic Center will hold two rowing events today beginning at 7 a.m. at the center, 1 Whitecliff Drive in Newport Beach.
A racing event called the Lido Ladder is designed for skilled rowers, and a non-competitive event called the Breakfast Row is aimed at beginners.