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Orange County Focus

NEWPORT BEACH : Blind Kids Hit Dunes to Camp, Swim

August 27, 1994|HOLLY J. WAGNER

The Newport Dunes Resort welcomed 26 blind youths for a three-day camp out this week that gave them a chance to hone their independent living skills, get some exercise and socialize.

The youths, many of whom got their first chance at water sports such as sailing and windsurfing, also learned something about self-reliance.

"Everything we do has a learning goal," said Brian Nelson, assistant youth coordinator for the Braille Institute's Orange County office. "The kids are putting up their own tents and doing all their own cooking, which all helps out with their independent living skills."

The youths, ages 12 to 19, don't usually get as much exercise as sighted young people because their blindness limits the kinds of activities they can do, especially alone, Nelson said. The trip to the Dunes, which ends today, gives them a chance to learn and transfer their skills to new activities.

Ruben Torres, who does a lot of swimming at his Garden Grove apartment complex, bristled at having to wear a life vest at the water park.

"They said I have to wear this because I'm 12," he said. "I wouldn't have to if I was 13. I go to the beach a lot too, and this (the park) is almost like a beach and almost like a pool."

He said he is a yellow belt in judo, which taught him balance. He needed all he could get to go out on his first windsurfing adventure.

"I just never tried it before and it's like surfing," he said.

For the first hour of his lesson, he spent a lot of time in the water. No matter how many times he fell off the sail board, he got right back on. Somewhere into the second hour, he was gliding triumphantly across the bay.

His teacher, 16-year-old Dan Lobdell of Costa Mesa, marveled at Ruben's determination and courage.

"I close my eyes and think about windsurfing," he said. "I don't know how they do it."

Troy Young, a 16-year-old from Glendale, said he prefers events with dances, ice cream socials and other mixers where he and the other teens can mix and, with luck, date.

"I don't really like the beach sometimes," he said. "You get all messy and I don't really like getting messy."

Joel Lepe, 12, said he wanted to try almost everything--sailing, pedal boats and electric floating lounges called Sun Kats. But he didn't want to talk too much about it.

"I'm shy," he giggled, turning his face away. "I hope the TV (news) doesn't come." Shayla Gustafson, 14, said she enjoyed the Sun Kats most but attended the event because "my parents make me go."

"She really doesn't go on very many camping trips," chimed in her more assertive tent mate, Amber Larsen, 16.

"We went kayaking. The resort provided the kayaks for us," Larsen said. "We went into the marsh and stuff. We picked up sea lettuce and it felt like plastic. I said, 'Eeww, trash!' But it wasn't."

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