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FOR THE KIDS : Youngsters Can Learn to Play Safe in Water : Three summer programs will offer a variety of training ranging from surfing to first aid.


With school almost over, this is the time a kid's thoughts start drifting from science and social studies to surf and sand.

It's the call of the beach, and it happens every summer. Kids want to hang out there, maybe do some surfing, bodysurfing, boogie-boarding, sailing or windsurfing.

As a parent, maybe all this makes you nervous, knowing the dangers that lurk in ocean waters. But take some comfort in this: There are at least three summer programs in the county that teach kids how to take care of themselves in the water and how to rescue others. They even teach surfing and other water sports.

The California Parks and Recreation Department and the city of Port Hueneme offer junior lifeguard programs. These go beyond teaching rescue techniques and include things any beach-crazy kid should know: first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, physical fitness, ocean ecology, marine biology, beach games and, of course, surfing.

All this is as much for parents' piece of mind as it is for the kids, according to Carrie Whitman, a lifeguard instructor for the state program. "When the kids are 9 or 10," Whitman said, "the mom is saying, 'I can't sleep knowing they are going to the beach the next day.' They know what goes on in the water."

The state's program, operated at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura, is open to kids 9 to 15 years old. The two sessions, each four weeks long, run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and cost $240. One session begins June 26, the other July 31.

"Some of these kids do this for years," coming back each summer to sharpen water skills, Whitman said.

It's not all water work, though. There's some horseplay. On the first day, kids get an abrupt introduction to sand appreciation.

"We ask them, 'How much do you love the sand?' " Whitman said. "Then we make them roll around in it."

For the first hour each day, the kids do calisthenics, topped off by a progressively longer run, eventually stretching to a couple of miles. Then they hit the water for a swim between buoys.

Before signing up, kids must pass a test showing that they can swim 100 yards on the surface and 10 yards underwater and tread water for five minutes. The next tryout is June 10, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Ventura High School pool.

Some kids swim fine in a pool, but when they get into the ocean, they find that they have to deal with waves, cold water and riptides. But they become better ocean swimmers. On the last day, the 200 kids per session pile into the water for a swim around Ventura Pier, a distance of more than half a mile.

"For some kids, that's the icing on the cake," said Whitman, who has run the program 12 years. "It's the biggest confidence booster."

Port Hueneme's junior lifeguard program is similar to the state's, except the city runs three three-week sessions, beginning June 19, July 10 and July 31. The sessions, for kids 9 and older, go from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays at Port Hueneme Pier. The cost is $130.

The kids get Red Cross certification in CPR and first aid training, along with ocean safety and rescue techniques, marine ecology, fitness and surfing. One difference between the two programs is that Port Hueneme's south-facing beach serves up a bigger surf to challenge the kids.

Children should be good swimmers, but ocean experience isn't required.

For kids who want an intensive week of surfing, sailing and bodyboarding instruction, check out Beach Camp, offered by Ventura's recreation department. It runs eight weeks throughout the summer at Marina Park in Ventura, where the city docks its fleet of sailboats.

It's an all-day program for kids 9 to 14. Although it doesn't include all the first aid and rescue instruction of the other programs, it does teach kids how to be safe in the water, according to Margaret Stallings, program director.

Kids learn about riptides and how to read the waves, she said. They learn how to paddle out on a board (provided for them), and how to stand up, distributing their weight correctly. Experienced surfers also take the program, learning new tips.

On the last day, instructors hold a surf contest, videotaping contestants and scoring them on their skills.

"We have girls who have never surfed before who are winning the surfing contests," Stallings said.


* WHAT: Summer programs dealing with ocean safety, rescue and surfing instruction for youngsters.

* CALL: California Parks and Recreation Department junior lifeguard program, operating at San Buenaventura State Beach, 643-5003; Port Hueneme junior lifeguard program, operating at the Port Hueneme Pier, 986-6555; Ventura recreation department's Beach Camp, operating out of Marina Park in Ventura, 658-4726.

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