Connecting Youth to the Ocean

Hi all! I am now about 5 weeks into my CBE Fellowship with the Wahine Project, and so far it has been an incredible experience. Here at the Wahine Project, we are working to break down the barriers that prevent a diversity of youth from building a personal relationship with the ocean and from participating in ocean sports. ‘Wahine’ means girl or young woman in Hawaiian. The organization started in 2010 by founder Dionne Ybarra, who was motivated to bring more girls and marginalized communities into surfing, which is a very white-male-dominated sport. The camp started with all girls, but has since expanded to include all genders. At the Wahine Project, we believe the ocean should be accessible to everyone. The organization is living out their vision year after year, and I have been so lucky to be a part of it and see it firsthand. There are many barriers which prevent access to the beach and surfing, and we partner with many local organizations to provide transportation and lessons for kids all around Monterey Bay.

My office! Casa Verde Beach, Monterey CA

My job this summer has evolved since the beginning, and I love it. Initially my position was to develop a marine education curriculum for the organization. I am still doing this, but in a different capacity. As I learned how the camps run and what the dynamics were, I wanted to be way more than just an outside graduate student telling the organization what I think they should teach about. I realized that wasn’t the exact role the organization needed and I wanted to be a staff instructor alongside the other staff members. The staff instructors already taught the kids about many topics. I still had so much to learn. I also wanted to work more with the kids and build relationships with them. Above all, I wanted to learn from them, because youth hold so much knowledge (I learn every day from them!). Secondly, I had (and continue to have) so much to learn from the current staff instructors. Some of them have been working for years and hold a wealth of knowledge. I have been like a sponge, absorbing their knowledge, tips, tricks and ability to get a group of kids to listen at the beach (I’m still working on that last part!). I needed to learn the ropes of how things ran, and how I could best help the organization. For these reasons, my position now is more of a staff instructor and marine educator. I show up every day ready to learn, work hard and support the organization in any way I can.

I’ve learned how grateful I am for wetsuits, and for sunscreen (oxybenzone free, of course). I am now pretty much an expert at helping kids get their wetsuits on!

I have been working mostly with two age groups: 6-10 & 11-17 year old girls. To be back working with youth in this capacity has filled my heart with so much happiness and gratitude. Working with these age groups has taught me more than I could have ever imagined. A few things I have learned so far are: 1) You are NEVER too old to play in the sand, play beach games, or have a blast in the waves! 2) It is never too early (or late) to learn how to surf (yes, there are 6yo who are better surfers than me) 3) Some kids are more knowledgeable about environmental topics than 90% of adults (not kidding). This list will continue to grow as the summer goes on!

One of the most incredible aspects of the Wahine Project is the conversations we are able to have with the campers. Campers typically come for a week, and every day as staff, we make time to talk with them about important topics, where we write on a small white board and have a discussion circle. Not only are we teaching them how to surf, but we are teaching them to love the ocean, to love themselves, and to love each other. For the 11-17 year olds, in June, we talked about LGBTQ+ pride month, LGBTQ+ surfers who are changing the sport and working to make it more accessible and inclusive to everyone. After Juneteenth, we talked about what Juneteenth was, its significance, and how we can work towards equity in today’s world. One day we talked about the issue of plastic pollution (which all the campers are very aware of), the big systemic issues surrounding it (recycling, fossil fuel influence) and about the changes we can make in our own lives. After the shark incident at Lover’s Point, we had a discussion about the importance of sharks in the ocean, and how shark conservation is essential in addressing climate change. One of the most powerful conversations we had one day was about self-love. We talked about the influence of the media and how it portrays surfer girls and women, and how in reality, we are actually all different sizes, shapes and colors. We don’t need to look a certain way to be a surfer. We had the campers go around and say what they loved about themselves; this was a powerful experience. We are working to empower one another, and help these girls navigate such a confusing and difficult world that tells them they should look a certain way. We are teaching them to love their bodies, despite what the media is telling them. We are helping them to be confident, curious, brave and to never be afraid to speak up for what they believe in. 

As the weeks have gone on, I’ve been able to gain more confidence in myself, too. I am growing right alongside them. I’m now confident to lead surf instruction and group discussions with the campers, which I definitely wasn’t able to in the beginning! Last week, I worked with the 6-10 year olds, and I was able to talk with the girls about two topics I thought were missing from our discussions: climate change and indigenous land stewardship. Alongside my staff members, we had incredible discussions about these topics. During our talk about climate change (see photo below), we talked about what it was, how it is impacting the ocean, and how we can make a difference. I used a piece of washed-up kelp to talk about the importance of kelp forests in fighting climate change, and their vulnerability to increasing ocean temperatures. We aim to both educate and empower these campers to become ocean + climate activists themselves, and leave camp confident to talk about these issues.

Our discussion about climate change + the ocean! We talked about sea level rise, ocean warming, & ocean acidification.

During our talk about indigenous land stewardship (see photo below) we talked about who’s land we were on, what land acknowledgements were, the importance of indigenous knowledge in healing our planet, and the land-back movement. We try to make sure that we end each lesson talking about concrete solutions, so they feel empowered to make a difference. 

Our discussion about indigenous land stewardship! We talked about the 7th generation principle & related it to overfishing.

This position has been a dream so far. I get to be at the beautiful Case Verde Beach every day (seeing dolphins is my favorite!) working with the next generation to become ocean stewards and socially responsible individuals. I am so blessed to work with incredible staff members who push me to get out of my comfort zone and grow, and teach me every day. I am very grateful + lucky to be working with the Wahine Project, and these are memories I will hold in my heart forever!

Leave a Reply