Aspiring water hounds from all over the Northwest gathered at the Hood River Inn Tuesday and Wednesday to participate in U.S. Sailing’s Fast and Fun program.
Approximately 325 kids and adults from as far away as Friday Harbor, Wash., tried their hand at windsurfing, kayaking and multi-hull sailing with help from Hood River WaterPlay, U.S. Sailing and a host of volunteers.
Even better, all the activities were offered completely free of charge.
“Education and opportunity are what we’re after,” said Art Stevens, one of the U.S. Sailing volunteers traveling the country to get people excited about sailing. “We like to tie in with an existing school like WaterPlay so that once people get into it, they’ll have a better chance of sticking with it.”
Before stopping in Hood River, Stevens and a crew of Fast and Fun volunteers passed through Seattle and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, toting with them a fleet of Hobie Cat catamarans, sit-on-top kayaks and entry-level windsurfing boards.
“We’ve always wanted to come to Hood River,” said Stevens, who spent the entire 2001 summer promoting the program on the East Coast. “And when Jak (Wilberscheid, owner of Hood River WaterPlay) got in touch with us, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity.”
Wilberscheid and business partner Carla Albright spent the past month-plus promoting Fast and Fun’s visit to Hood River. And, while they were pleased with the program’s success, they had hoped for even more local enthusiasm.
“325 people isn’t bad for mid-week,” said Wilberscheid, “but we had hoped for more. Our goal was just to get people to come out and play, have a little fun on the water, and learn a new activity.”
Wilberscheid said that, while the Fast and Fun program focuses on getting youth involved in sailing, it is open to people of all ages.
“We’re focusing on kids eight to 80,” he said. “We even had one kid out there who was 84 years young. Exposure to sailing is what this is all about.”
One of the highlights at this week’s gathering was an appearance by KOIN News Channel 6 out of Portland, which featured Fast and Fun on its nightly newscast Tuesday.
“We were a little surprised, but very grateful,” said Wilberscheid. “Every little bit helps — especially right now, the way the economy has been. But we’re just going to keep on hustling.”
Fast and Fun will now move to Los Angeles, where volunteers expect upwards of 1,000 kids to participate in the free clinic.
“The message we’re sending to kids is that they can be successful,” Stevens said. “Windsurfing and sailing are sports you have to learn how to do by yourself. Once these kids decide that they want to do it, nothing can stop them. There is nothing more powerful than a made-up mind.”