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Castaic Lake program makes waves with kids

CSUN lifeguards teach inner-city children how to kayak

Posted: August 12, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 12, 2012 2:00 a.m.

CSUN lifeguard Paul Jacobson hands over the oar to one of the of the 80 summer campers from the 109th Street Recreation Center and Watts Community Center in Los Angeles as they attend the boating instruction and water safety program at Castaic Lake in Castaic on Saturday.

As children pushed their kayaks and canoes into Castaic Lake, lifeguards made sure they were wearing their life vests and knew how to float.

The kids, ranging in age from about 5 to 16 years old, seemed enthusiastic about learning the basics of paddling a kayak around the lake.

Many live in Watts or Compton.

“It’s almost like a mecca to them,” said Paul Jacobson, a student at California State University, Northridge, and an instructor and lifeguard for the Castaic Lake Aquatic Center.

The aquatic center is operated by both Los Angeles County and CSUN. Many of the programs, including the one Friday that drew children from the inner city, are funded by various state grants, said John Van Arsdale, director of the CSUN Aquatic Center.

The county and CSUN recently renewed their agreement for CSUN’s use of the aquatic center. The university pays an annual rental fee of $8,437.50, an annual utility payment of $12,000 and a percentage of the center’s gross revenue from its Summer Youth Camp Program, according to information released by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

Many of the programs benefit CSUN’s student body. Classes are offered in water skiing, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving, Van Arsdale said. The center used to offer more classes to the public, but budget cuts axed some of them.

The center also helps teach water and boating safety to disadvantaged and at-risk children, Van Arsdale said.

“That’s what we’re all about,” Van Arsdale said. “Teaching people to be safe in and around the water.”

Children learn how to be comfortable with life vests, how to float, to perform capsize drills and to paddle kayaks and canoes. A grant from the California Department of Boating and Waterways pays for the program, Van Arsdale said.

“It’s really interesting working with these kids because their experience is mainly in pools,” Jacobson said. “A lot of it is overcoming their fear of water.”

About 3,000 kids go through the summer program each year, Van Arsdale said.

Some children were excited to be at the lake Friday.

“I went kayaking and what I learned is when you want to go to the right, you push left, and when you want to go to the left, you push right,” said 9-year-old Lleah Gibbs. “They gave us life jackets so we can float.”

“We went into the water to tip over the boats and learn to kayak,” said 7-year-old Elaing Flores. “It was fun.”


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