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Catch a wave, Yakutat surf club gets kids in the water and on a board

Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 8:52 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Beach Boys belted out the tune “Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world” way back in 1963 but surfing in Alaska feels a little closer to the top of the world than just about anywhere else. Now thanks to a good idea by a surf enthusiast and the help of a well-known native corporation, kids in the village of Yakutat are getting totally tubular on a few choice waves.

Surfer Ryan Cortes conceived this whole idea a few years back when he visited Yakutat to do a bit of his own wave riding in a place that he knew wouldn’t be overrun by competition for the next great swell. Seeing a need and having spoken with some friends he held a small camp. “For a lot of the kids, it’s just like getting into the wet suit because believe it or not even though these kids haven’t surfed before they spend a lot of time in the water,” Cortes said.

Since that time the Native Corporation Sealaska has stepped in to fund more opportunities for the youth of this small village to get lessons, training, and time on a board. Something Anthony Mallott, the President and CEO of Sealaska, believes can make a real difference.

“Life can get hard in the village, especially moving into winter. Summer is a fun season but these shoulder seasons are tough, any fun activity, any excitement that a youth has can possibly mean they’re doing better in school, can possibly mean they make better choices,” Mallott said.

This year specifically the camp has also provided an escape from the doldrums of Covid-19. The outdoor activity helping to get the community, kids and parents alike, off the couch and participating in something positive.

“This opportunity to get together outside in such a healthy way, I’m pretty sure everyone took Advil the first night and really needed to do some stretching long showers to get those muscles moving again for day two,” said Gloria Wolfe, project director of the Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration.

To camp coordinator Aleks Petrovitch, who spent 20 years as a surf shop owner in San Francisco, its the connection to the environment that makes this experience worthwhile.

“The ocean allows us to kind of get out of our daily rhythm and thought processes. A lot of these kids have never surfed before or even thought about surfing before so now that they’re surfing and having so much fun they’re like what else can I do,” Petrovitch said.

The impressive part, according to Cortes, has been the zeal with which these first-time surfers have attacked the challenge.

“The kids are super brave over there too, like there wasn’t much trepidation on any of those kids they were just excited to have something new to do,” Cortes said.

This past summer there was a total of two full camps and a number of smaller opportunities for lessons and tutelage on the Yakutat beaches and that’s something that the community and the partnering native corporation hope to see continue on into the future. “The upside of supporting an activity like this is just so great and we want to be involved wherever we can to support this effort and really push for sustainability,” Mallott said.

That word, sustainability, was echoed by seemingly everyone involved with this camp. It has, according to those I spoke with, had a wonderfully positive effect on the kids and the community as a whole.

The hope now is that it is a program that can continue, grow, and provide access to a sport that can inspire the youth of Yakutat for years to come.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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