The New Channels program introduces many young people to the water while giving other youths the chance to be leaders.
Resting my arm on the bow of a RIB, I snap photos of students kayaking around some sunbathing sea lions. The cool breeze and salty air seem to put everyone at ease, and as I overlook the scene, all I see are smiling faces. New Channels program director Paul Zambriski is at the helm of the RIB, and I can see the twinkle in his eye as he tells us all to brace ourselves. Moments later, I am holding on for dear life as the vessel begins to do donuts in the water. That is only the beginning of my day with New Channels.
New Channels was founded in 2004 by Zambriski, a seasoned sailor and longtime member of the King Harbor Yacht Club, as a nonprofit program within the King Harbor Youth Foundation, which itself operates independently from KHYC. The yacht club allows the youth foundation, started in the early 1980s, to operate on its grounds. The mission of KHYF, which New Channels helps it accomplish, is to provide access to the water for youth in the communities around King Harbor. Sailing programs, high school racing programs, year-round club racing programs, beginner sailing, adventure sailing and adult sailing are all available and are open to the public. The summer sailing program fees pay for the instructors and equipment. New Channels programs are free to all participants, as funding is from donations.
Zambriski views New Channels as his pay-it-forward mission. “I’ve been given so much,” he said, “that it was only right to give back.”
Currently, New Channels operates during the school year, because that’s when high school student volunteers are most readily available, and groups are taken out on weekends. Participating groups are shown how to operate kayaks and sailboats and are given the chance to ride on a powerboat.
Later that morning, I find myself in The Flyaway, a small sailboat bobbing in the waves along King Harbor’s outer edges, where I converse with three high school seniors about their goals and experiences and why they like the water. Alex and Vanessa attend San Pedro High School, and Drew is from Redondo Union High. Drew has been volunteering with New Channels for two years and is an experienced sailor. He tells me that sharing his favorite hobby with new people makes him happy and that’s why he volunteers. He demonstrates for us how to steer the sailboat, and I am surprised how responsive the steering is. Alex and Vanessa, from the Boys and Girls Club of LA Harbor (that day’s hosted group), both got into very competitive University of California schools, and Drew is going to school in Rhode Island in the fall. It is at this moment I realize I am precisely 10 years older than they are. I advise them to enjoy the rest of their time in high school, because time really flies once you finish. They are all so excited about college.
New Channels aims to serve a range of disadvantaged youth who normally would not have access to the water. All of the participant groups are from neighboring communities and, ironically, many of them have never spent any time on the water or been out on a boat before, despite their proximity. New Channels has hosted special-needs groups, such as autistic or deaf children, troubled youth, local boys and girls clubs, and local Big Brother programs. The programs are geared to participants aged 10 to 18 but open to all. Sessions generally last about two hours and include activities such as sailing, powerboating and kayaking, three activities selected due to their varying sizes and modes of propulsion: sailing by wind, powerboating by engine and kayak by manpower. Before each session, participants receive a brief lesson about the activity and how to remain safe while doing it, and the session concludes with a social period with the volunteers.
Sharing the water and making it accessible to everyone is the goal of New Channels, and Zambriski and his crew have succeeded in bringing diverse backgrounds together through boating. It struck me that the young people there to experience the program were not so different from the volunteers who were administering it. All the young adults have a lot on their mind — school, tests, and choosing the right college — but it seemed as though all of that was brushed aside while on the water, and everyone was content.
The benefits of this program are twofold. The participants get a lot out of the day by experiencing the water as they likely never have before, but so do the student volunteers who donate their time and expertise to bring the hobby they enjoy to others who are less fortunate than they. The high school volunteers are critical to the program, according to Zambriski, because they bring a level of comfort and assurance to younger attendees.
I ask the participants and the volunteers what their favorite thing about boating is, and to my surprise, they all essentially say the same thing: It is relaxing and a great way to relieve stress and ease your mind. That’s really what boating is all about—a chance to get away from stress, technology, and problems and just enjoy nature up close and personal.
We conclude our day on the water with a wonderful albeit choppy ride on a powerboat. I chat with Keith Angel and discover he is another member of the King Harbor Yacht Club. He tells me he volunteered his time to take this group of kids out on the water. We get a tour of the docks and cruise out to the open water. As the wind whips around us, we pass by natural oil seeps and gaze toward the horizon as we discuss, among other things, the future of Redondo Beach. He’s a local South Bay resident, and he said that buildings come and go but the harbor has remained basically the same for 40 years, and that it would be the same for years to come.
Programs such as New Channels are needed to give youngsters more perspective about different walks of life. Despite most of the youth programs that participate in New Channels being local, the water might as well be a thousand miles away for many of the youths involved. New Channels provides the accessibility to the water. As I recall my day spent with New Channels, I completely recognize and understand the joy that is so easily shared while out on the water. It’s an intangible bliss that the volunteers at New Channels wish for everyone to experience.
FIND OUT MORE
Visit khyf.org for more information. New Channels is always accepting donations and looking for volunteers.