Ocean Relationships & Inequity: The Wahine Project Offers an Opportunity for All Children to Access the Ocean

SAND CITY, CA – When I look back at my childhood, I longed for the days we would go to the beach. Living 15 minutes away we would come to Del Monte Beach in Monterey every 4th of July. We would stay from the morning until the fireworks were over. I would make endless sandcastles and my clothes would be soaked through from the wet sand.

On occasion we would drive to Moss Landing Beach for long beach walks. I remember the sounds, the smells and the textures and even the taste of the ocean air.

While I loved being at the beach, I never went in past my ankles. My mother engrained a fear in me that I could get sucked in and drown. I am a second generation Mexican American. No one in my family knew how to swim.

As a young adult I continued to long for beach days. When I would go to the beach I rarely saw anyone that looked like me. People of color I would learn later were banned from many beaches in California in earlier history. I always felt like an outsider in a place I felt like was a home away from home.

I fell in love with a white man. He surfed. I married him. He taught our sons to surf. For most of my adult life, I continued to just sit on the beach and observe until one day way into my late 40’s a friend asked me if I wanted to learn to surf with her. By this time I had overcome many of my fears of the water and had taught myself to swim in open water. I accepted her challenge and we had our first surf lessons.

After several months of facing my fears I caught my first wave on a surfboard and my life changed forever. The feelings of overcoming a life long fear and a generational fear of water were overwhelming. It is still hard to articulate the freedom I felt in that moment.

I continued surfing. As a surfer, all around me I mostly saw white surfers, mostly men. After six months of developing a relationship with the ocean, I wanted to do whatever it would take to get more girls and more youth of color into the ocean to experience what I had. I considered all of the open doors of privilege I had experienced in my life and wanted to offer this opportunity to youth in Monterey County and especially youth from the neighborhoods like I group up in.

I discovered that even the kids who could see the ocean everyday may never go into it. I began to sort out the barriers and became the founder of the non-profit organization, The Wahine Project.

Since 2010 the Wahine Project has brought over 12,000 youth into a relationship with the ocean. Kids can start our program as young as 4 and children with any experience level can enjoy the Wahine Project. We provide all the equipment that kids need to get into the sea: wetsuits, boogie boards, instruction and safety training. We provide year round programs that give participants the opportunity to have a year round experience at the beach. We inspire kids to learn about the ocean and want to take care of it.

Building a relationship between diverse children and the ocean often includes working through often generational fears. To do this, we build relationships with participants and their families. In addition, we strive to have a leadership team and Board of Directors that reflects the participants we serve.

The Wahine Project inspires youth to face any challenge — using the ocean as a metaphor on how to face challenges in our everyday lives.

We create a safe place for children to conquer their fears — whether it’s just getting into the ocean or whether it’s a larger complex challenge.

The Wahine Project’s diverse staff and participants makes the Wahine Project unique. We believe that a relationship with the ocean will allow us to lead our healthiest and fullest lives.

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