As soon as school ends each June, my wife and I pack up the kids, find a sitter for the cat, fire up the out of office replies and head for our favorite vacation spot, Watercolors, in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
For several years we have been eyeing a day camp held at the same beach run by a team of college aged beach dwellers and their ringleader, a thirtyish beach boy straight out of central casting, Ryan Devore.
After careful consideration we decided that this was the year the kids were old enough and strong enough swimmers to get the most out of this remarkable camp and we decided to give RYNO’s Kidz Beach camp a shot.
Day one was unbelievable. They started with an early morning sea kayak that ended with them anchoring way out away from the beach in about 50 feet of crystal clear water, perfect for learning how to free dive and snorkel. Although I think they were a little spooked by the depth and how far out they were, after a couple of hours they had taken to diving and snorkeling like true water rats and had lots of sea souvenirs to prove their new found skills.
Its fun to watch your kids learn something that you didn’t have the opportunity to try until adulthood, and I’m always
amazed to see how fast they pick up new skills without having the “Yikes!” reflex that we seem to acquire as grownups.
After the long kayak paddle in, the group catches their breath and works out their wave-catching technique on the sand before going out for a very entertaining hour or two of surfing lessons.
In fairness, we have been trying our best to practice surfing each year on our own, but this was a breakthrough year for both Axl and Lola. Although they can’t yet paddle into the waves and catch them completely under their own power (Axl is 7 and Lola is 9), they are now able to paddle back out to us once they ride the wave in to the beach.
This was a major victory for the Dad’s in the group, and freed up one of our hands for a relaxing frosty beverage instead of having to march in to shore to retrieve a shouting child from the impact zone after each ride. Way better.
The balance of their day is spent learning to skimboard, stand up paddle board (SUP if you’re beach-cool) and practicing any or all of the activities they learned during the day. This is supposed to be a half day camp, but in the week that we were there, Ryan seemed more than willing to keep it going as long as the kids had the energy.
The rest of the week is rinse and repeat with the focus shifting from activity to activity pretty equally unless there was something in particular the group wanted to do.
As a parent, one of the coolest features of the camp is that you can sit casually on the beach and watch the entire day from the comfort of whatever chair you’re in or you can go out in the water with them and aqua-spectate. We would typically alternate between the two, but Ryan and his crew do a very good job of being casually inclusive to the parents. It’s hard not to get sucked in to the water after an hour of watching the kids have all of the fun.
Ryan is a natural waterman and has such an easy way with kids that he is able to hold their attention and share his love of the ocean (well, it’s really the Gulf, but we count it as Ocean) with them in a manner that is both infectious and inspiring.
If you’re heading to the Seaside/Watercolors/Destin area, look him up, you’re kids will thank you for it.
P.S. Check out the video Ryan shot of two whale sharks that decided to come to camp in 2009. Those are campers in the video with him.
Talk to you soon,