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SPECIAL REPORT: Program helps minorities learn to surf

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KMUV) Surfing gets expensive when you add up the cost of materials and travel to the coast - especially from south Monterey County. It's an opportunity that many young Hispanics who grew up in low-income households don't have, but The Wahine Project is offering opportunities for South County students to also get their time in the ocean.

In a sport dominated by white males, Dionne Ybarra wanted to help more girls get their feet wet. She started summer camps for girls to learn to surf. Over the years they expanded, giving the opportunity to many more kids.

The mission is to bring a diversity of youth to have a relationship with the ocean -- and now they want to expand to the rest of the county -- especially those in the South where many have to travel more than an hour to enjoy the Central Coast.

"It's very important for all families to participate in beach activities because it is very good for your health," Dionne said, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who was an elementary school teacher in East Salinas and only discovered her love of surfing at age 30.

Many of the guys who started in the Wahine Project are now instructors, setting an example in the lack of diversity that exists in the sport.

The typical surfer is a white male between the ages of 18 and 30, according to Surfrider.org. Surfing becomes expensive when you add up the cost of the wetsuit, the board, and not to mention the trip to the ocean now with the price of gas.

"On the beach, we don't see a lot of kids from different cultures and different places. A lot of them have money, they live very close," said Emilio Vizcaino, an instructor at the Wahine Project. "Many of our instructors come from far away and they started like those kids we bring from Gonzales, King City. They don't see the ocean, a lot."

Like Andres and Emilio, Tuesday Griffin also started with the Wahine Project before becoming an instructor, but says it was hard for her family to travel to the coast.

"When I lived in Soledad, we never went to the beach," recounted Griffin who was with the Wahine Project when it was only available to women.

Annette and Mariana are cousins living in Soledad who had the opportunity to participate in a week of learning to surf with The Wahine Project.

"Yeah, it helps a lot because our dads work, a lot of siblings work too. We can't come here often" said Mariana Leon.

For more information about The Wahine Project, click here.

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Melody Waintal

Melody Waintal is the Digital Content Director for Telemund23.com and KION546.com

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