By Maddy Vitale
All you need is a towel, a water bottle and a love of the water to start your journey to become a sailor.
Classes begin June 25 and run through Aug. 25 at the Ocean City Sailing Foundation at the Bayside Center, 520 Bay Ave., where top instructors teach children and adults alike how to navigate the bays, the ocean and develop mariner skills that will last a lifetime.
“We teach people ages eight to 80-plus,” said Director of the Ocean City Sailing Foundation Doug Mroz. “The great thing is, no experience is necessary.”
Mroz, 33, of Ocean City, grew up sailing and racing, competing locally, regionally and nationally.
The foundation is a non-profit organization in existence since 2007. Mroz has been the director for three years, and at the foundation for five.
Over the years, the program has grown, thanks to Mroz and his team. During a typical summer, the classes fill up to anywhere from 200 to 220 students.
“The great thing is there is no experience necessary,” Mroz explained.
The foundation offers a variety of boats to choose from, ranging from 6 feet to 18 feet, depending on a student’s interest and skill level.
Mroz, who teaches business and special education at Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor City and is the assistant crew coach there, said he loves teaching sailing classes.
He also thinks he’s found the right recipe to keep sailing students interested, most likely a skill he learned as a school teacher.
“You have to make sailing fun for kids to continue with it,” he said. “We really have tried to do that. We play a lot of games. Games and swimming have to be involved to make it fun.”
In a typical class week, students are introduced to the boats and the water. They have lessons on both land and the water, do warmup activities and games.
“Some kids are sailing on their first day,” Mroz noted.
Sometimes a student gets to go out alone in a boat, depending on his or her skill level and experience and the weather conditions.
Mroz stressed that in sailing, everything is weather dependent. Conditions are studied throughout the day.
“Safety is our number one priority,” he said. “We go over proper boat handling skills and safety procedures with the staff and students.”
Mroz added that the staff is great. In addition to Mroz, there are five instructors.
There is also someone he considers a true asset, Pat Leonardo, of Ocean View. He was the director before Mroz.
“I called him and asked him to come back to help out,” Mroz said.
John Parker, former president of the Ocean City Sailing Foundation, said Mroz is doing a “super job” as director.
“He continues to do what Pat (Leonardo) started. Doug has continued to grow this program on the junior side and the adults side,” Parker said. “It is amazing how many adults come and see how their kids are doing and say, ‘I used to sail as a kid. I’d like some lessons.’”
Leonardo was helping Mroz and sisters Kailin and Reilly Burns Cohen, who are instructors, get the boats ready Tuesday.
“It’s a wonderful sport for all kinds of reasons and for all ages,” Leonardo said. “You get to be out on the water. You see all different aspects of sailing.”
He said it is amazing to see how sailing continues to grow in popularity and how the classes grow.
The Burns Cohen sisters are from Monmouth County but live in Ocean City in the summers. They learned how to sail at around eight years old, at the Ocean City Yacht Club.
They said they enjoy teaching children how to sail and every year they see kids coming back.
“We play a lot of games with the kids on the water,” Kailin said, of keeping children interested in sailing. “We play tag where we throw balls into the boats and the kids have to get them in the other boats.”
Reilly said it is a lot of fun teaching kids how to sail, especially the ones who have never been on the bay before.
“The first day they get here they get a swim test,” she said. “They get in the water and then we go from there.”
Like Mroz and Leonardo, the sisters said some of the students are so good they get out on the bay their first day.
But first, they are taught about steering, safety and many other aspects of sailing.
Reilly added, “It’s always interesting to see how kids want to learn more and how they make friends.”
Lessons are held from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Pricing and packages can be viewed at www.ocnjsailingfoundation.org or call (609) 418-3356.