“This is not your typical kids camp”, Morgan assures me as I walk into the kids club, eager as the younger guests to sign up for a day of adventures. “Can parents sign up too?” I hear one parent jokingly ask. Designed for ages 5 through 17, normally the answer is no, but today they have made an exception for me.
SURFside Ocean Academy is certainly not typical of any kids programs. Dedicated to environmental sustainability and stewardship, kids learn about the people, water and places of Turks and Caicos Islands in their camp programs and excursions. “We make sure that the kids are having fun and learning something so they can take a piece of TCI back home with them and have it forever”. These are the life-long experiences that SURFside promises to give to the kids.
The company is owned and operated by Morgan Luker, long-time children’s coordinator at Grace Bay Club and 25 year resident of TCI. Having worked previously as a SCUBA instructor, primary school teacher, boat captain and naturalist, her passion and roots run deep for kids and the ocean and all that comes with living on it. Having spent the last 7 years designing and creating kids and teen programs solely for GBC, she is now expanding her developments into the newly formed company, SURFside, which offers ocean-based camps for kids and teens, professional nanny services and swimming lessons (for all ages and abilities).
Today, in the on-site program at Grace Bay Club, the campers are making beautiful snow globes, t-shirt beach bags and seascape mobiles, all from ‘would-be throw away’ recycled materials from the island. After, we tour the Conch Farm and visit the juvenile sea turtles that the Farm is fostering. “I am currently designing a workshop on sea turtles”, Morgan shares with me, “and hope to have the kids and parents contribute to their education and conservation in the near future through such programs.”
Watersports are another big focus of SURFside. They teach any and all, including kayaking, sailing, paddleboarding, waterskiing, and snorkeling. They even offer a Bubble-maker and Discover SCUBA class for kids 5 and up in the pool (kids 10 and up are able to conduct an ocean dive after successfully completing this portion). In addition, SUFside’s fleet includes a dedicated “kids only” boat for all of their excursions, diving and watersports. I also learn that SURFside runs a local wake/ski camp when the kids are out of school. “It’s amazing, some of these kids had never been on a wakeboard before, and by Day 3 they were doing jumps and 180’s and just really progressing!” Coaching for this is led by Greg Doolittle, who is employed as the Head Watersports Instructor with SURFside and holds his Canadian waterskiing and coaching certifications, as well as a degree in Fish and Wildlife.
New to the offerings at SURFside is their unique Teen X-Treme program. This program focuses on activities for ages 12 and up and offers excursions and workshops for teens only. With adventure and challenge in mind, this programs sets out to bring teens together without the structure of a typical teen program. “When I meet teens and tell them we have a great teen program they often say, no thanks, and look the other way. When I tell them about the activities that SURFside offers their teens, their eyes widen up and they become very interested in the workshops that we have for them.” Teens can choose from any of the watersports and excursions offered by SURFside and soon to come are overnight camping trips and day long safaris on North and Middle Caicos.
When we return to the Hotel, a few older kids are eagerly awaiting our arrival to join us on this next adventure. Today, we are venturing on SURFside’s boat for the Aqua Adventure, a perfect combination of eco ocean activities for kids. Our group this afternoon is made up of kids from GBC and Veranda Resort, as kids from all hotels, villas and the community are welcome into the programs. Group size is limited to 8 kids on the excursions, so the 11 of us set off, hit the water and reach our first stop on the Aqua Adventure. Kids don their masks and snorkels and launch by ‘buddy teams’ into the ocean for a snorkel adventure. Having previously completed a workshop on marine biology in the Turks and Caicos, the kids are armed with underwater slates to help them with an ‘underwater scavenger hunt’, seeking out a number of marine species and corals. First Team to complete wins a prize! A second site is explored and we venture off to a remote site on Little Water Cay for a land lesson on Rock Iguanas and coastal habitats and creatures. Greg, our captain and naturalist for the day, points out an area with tidal pools and proceeds to teach the kids about the tiny creatures living in this space.
Venturing over now to uninhabited Fort George, the kids, Greg, Morgan and I look underwater for 400 year old cannons and buried treasure. Buried treasure??? Really? The kids are then given an old treasure map and search the historical island for ‘Spanish Gold and Reales’. A friendly game of ‘coconut football’ before our sunset boat ride home, often escorted by another local guide, Jojo the dolphin, and these kids (and I) have had an adventure of a lifetime. To commemorate the day, every kid that participates on a SURFside excursion receives a handmade souvenir, a shell and sea bead necklace. Even more of a treasure than our ‘gold reales’.
Returning to the Hotel, the kids are met by their parents, excitedly re-tell their once-in-a-lifetime moments from today, and plead to please come back at 5 pm when the camp hosts an evening “campout” on Friday nights from 5-9 pm. This I MUST attend as well – I hear there are smores by a fire and even a lesson on the stars. This popular evening program adds one more element of fun to the kids’ day and (even more important) gives parents the opportunity to enjoy a romantic dinner out, sans-kids. Kids are picked up by their parents after an appropriate movie, but not before exchanging email addresses to their new friends, and plans to attend tomorrow’s wakeboarding, waterskiing and tubing adventure with SURFside Ocean Academy. Definitely not your typical kids camp.
“Not that we ever want the kids to cry, but there are many a tear when the kids leave camp to fly back home. Many return year after year for camp, and even one who is a summer camp counsellor with us now.”
Kathryn Fox for Where When How Magazine, March/April 2012