By Andrea Swayne
Mitch Colapinto, owner of Cola’s Surf Camp in San Clemente and a teacher at Truman Benedict Elementary School, has been spending his summers sharing the joy of surfing and the satisfaction of accomplishing a difficult goal with children for the past 19 years. In that time, he has consistently made it a point to offer scholarships for kids whose families are not able to afford camp tuition.
“I’ve seen so many kids discover surfing over the years and have witnessed firsthand how it has not only given them a new sport but helped them with life in general,” Colapinto said. “It’s a great sport because it’s really hard to learn and the kids have to put out a lot of effort. It’s not easy but once they get it, they have that reward, that satisfaction. I think that’s probably the greatest thing about surf camp.”
Many of his surf students are afraid of the ocean on their first day at camp and can’t even stand up on a surfboard, he said, and to be a part of helping them to overcome their fears and learn to surf is an undeniable perk of the job. He also enjoys introducing, not only the kids but their entire families as well, to a sport that can be enjoyed throughout one’s life.
“There are a lot of kids out there who could really benefit from the experience but their families can’t afford it,” Colapinto said. “I would like to see everyone have a chance to learn to enjoy the ocean in a fun and safe way, and to be able to take surfing on as a lifelong sport that offers so many great things: health, fun, friendship and a way to keep kids out of trouble.”
For the upcoming season, Cola’s Surf Camp is looking to expand its scholarship offerings to include more kids who otherwise might not have the opportunity to attend.
For nine years, Steve Muller of The Muller Company has been donating a scholarship for kids interested in learning to surf. Although the scholarships are open to everyone, the community’s Hispanic and Latino kids have often been the beneficiaries.
“It has been so much fun to see more Latino kids coming to camp and taking up the sport as a result of Steve’s scholarships,” Colapinto said. “Last year one of his nine scholarships paid for a boy who was destined to spend his entire summer at the YMCA, as his parents were going through a gnarly divorce. We arranged a ride for him from the Y to attend a couple of weeks of surf camp. It made a world of difference to him.”
This year Banzai Bowls owner Joe Bard—who has been sponsoring the camp on Fridays for the past two years with free Banzai Bowls for campers—is also donating four, one-week scholarships.
“We truly believe in what Mitch (Colapinto) is doing,” Bard said. “We feel it is very important to come together and be a part of the community. We want to lead by example, and offering kids who otherwise would not have the chance to surf and learn about the ocean is a big part of that.”
Individuals and companies interested in adding their donations to the scholarship fund can Colapinto. Camp fees are $350 per week or $80 per day, including all equipment.
“Even partial scholarships would be welcome,” Colapinto said. “Especially for kids growing up here, so close to the ocean, learning to surf shouldn’t be out of reach for anybody. For so many local kids, it doesn’t even cross their minds as a possibility, and this scholarship program fixes that situation, bringing a new possibility to those kids.
“Anyone who knows someone out there they think would benefit from attending surf camp should apply,” Colapinto said. “Apply or nominate someone, with a short paragraph explaining why they (or you) are deserving of the scholarship, and we’ll take it from there.”
Applications and nominations should be sent to Colapinto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org by April 30.
Camp starts July 5, offering five one-week sessions and daily “drop ins” for ages 7 to 16, from beginners to intermediate surfers.
More information about Cola’s Surf Camp can be found on the company website at www.colassurfcamp.com.