The city of Dana Point and Chamber of Commerce named Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching and Fish for Life the August 2013 businesses of the month. Pictured (L to R) Mark Kalez, Donna Kalez from Dana Wharf, Mayor Steven Weinberg and Jim Holden from Fish for Life. Photo by Andrea Papagianis
The city of Dana Point and Chamber of Commerce named Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching and Fish for Life the August 2013 businesses of the month. Pictured (L to R) Mark Kalez, Donna Kalez from Dana Wharf, Mayor Steven Weinberg and Jim Holden from Fish for Life. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

Compiled by Robert Sedita, Management Analyst, Dana Point Community Development

Located in the OC Dana Point Harbor, Dana Wharf has offered sport fishing and whale watching excursions to residents and visitors of the area for over 40 years. Owner Don Hansen began working at a San Clemente sport fishing company in the 1960s. He later purchased the business and moved it to Dana Point where he changed the name to reflect its new Harbor home, which opened in 1971. As the first business in the Harbor, Dana Wharf set the precedent for the locale’s future of tourism.

Dana Wharf’s operations include fishing trips, whale watching excursions, twilight cruises, dinner cruises, kids fishing clinics and charters for group outings and company meetings. Their services draw thousands of new people into Dana Point and the Harbor each year.

The staff at Dana Wharf understands that the highest level of customer service is mandatory in the tourism industry. Each member recognizes that he or she may only have a short interaction with a visitor, but they take that opportunity to ensure visitors have an unforgettable experience. Employees at Dana Wharf love their jobs, and their enthusiasm for their work is shared with everyone. A few employees have worked at Dana Wharf for over 40 years, while several more have worked there for 20-plus years.

Dana Wharf sees customers and visitors as an extension of their family, so it is no surprise that people come back year after year.

In 2010 when the nonprofit Fish for Life was started, Jim Holden came to Dana Wharf with the idea to give people with special needs the opportunity to get out on the water and fish. Having been committed to ensuring all kids have this opportunity, Dana Wharf knew this would be a great organization to support.

Fish for Life is a 100 percent volunteer organization, and through the sponsorships they receive they are able to provide complimentary fishing trips to people with special needs. The partnership with Dana Wharf allows Fish for Life to charter the 95-foot Dana Pride and take about 100 people on each fishing trip including, 30 special needs children and numerous volunteers. In addition to the boat, Dana Wharf provides staff, poles and bait so everyone is able to take part.

Upon arriving at Dana Wharf, participants are checked in and issued a T-Shirt sporting the logo of the trip’s sponsor. After checking in, speakers say a few words to honor the special needs guests and their parents, followed by a prayer and the singing of the National Anthem. Each special needs guest of honor is then introduced individually as they walk or roll down the gangplank on a red carpet.

Volunteers aboard the boat, called “Fishing Team Leaders,” are assigned to special needs guests to care for them and help them catch fish. As the ship leaves the Harbor, members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol escort particpants to sea with fire hoses blasting and sirens flashing. While out at sea, volunteers help set the children up to fish and cast their reels for the fish below.

For most children on the trip, this is their first experience fishing and they are always very excited once their first fish is reeled in. It is a great experience for the children, their chaperon and everyone on board. Volunteers also teach the Fish for Life dance to all the honored guests who are all able to participate regardless of their condition. On the way back to the dock, all the fish are cleaned and the team leaders individually award trophies to all the children and young adults who participated.

To find out more about helping to sponsor a trip or for more information about Fish for Life, visit www.fishforlife.org, or call 949.285.8819, and for more information about Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching, visit www.danawharf.com or call 949.496.5794.

About The Author Dana Point Times

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