A New Camp Concept Combining Art and Outdoor Adventures Makes Play Its Highest Priority
You’re only young once.
- Written byQuinn Roberts
- Photographed byJeff Berting & Kevin Gilligan
On a windy Monday afternoon in February, right at 6th Street in Hermosa Beach, Jared Sayers is sitting in the sand talking with a group of 8- to 15-year-olds who are glued to his every word. Before the kids go in the water, they talk about the ocean and do some warm-up exercises that include stretching and running to the nearest lifeguard tower. Since it is such a windy day, they’ll head into the ocean to bodysurf.
That is just the beginning of what will be an eventful week for these kids at S.A.L.T. & S.E.A. camp. The name is an acronym for Surf, Art, Life Tools, Soul Esteem, Awareness.
The five-day camp runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. One group of students begins at the beach learning about the ocean, water safety and surfing from Jared. The other group will be at Resin creative gallery working with Rafael McMaster. Rafael founded the nonprofit Indivisible Arts, which is headquartered at Resin. The kids will meditate, paint and create things they can be proud of. After lunch, the groups switch. The two spots are perfect locations because they are just four blocks apart and walkable for the kids.
The curriculum isn’t rigid and can change depending on the weather conditions and mindset of the kids. They also are not graded. Some days, especially if the ocean is flat, surfing isn’t an option. Instead, they will paddle out and go see dolphins.
“It is super immersive and hands-on. You just need to know how to access it. You can sort of see the kids’ brains peel back throughout the week,” says Jared. “We are creating an atmosphere of fun, and we will see more vitality in these kids. Let’s infuse the natural world with life inside a studio and getting their hands dirty—that was our thought process.”
Rafael talks with the kids each day before they start. Each day has a theme and goal, and he keeps it as simple as possible. The first day’s theme is usually acceptance. Another popular theme has been awareness.
Ben Meek, whose daughter Avery took part in the camp, says this was one of the things she remembers and enjoyed the most. “One specific word that has become a behavior for her is setting an intention for the day,” shares Ben. “Setting a goal helps give her a target to work toward. On one camp day, her intention was to catch one really good wave by herself. She can still recall what it felt like when she did it.”
“I had the audacity to think that I had the ingredients that could create an atmosphere that taps into something true and that kids have a thirst for but aren’t getting.”
Ben says she also remembers how the helpers in art class were there to assist the campers in creating what they wanted. “As a dad, I love this because it allowed her to make something original and unique instead of being told what to do.”
This is just one of many instances in which parents, along with Jared and Rafael, have seen changes in the kids during the camp week and thereafter. The goal is for the kids to take everything they learn at camp and continue doing it in their daily lives.
“Parents tell me I have changed their child’s life. What am I supposed to do with that?” says Jared. “Sometimes I pinch myself. It is a gift. It is a miracle. I’m doing this because it is unique to me and comes from the heart.”
Rafael remembers vividly a kid named Arjun. After he told the kids to recognize their thoughts throughout the week—whether they were positive or negative—and write them down, Arjun finished the week with 2,800 thoughts. It was a great example of the kids becoming more awake and aware of their feelings.
“Part of the magic of what we are doing is hitting it from multiple sides. You are getting them connected to nature, their own power and creativity and artistic voice, and [those things] being fused together to create a masterpiece,” says Rafael.
One of the kids at the camp described it as “common-sense wisdom I can’t believe they don’t tell us in school.” That kind of wisdom is something Jared has tried to teach his three kids as they grow up in a time full of social media and screens. It was the impetus for the camp.
“I had the audacity to think that I had the ingredients that could create an atmosphere that taps into something true and that kids have a thirst for but aren’t getting,” Jared says. “I hearkened back to my 10-year-old self, and that was the golden era for me. I was outside all the time—exploring. I thought, ‘Why not do something to get the kids in my community outside and excited?’”
Growing up in the South Bay, everything Jared did as a kid involved the beach. Because of that, his first thought was to get kids in the ocean. It started organically, first doing it with kids in the Redondo Beach-Torrance area last spring. He saw this not just as a tool to get kids to experience the outdoors but also to give them relief from the COVID-19 pandemic that was having a huge effect on every aspect of their lives.
Shilpa Noll saw the change almost immediately in her 11-year-old son Kiran. Every Sunday, Kiran couldn’t wait to get to the beach and work with Jared. He would then go home with more confidence and belief in himself—something he needed, given what was going on in the world.
“This isn’t just your basic beach camp,” says Shilpa. “It was a fun process watching Jared take this idea and make it happen. Everyone’s path shifted during the pandemic, and I saw it happen firsthand with him.”
As a county lifeguard who has years of experience surfing, Jared has the knowledge and ability to keep the kids safe while they are in the water. After finding success with the kids he worked with, Jared reached out to Rafael, whom he’d met and become friends with years earlier.
Rafael liked the idea of the camp and began working on a format for the program based on his talent and knowledge of working with kids and teenagers in the art world. He put together a plan in just a few months that would normally take him a year or two to fully flesh out.
After the two finalized the details of how the camp would work, they rolled the dice. Thanks in part to social media promotion and Resin’s email list, both camps sold out quickly.
“I could have been safe and conservative, but I needed to be true to who I am and what I felt was right at the time,” says Jared. “I felt a pull—because of the times—to give what I had to offer.”
Just a few years ago Jared never would have guessed that this is what he would be doing in 2022. Much of that change occurred as he examined his life during the pandemic.
“You were almost forced to move at a slower pace. You could hide from it or be introspective. I began to do the internal work: Is this where I am supposed to be?” says Jared. “The pandemic gave me time to unpack where I was and where I wanted to go. I decided this is the life I want to live.”
Part of the reason Jared hesitated about going down this path is that it was so different from what he had been doing professionally. He was in sales for more than 20 years and had risen to the rank of senior director of brand partnerships and group publisher here at Southbay magazine.
“Whatever it is that lights you up, you get to a certain stage in your life where you are called to share that with other people. I have the opportunity to package something up that comes straight from the heart,” he says.
That passion has proven more successful than Jared could have imagined. S.A.L.T. & S.E.A. camp has doubled the number of sessions this year compared to last year. After a promising winter session in February, the first summer session will be in July, followed by two more in August.
“If you want to do it well, you have to have service, gratitude and care about others. I kept talking about flipping this on its head and being bold,” says Jared.
Rafael and Jared are waiting to receive feedback about the trio of summer sessions, but all signs point to a bright future for the camp. “We aren’t interested in domination of a sector or a huge monetary upside. We are taking the posture of service, and we want to help kids who are navigating an unprecedented number of things at such a young age,” says Jared. “If we do that in a meaningful way, it will become whatever it is supposed to be.”