Playing in the sun, sand and surf every day is Delawarean Clara Elliott’s idea of a perfect summer. Obviously, she’s not alone. Each year, thousands of people from all over the country flock to Delaware’s beaches.
Whether day tripping or staying the summer, many are looking for fun activities for their kids. Fear not: Delaware is ready. Sailing, surfing, swimming, skimboarding and even geocaching (GPS hide-and-seek, essentially) camps are part of Sussex County’s summer camp scene.
Elliott, 18, of Lewes, offers just one of several activities people can expect to find along our coast. A former world-ranked amateur skimboarder, she now teaches the sport she loves to others through Relyance Skim Camp just south of Dewey Beach.
Being a camper at Relyance as a kid is what motivated Elliott herself to compete on amateur and professional levels before becoming a counselor.
“They’re really good at talking with kids,” she says of the camp’s founders, Dave and Tom Bracht, who are also internationally ranked professional skimboarders. The duo founded the camp to not only grow the predominantly West Coast sport (Laguna Beach, California, is home to one of the best breaks in the world and hosts the Skimboarding World Championship every summer) on the East Coast, but also to provide life lessons and be positive role models for their students. Their camps are family affairs. Staff and students skim, swim, play games on the beach and enjoy lunch, which the Brachts’ parents provide to the camp.
“I swear some of the kids don’t even like to skim [but] come for the food,” Dave says. People ask for their taco recipes, and they sell T-shirts highlighting “Stanburgers,” the name the campers gave the burgers Dave and Tom’s father grills up for them.
Monday through Thursday throughout the summer, Relyance offers full and half-day camps for beginners through advanced skimmers. Several of their graduates, like Elliott, have gone on to be nationally ranked in skim competitions. If a camper just has a good time, though, they are happy with that.
“Our whole goal is for kids to have the best week of their summer,” says Dave.
Skimming waves isn’t the only way to stand on water this summer. Surfer Peter Zabowski of the Rehoboth Surf Boarding School caters to kids age 6 and older in the art of surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. He’s taught surfing in Puerto Rico and spends his winters traveling to the best surf spots around the globe. He believes Delaware is a great place to learn how to surf because the waves are big enough to ride, but not too big to be intimidating.
“You [only] need a knee-high wave to have fun,” he says.
Surfing depends on the tides, so when there are no swells, Zabowski and his team of instructors put their campers on paddleboards, have them doing yoga, riding bikes, hiking trails and even helping with beach cleanups. His camps max out at 15 campers per week, so sign up early at rbsurf.school to guarantee a spot.
For a more wind-powered experience on water, the Lewes Yacht Club offers weekly sailing lessons on the Delaware Bay throughout the summer for children ages 5 to 16. Camps start with mild exposure and the general concept of sailing, so children will learn the tiller from the topping lift before they venture far from the dock.
Starting off in sunfish sailboats with instructors on the first day, campers work toward the ability to solo sail and even race one another.
The curriculum also teaches basic seamanship, water safety, proper sail trim and steering, rigging and de-rigging, launching and landing, capsizing and recovery. Each day includes a brief pre- and post-sail chalk talk, with the majority of the time spent on the water.
“We want to foster a love of sailing and water sports on the bay,” says Beth Copeland, a member of the sailing committee.
The camp’s hope is to create a lifelong passion for the sport. And it’s worked before. Yacht club campers have gone on to maritime schools and the United States Naval Academy.
With any time on or near the water, it’s smart to have some safety and survival skills. Area lifeguards are here to help with their junior lifeguard programs in Rehoboth and Dewey Beaches.
“It’s an awesome program,” says Kent Buckson, Rehoboth Beach patrol captain, of the part-time camp. Running before lifeguards hit their stations Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from mid-June to mid-August, the program is for families who want structured fun and learning but don’t want it to take up the whole day or week.
Lifeguards give juniors lessons about equipment, life-saving procedures such as how to properly move someone to a backboard, and communication, such as how to send a message with flags.
“Kids love the beach flags and jumping in the water,” Buckson says. “Each day has a theme—like Mental Monday, where students are taught how to avoid getting hurt in the ocean and on the beach.” Workout Wednesday has the kids taking part in conditioning exercises, while Fun Friday has campers play games like dodgeball and tag.
“I liked the variety,” says former junior guard Sidney Caldwell of Lewes. “Each day was different, and the games were fun. I liked learning about ocean safety and what it takes to be a lifeguard.”
Juniors are encouraged to try out for the real thing when they get older, Buckson says. Several of his veteran lifeguards got their start in the summer program.
The Coastal Fun Camp at the Sussex Family YMCA in Rehoboth offers different coastal adventures every week. Campers learn to love nature through hiking, exploring, swimming and going on field trips, and can sign up by the week or for the entire summer.
For those looking for a sleep-over experience, Camp Arrowhead offers cabins and activities for children in grades 2 to 11 on the shore of Rehoboth Bay near Lewes. The camp experience is designed to “enrich young people’s relationships with one another, nature and God,” its website says. “Campers are encouraged to embrace a sense of adventure and cultivate spiritual awareness as they take healthy risks, share responsibilities, and engage in outdoor life with one another.”
Here students take part in rafting, kayaking, sailing, banana-boating and swimming, as well as activities like dancing and arts and crafts. Challenge courses, complete with a climbing wall, high ropes and low ropes adventures, appeal to kids of all ages, while older campers can also take part in backcountry-like camping away from the main cabins.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Lucas Stevenson, 14, of Lewes, who has spent several weeks at Camp Arrowhead.
Camps offer plenty of educational opportunities, too. Delaware State Parks hosts programs that teach everything from beach ecology to a day on the job of the lifesaving station crew. Day camps for ages 7 and older feature activities like squid dissection, kayaking eco tours through the salt marsh, geocaching using GPS to find hidden treasures, and hikes along the shore.
High school students with an interest in marine biology and oceanography can find a world of excitement at University of Delaware’s Summer TIDE program. The 13-day instructional camp focuses on the atmospheric, oceanic and biogeochemical processes at work in the Delaware Bay. Camp academic activities include classroom instruction, discussions, lectures and visits to modern oceanographic and atmospheric laboratories, as well as field excursions to the Bay for sampling and exploration.
The camp is administered by UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment’s campuses in Newark and Lewes, which facilitates interdisciplinary research, undergraduate and graduate education, and outreach in earth, ocean and environmental systems. The aim is to help students gain an understanding of concepts like sea breeze, tides, habitat loss, climate change and alternative energy. Campers spend time at both campuses.
So, stow those devices away. This summer, there is much fun to be had near and along Delaware’s coast.
Lewes • 945-0610
Activities: Christian education, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, banana-boating, low ropes course, high rope course, climbing wall, zip line, tie-dye, clay and tiles, disc golf, archery, swimming, dances, cooking out, camp craft, environmental education
Ages: Grades 2–11
Duration: full-day, overnight week and two-week camps, June through August
Cape Henlopen State Park
Lewes • 645-6852
Activities: animal-, history- and nature-themed camps
Duration: half-day and full-day only, three-day and weekly sessions
Dewey Beach Junior Lifeguard
Dewey Beach • 227-6363
Activities: lifesaving history, lifeguard qualification/training, communication methods, health, fitness, safety, rescue equipment, public relations, drowning, preventive lifeguarding, water surveillance, aquatic search and rescue, records and reports
Duration: 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Tuesday and Thursday, July through August
Lewes Yacht Club Sailing Camp
Lewes • 645-8596
Activities: sailing, sailing terminology, how to rig and derig the boat, steering, sail control
Duration: half day, full day
Rehoboth Beach Patrol Junior Lifeguard
Rehoboth Beach • 227-6181
Activities: aerobic and anaerobic exercise, lifeguarding skills, health and fitness, cognitive activities, first aid, communication methods, water surveillance
Duration: 8 to 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, June through August
Rehoboth Surf Boarding School
Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach • 745-5804
Activities: surfing, SUP, trips to Assateague National Park and Delaware state parks, local history, team building, water safety, yoga, beach cleanup.
Duration: full day, June through July
Price: three-day, $395; five-day, $495
RELYance Skim Camp
Tower Road State Park • 717-343-3588
Activities: skimboarding, beach games
Ages: 5 and up
Duration: full-day and mini-camp, June through August
Activities: scientific and academic activities, picnics, movies, quiz night, beach visits and volleyball
Ages: Grades 10–12 (prior to graduation)
Duration: 13 days, July
YMCA Summer Camps
Rehoboth Beach, Sussex Family YMCA • 296-9622
Activities: swimming, environmental education, STEM projects, beach trips
Duration: full day, June through August
Price: $150 members, $200 community member
Published as “Sun, Sand & Surf” in the March 2020 Issue of Delaware Today magazine.