Project Ocean Santa Cruz: Part 1 – Chocolate, Seasick, Inspired

News Alert

As a former news reporter, I was taught never to bury the lead. This is not a food blog, but nevertheless, I must grace you with this headliner:  

A place exists in the world called Chocolate The Restaurant. It’s in Santa Cruz. Go. 

There is hope for us all. 

O’Neill Sea Odyssey

Anyway. Moving on. 

Rod and I left behind the turtles of Monterey as Project Ocean pushed us farther up the California coast to Santa Cruz to film with our third nonprofit, O’Neill Sea Odyssey. You may be familiar with the name if you’re into water sports, as it was founded back in 1996 by surfer and wetsuit innovator, Jack O’Neill. 

OSO’s goal, in its simplest form, is to get kids to the ocean and help them love it. 

We learned during a pre-interview phone call with executive director Tracey Weiss that many kids OSO seeks to serve live in a five-mile radius of the sea’s edge, but due to economic struggles, they’ve never gotten to feel the salt in their face. That is not okay. 

OSO bridges this gap by working with school systems to have groups come in for a sea excursion and classroom learning, as well as providing curriculum in multiple languages and helping the schools craft student action projects.

Weiss rightly observed that “if you don’t build a spark today, you’re not going to want to be the scientist of tomorrow.” And I think we can all agree that tomorrow will dawn with no shortage of problems requiring passionate, insightful and connected scientists. 

Seasick and Loving It

Our day of filming took us step by step on the journey the kids get to go on during the OSO program. Out to sea we go. 

For an hour and a half, I took it all in through the lens of my camera. Rod and I documented the different stations the kids cycled through, where they learned about everything from navigation to kelp forests. 

Without getting too specific, I am somewhere above the age of 30. So at this point, I know my body well enough to understand that I can’t go on any body of water on an empty stomach. I most certainly can’t go on a body of water and have my face buried down in a camera viewfinder on an empty stomach. Yet there I was, sans breakfast. I had been in a rush, and I figured…it’s a kids’ outing, how bad could it possibly be? 

One of my favorite things about the ocean is that it has the most uncanny way of keeping you humble. I swear that woven deep into its network of droplets is a system to sniff out pride in its midst. I attest that it has a strict no pride policy.   

I promise you the only thing that kept me from vomiting over the side of that vessel was half wanting not to scar the children, half embarrassment that the children were absolutely thriving and I wasn’t. I just kept thinking – I cannot be that person right now. 

Resisting the urge was rough, but I couldn’t have been happier. 

No Phones Needed

The reason for my delight was not a therapy-worthy affinity for nausea, I assure you. Rather, it was the core memories I saw being encoded all around me. It took me back to a place somewhere in my recesses, a pure place of innocence and wonder. 

Smiles and squeals abounded. The kids tossed their little bodies around as they exaggerated the movement of the waves against the vessel, arms freely slinging like they were almost taking flight. Hands hit each other’s knees to turn a friend’s attention to the sea lions to the left, or the lighthouse to the right. Shoulders were held back slightly further, as confidence swelled with each “heave ho” of a new sailing skill learned. 

“I wish I had my phone right now. At least my eyes will be remembering this.” 

This profound musing came from one of the girls as we exited Santa Cruz Harbor and headed out to open ocean, a view most of them were taking in for the first time. The kids weren’t allowed phones on the ship to prevent any overboard incidents. So no picture-taking, just whatever survives in their mind’s eye. 

These kids were at the age that when on land, they were just a little too cool for school. The ocean nipped that right in the bud. Regardless of age, race, economic status, or anything else about us, we are all small childlike creatures on that endless abyss. 

It changes you. Whether it makes you want to be a scientist when you grow up, pick up more trash, learn what it is to be in complete awe of something, paint a picture…whatever the outcome, the ocean changes you. 

None of us are too cool for the joy that brings.

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