After one look at the pristine pools packed with toys, and it?s no surprise why La Petite Baleen?s four San Francisco?area swim facilities are so popular with kids. What may be surprising, however, is that the flourishing network of schools started humbly in the backyard pool of John Kolbisen and Irene Madrid.
In 1979, the public school teachers were brainstorming ways to integrate their passion for educating kids with their love of the water. Starting with their own three children, some neighborhood kids, and their logo?Waverly the Whale, John and Irene began teaching swim lessons with a rather progressive philosophy: They approached swimming not just as an extracurricular activity, but as a means to boost self-confidence, build friendships, and learn to overcome fears.
More than 30 years later, La Petite Baleen has become a renowned family of schools, partnered with the U.S. Swim School Association and the Swim for Life Foundation. Part of the success has to do with how children are grouped. In weekly sessions, pods of tots of similar age, skill level, and personality evolve at a similar pace?earning individual achievement ribbons as they do. Kids make friends in the group, and the recurring scheduling means that they can stay enrolled with their new buddies indefinitely or until they grow their own dorsal fins. Each location?s indoor pools are kept at an inviting 90 degrees, in an attempt to make even the most timid student to feel comfortable in the water. Perhaps most importantly, the teachers participate in ongoing training designed to encourage empathetic, yet firm teaching methods.
As they enter the training at Curves, female guests come face-to-face with the smiles of other women. And just as points on a circle share a common distance from the circle's center, workout participants share the experiences of those nearby, trading stations throughout the 30-minute training session. One minute is spent on a piece of strength-training equipment built for feminine frames and designed to work two opposing muscle groups with a single movement. Exercisers then move on to a recovery station, where they run, jog, or dance to maintain heart rates and keep platforms in place during momentary losses of gravity.
As the head surfing instructor at Sea, Surf & Fun, Frenchman Fabien passes on board-riding expertise he has picked up on world travels. He has cut through the mist-veiled trenches of waves in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Brazil. Armed with certifications in CPR and basic first aid, Fabien heads to Half Moon Bay to conduct surfing lessons that emphasize safety. He works toward this end by keeping a low student-to-teacher ratio and only surfing one ocean at a time.
Students practice patience and respect for both nature and their fellow boarders, understanding that the ocean can prove dangerous when taken for granted. In addition to group lessons, the hang-ten outfit conducts all-day surf camps that may also include beach volleyball, soccer, and walking tours.
The music starts, global beats and dance-club anthems thudding from the speakers. Hips swivel, feet samba, and sweat trickles down foreheads. Zumba is an aerobic workout, but Rosa Greco's students aren't complaining as they follow her lead. She curates a welcoming atmosphere that's as much about fun as it is about toning bodies—but that happens, too, as the groups send heart rates soaring with an international array of dance moves. Rosa's easy-to-follow choreography is focused on low-impact moves, which make it possible for older students or delicate gingerbread men to groove by her side.
Snap Fitness 24-7, bustling with cardio and strength-training gear, throws open the doors to its state-of-the-art facilities 24/7. Before exercisers put sneaker to treadmill or lift their first weight, personal coaches meet with them to talk about their fitness goals before suggesting a personalized fitness plan based on each client's strength, and cardio condition. The gym keeps members motivated with regular check-in calls and demystifies healthy eating with custom online meal plans designed by nutritionists.