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 one cleverly disguised frog, 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.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean from the shoreline of San Mateo County, Moss Beach Ranch forms a hub for many miles of riding trails that branch out across more than 4,200 acres of Rancho Corral de Tierra. The ranch's director of instruction and training, Jeanette Jacobi, leads a team of experienced instructors and a stable of nearly 30 gentle horses, which students can ride during private or group lessons. Instruction can focus on either Western or English riding styles, and students pick up skills that range from jumping to dressage.
In addition to lessons, an experienced guide leads riders on trail rides across the surrounding terrain five times per week. On each excursion, parties climb rolling hills and traverse verdant ravines, even riding to spots that, like the private drinking clubs at Churchill Downs, are accessible only by horse.
Tucked into the hills of Rancho Corral de Tierra lies Ocean View Farms, where sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean combine with the expertise of Agnes Sadeghi, an instructor accredited by the Certified Horsemanship Association, to attract equine enthusiasts for lessons and trail rides. Agnes brings a lifetime of experience to the farm, as she began to ride at the age of 6 and went on to master British horsemanship exams as a teen—earlier than most riders and just after most centaurs. Her goal for students is to turn them into independent riders through dressage and jumping lessons conducted atop palomino paint horses and arabian thoroughbreds. Beginning riders can show off advancing skills on Two for Trail rides through the hills of Rancho Corral de Tierra and McNee Ranch State Park, whereas more advanced riders can take on longer, more difficult routes.
Members at Curves, a fitness center designed for women, rotate around a circuit of hydraulic resistance machines that have been designed to work with female bodies and promote weight loss, strengthen bones, and increase metabolism. An experienced trainer is always nearby to help manage participants’ machine maneuvering and muscle making. Instead of fiddling with weight stacks and losing momentum, the hydraulic machines use your own body weight, fitness level, and aerodynamic water bottles to create resistance that matches abilities, decreasing the risk of soreness or injury. Because traditional lift-and-lower motions can create bulky muscles, each machine uses push-and-pull motions to help create toned, lean muscles perfect for crushing a grapefruit without looking like you can.
Like the sea turtles she swims with daily, Vanessa Floyd feels as comfortable in the ocean as she does on land. For nearly a decade, she has taught people how to surf the waves of the Pacific beside the chilly California coast and the warm sands of Hawaiian shores at her pair of Jetty Betty Surf School locations. She focuses on helping beginners overcome their fear of the water and enjoy the rush of riding the surf beneath the open sun. She and her fellow instructors begin their group and private lessons by meeting students at the beach, where they familiarize them with the equipment and the basics of safe surfing. Afterwards, students take to the waves, which instructors monitor to make sure they are suitably small for novice surfers—if not, they’ll either postpone the lesson or unplug Mother Nature's wave machine.
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.