Wahine Toa campers went for a paddle in the Sanibel canals. 

Wahine Toa campers went for a paddle in the Sanibel canals. 

Eleven young women between the ages of 13 and 15 recently joined Sanibel Sea School for Wahine Toa Week, an all-female stand up paddleboarding and survival camp. In the Hawaiian language, Wahine Toa means “fierce female ocean warrior”, and participants proved that they were more than worthy of the title by completing challenging paddling courses, practicing urban and wilderness survival skills, and camping overnight on an uninhabited island.

Beru Pierce practiced changing a tire.

Beru Pierce practiced changing a tire.

Female counselors taught practical skills like first aid, how to change a tire, and how to jumpstart a vehicle. Campers also learned how to build sturdy shelters, start a fire, tie useful knots, and how to rescue a fellow paddler in need of assistance. “When we were first planning our paddling and survival camps, some of our female staff members expressed frustration over the need to call their dads, brothers, or boyfriends for pretty basic help,” said program leader Spencer Richardson. “We are all very capable, but nobody had ever taught us simple skills like how to take care of a vehicle, or how to tie up a boat properly. We thought it would be great to offer an opportunity for girls to learn these things from older women who had already figured them out. That’s really how the idea for Wahine Toa was born.”

Campers posed for a photo while taking a break from learning the basics of vehicle maintenance. 

Campers posed for a photo while taking a break from learning the basics of vehicle maintenance. 

After plenty of paddling practice on San Carlos Bay and in the Sanibel canals, the group set out for Picnic Island on Thursday afternoon to test their new skills during a primitive campout. With only one sheet and a military-style meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) per person, they slept on top of their paddleboards under the stars. There was plenty of time to reflect on the week, enjoy the sounds of nature, and bond with fellow campers. Participants returned to the Sanibel Causeway the next morning for coffee and snacks before beginning one final, epic paddle to Fort Myers Beach. Upon arrival at Doc Fords, they were treated to lunch and a celebration of their new status as Wahine Toa.

San Carlos Bay provided calm waters and beautiful views. 

San Carlos Bay provided calm waters and beautiful views. 

Congratulations to Addy Rundqwist, Amy Walker, Beru Pierce, Elizabeth McCaffrey, Ella Stroud, Hannah Saunders, Isabelle Gosselin, Katherine McCaffrey, Kira Zautcke, Madelyn Mauro, and Samantha Sette. Sanibel Sea School is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more about Wahine Toa and other programs, visit sanibelseaschool.org. 

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