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OKOBOJI, Iowa | Traveling around the country, Kirsty Thoreson gets double takes after telling people she runs a sailing school in Iowa.

"A sailing school in Iowa?" out-of-staters will ask. "I thought Iowa had corn, not water."

Thoreson will simply respond that the Hawkeye State has a long sailing history at Lake Okoboji and she has been teaching the next generation of young sailors at the Okoboji Yacht Club's Sailing School for the past five summers.

"There's nothing more invigorating than going sailing in the summertime," she says. "Families have been doing it for years at the lake."

And for many wannabe sailors, training starts at an early age.

The yacht club's sailing school offers a pre-pram class for kids, ages 5 and under.

"This class introduces very young children to the sport of sailing," Thoreson explains. "They'll enjoy face-painting, sailing crafts and explore a real-life pram (a small, utility dinghy)."

Even though the pram is landlocked on the lawn of the yacht club, kids will still need to bring a life jacket and be accompanied by an adult.

"Our pre-pram class is more about getting children accustomed to a boat without having to go into the water," Thoreson notes.

Kids will be introduced to sailing at the Little Puffs Camp, geared toward budding yacht people, ages 6 - 8.

"Children will learn about sailing and boating safety during this class," Thoreson says. "They'll be taught the parts of a sailboat, rigging and the importance of wind and wave when it comes to sailing."

In other words, it will prepare them for the intermediate sailing camp, designed for kids ages 8 - 13. In this class, they'll be taught how to handle a pram by themselves.

For older, more experienced kids, camps will teach requirements in handling dinghies like the Laser and BIC and racers like the Opti and X Boat.

Thoreson stresses safety over everything else.

"We have wonderful instructors who know sailing," she says. "They makes things fun and educational."

But, what about the people who didn't learn about sailing as kids? Thoreson has already thought about that.

"We have class that we call 'Ladies Lean to Sail,' which is geared towards moms who want to learn the basics," she says.

Dads, don't worry. Men have also taken this introductory class in the past.

A few weeks prior to the start of the sailing season, Thoreson admits the Okoboji Yacht Club Sailing School has had to make some adjustments to its schedule.

"Families no longer spend the entire summer in Okoboji," she says. "Instead, they'll spend a week or two visiting grandma at the lakes."

In addition, soccer camps and science camps have further compromised children's vacation schedules.

This means sailing camps and courses are offered in shorter increments throughout the summer.

"There may be more competition for your child's time," Thoreson says, "but our sailing school remains popular for families who love the water."

That includes Thoreson who learned about sailing as an adult.

"Summer wouldn't be summer if you didn't have a chance to sail," she says. "It's relaxing and invigorating. More importantly, it's also fun."

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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