West Coast Campin'
My 10-year-old son, Blake, is pretty much a casual wakeboarder. He doesn’t compete, he doesn’t eat, sleep and breathe wakeboarding and he can’t jump wake-to-wake because he’s never wanted to try. He pretty much just cruises behind the boat with the occasional wake crossing and small jump thrown in for good measure. He has a good time, but has never really had a desire to push himself to get better. Usually he prefers a ride on the tube over a ride on the wakeboard.
When a friend told me that he was sending his son to Mike Schwenne’s West Coast Camps for a week, I thought it might be just what Blake needed to spark his interest in wakeboarding and have a great time hanging out with kids his age in a camp setting. In addition to his apparent lack of interest in pushing his wake game, Blake has never been away from the family for more than a night or two, so I didn’t even think he would interested in my idea. I found that I was wrong after he spent about 15 minutes at WestCoastCamps.com going through all the fun stuff featured at the camp. He wanted in!
So in the middle of June we made the trip up to Lake McClure and dropped the kids off for a week of independence and training at the hands of one of my favorite riders, Mike Schwenne, and his crew of coaches, affectionately nicknamed Stache, Lyman (looks just like Keith Lyman), BG and B-Rad. Lindsey and Monica rounded out the camp crew and guest coach Melissa Marquardt was the cherry on top of the wakeboard camp sundae!
There were about 15 kids there for the week and they all were assigned or earned nicknames. Blake was the second Blake on board and the first Blake already had the nickname of B1, so Blake became B2. Other names included Con Man, Orca, Sherminater, Flipper, Whip, Gabba Gabba, Sofa, Dr. Phil, Joe Dirt and a few more. They all gathered in a protected cove aboard three houseboats that were connected to create a giant floating summer camp. The addition of three brand new MB wakeboard boats and plenty of gear from Hyperlite made sure that the kids were never waiting long for their next ride.
With all the stuff to do at the camp that isn’t wakeboarding (fishing, games, the blob, sponge tag, trampoline, stand up paddle boarding, video games, etc.), I was worried that Blake would be distracted and not take the opportunity to really work on his wakeboarding. However, the kids each hit the water at least three times a day with coaches using West Coast Camps’ unique teaching techniques to help the kids learn everything from wake jumps to spins to inverts. The camp recently added a flat rail to the mix as well, so there were certainly a lot of options for the kids.
One of Blake’s favorite activities of the week was the Monday Night Show where the instructors show off their skills behind the boat. As you can see from the photos at the end of the photo gallery and the video of Melissa below, the coaches can all throw down and practice what they preach. Blake especially liked Mike’s “huge Raley.”
All the coaches had great techniques for teaching the kids tricks such as slowing down the boat, shortening the line and having them do progressive drills that lead to the desired goal. The kids were able to earn “patches” for each milestone they reached so that they would have something to take home with them documenting their progress. Blake made amazing strides earning his wake-to-wake jump patch (both heelside and toeside), his rail patch (rode the rail to the end and landed), his spin patch (all four surface 180’s) and his grab patch (six grabs – indy, melan, stalefish, mute, nose, tail – as Mike says, “The only grabs you need to know.”). They also have other patches like an invert patch that he was not able to pick up, but it does give him a goal for next year.
Off the water highlights for Blake included the Blob, a brand new giant air bag that was used to launch students in their air before they came crashing back down to the water. As you can see, the smaller the student, the bigger the air. Since Blake was the youngest one there, he got some pretty decent launches. He also had a great time watching B-Rad hit the rail and it gave him the courage to try it himself. Sponge tag was another favorite. Nothing like hitting your fellow students with something wet and heavy! Finally, Blake and Whip managed to haul in a small bass and he seemed to really enjoy that.
I was lucky enough to come up and spend the last night at the camp with the kids. I got to watch them wakeboard, play games, arm wrestle, get blobbed, bounce on the trampoline and generally have a non-stop great time. I got to sleep under the stars on the top of the houseboat and enjoy two incredible meals, including an ice cream dessert bar that made me feel like I was at a Cold Stone Creamery. Blake also mentioned that they had another special dessert earlier in the week for Joe Dirt’s birthday.
I was most impressed by the enthusiasm and engagement of the staff. On Thursday night the coaches were up playing games (mafia, ninja, mind reading, wrestling, etc.) with the kids until about 10:30, and I’m pretty sure the coaches were having just as much fun as the kids. Not only that, but once the kids go to bed these guys stay up to discuss the progress of the students and get ready for the next day’s activities. This was after a full day of coaching and leading these kids through activities. The energy level of the staff was absolutely amazing. It takes a special kind of personality to maintain that level of enthusiasm for such a demanding job and these guys all seemed to have it!
After a morning ride on the last day, everybody sat in the main houseboat while the coaches handed out patches and talked about their favorite memories of the week. Each coach had a favorite memory for each student as this “family” sat around laughing about the good times from the week. I was there for less than 24 hours, but I couldn’t help but being moved by the closeness of everybody there. I felt like I really missed out on a lot for those first four days, but I really enjoyed listening to everyone relive it. Monica finally had to cut the party short so that we could load everyone up and motor back to the dock where anxious parents were waiting to pick up their kids.
All the staff and a bunch of the students met up at The Lumberyard for burgers before B2, Whip and I began our eight-hour drive back to So Cal. We made a quick stop at a fireworks stand to blow some cash before we settled in for the long stretch down the 99. Before Blake fell asleep in the back of the car, I asked if he had had a good time. He replied, “It was the best week of my life.” He’s asked that all his birthday and Christmas presents go toward paying for next year’s trip and he can't wait to show off his new skills to his two big sisters!