A Student Leader Development Weekend at Camp Erdman

Chris Garcia
garcia65@hawaii.edu
 
One of my lovely summer weekends was spent over at the YMCA’s Camp Erdman.  I was invited to be part of the Student Leader Development Retreat, hosted by HonCC’s Student Life (SL).

As someone who never went to the YMCA as a kid, I felt cheated out of my childhood; I had an entire beach to build three-foot sandcastles in; the counselors loved making friendly jokes at everything; and chickens (dinner) were running around the main building like it was their pen. Eight-year-old-me would have wanted to spend an entire summer vacation at Erdman.

City lights wash out the dim light of stars. But out at northern O’ahu, there’s practically no lights, save the moon, and although it was out, the sky was dark enough to see them shimmer.

This was a place to kick back and relax, so we all scattered about to enjoy the freedom. Emily, Director of SL, went the whole nine yards, bringing campfire favorites, from weenies to Nutter-Butters and marshmallows. Edlynne and Angelina, two SL staff, scoured the shore for seashells. Bryce and Gerimi, two other SL staff, beat their hands on the table through rounds of Pyramid, a card game similar to Slap-Jack. From the campfire, chunks of ash would blow out of the fire-pit from time to time, making me smell like charcoal. Angelina sat in a certain spot to cook her food. Bryce, Rica, Edlynne and Jonnalyn stood a few feet from the fire to warm up.

We hiked the trail to Ka’ena Point. I had been on this trail before with a mountain bike, which took all of 30 minutes to get to the end of trail. Wheezing, it took us three hours by foot. We walked along the trail closest to the crashing, rhythmic ocean, crossing gaps and loose rocks. As I followed my colleagues, keeping to the distanced hills at times, they looked like ants, miniscule to the world around them.

About an hour and a half into the walk we stopped at a sandy cove. There was another group who set up camp there, with sizzling grill and shady canopyl. A man and a boy with fishing rods scurried from place-to-place to catch their meal.

We got to see a monk seal, plopped right in front of us. He looked ready for the vultures with how dead asleep he was. Edlynne named him Spaghetti. Angelina kept telling me to keep a certain distance away from Spaghetti when taking pictures. I decided to take a dip in the water, walking near the unresponsive seal.

The retreat was built around team-building activities, challenging the body and the mind. All of us had to get over to a platform, using planks and without jumping or touching the ground.

Another exercise was to cross a trail of stumps, with someone always on a stump and participants holding another’s shoulder. The counselors jazzed things up by making every other person close their eyes. I wasn’t one of the blindfolded, but it was rough trying to feel around for a stump that seemed like ten-feet away.

There was this incredibly high tower that everyone was tasked to climb. The biggest barrier to getting to the top, though, was the mind. Although we were safe, looking down while at 30-feet in the air is terrifying. Jonnalyn, one of the SL staff, was like a spider monkey as she scaled up to the top. Edlynne, another SL staffer, was mortified at first, crying out as she crawled up a log. George, the SL webmaster, rappelled down from the top and helped her get to the first platform. With body dangling in mid-air, he instructed Edlynne where to step. She made it, ecstatically crying in a 180-degree mood flip.

The biggest challenge of the camp to me would be the High Ropes Course. Basically, it was the giant tower with tight-rope walking. And we did it in the dark. The flash from someone’s camera distracted those who were on the tightrope, and Bryce exclaimed, “WHO’S TAKING PICTURES!” It was Emily, trying to get shots of us tightrope-walking in pure darkness. Ironically, the darker it got, the easier it became. Like an ostrich hiding from danger with its head in the sand – if it don’t see it, the danger’s not there.

We finished the trip with a commemorative poster. Everyone cut out a decorated tracing of their hand and pasted it to a large paper. We painted all sort of things on it, from the lazy Monk Seal to a scale drawing of the High Ropes Course. It was a collage of all the participants’ personalities with a dorkish charm. I was glad to have spent the weekend with them.