For adults only: Summer sleep-away camp

Posted at 6:43 AM, Jun 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-18 08:43:42-04

(CNN) — Drunk Field Day, Hangover Yoga and sober archery practice: Welcome to Camp Throwback, an adult summer camp with no kids, plenty of alcohol and a little romance.

It’s just one of many co-ed sleep-away camps that have popped up around the U.S. geared toward grown-ups.

Brittany Gibbons launched Camp Throwback last year in Clarksville, Ohio, inspired by the summers of her childhood.

“At Camp Throwback you do everything you did at camp as a kid,” said Gibbons. Campers make friendship bracelets; they compete in watermelon-eating contests; they chow down in the mess hall.

But unlike kid camps, the fun rises to a higher level. Booze flows and good times fill the air at nightly parties.

There are games, costumes — and even a little naughty behavior.

“You’d think that once you reach a certain age, you’d be an adult,” Gibbons said. “But something about camp brings you right back to that 15-year-old debauchery.”

In Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville and upstate New York, Adam Tichauer’s company has created three-day escapes for adults called “Camp No Counselors.”

Like many kids, Tichauer spent boyhood summers at sleep-away camp, where he forged happy memories and lifelong friendships. When he turned 30, he found himself reminiscing about those days.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we rented out a sleep-away camp and invited our friends,'” Tichauer said. “We could play all the activities like we did as kids … and maybe party at night.” That’s how it all started in 2013.

“The coolest thing is you get to meet all these new friends in a unique environment with shared experience,” Tichauer said.

The camp has a major rule: No asking about work.

At the end of your stay, “you go back to your normal setting and have great new friends across many different industries and walks of life,” he said.

Gibbons, author of “Fat Girl Walking” and the popular blog, feels many adults need a refresher course in how to make friends.

“Nothing really tells you how to do that, once you get around 25 and up,” Gibbons said. “And this is a really great place to go, and just fit in. Everybody just sort of accepts you, which is a really crazy, fun thing.”

David Chestnut, a 35-year-old cloud-computing consultant, didn’t go to camp as a kid growing up in Florida. When he bought online tickets to Camp Throwback in 2014, he was looking to expand his “social ecosystem.”

“It becomes very much like being a part of a club,” Chestnut said “You go to it and it’s like these are your camp friends. Then, Facebook and social networks allow us to stay connected all year.”

For these grown-ups, ranging from their mid-20s to early 60s, socializing at Throwback takes on a whole new attitude. No more worrying about “getting dressed up and looking attractive” before going out on the town, said Gibbons. For $245 they can socialize in a relaxed setting where they can “have fun and act like they’re 15 again for just a couple days.”

When Gibbons got the idea to start Camp Throwback three years ago, she met some resistance. “I tried to get companies on board to help fund it, and they all kind of wrote it off as a silly idea,” she said. So she saved her money, rented an unoccupied 4-H facility and scheduled her first camp in May 2014. All 120 tickets sold out in 30 hours, she said.

“Then I thought, ‘This isn’t such a stupid idea.'”

Fun for grown-ups

During all four days of activities, the camp provides everything — except alcohol. It’s BYOB.

A photo posted on the camp Facebook page shows a sign pointing the way to the archery range. “Sober? Archery” the sign reads.

Another sign puts some Throwback attitude on a typical camp activity: “F**k yeah Arts and Crafts.”

On Drunk Field Day, about a dozen 10-person cabins compete in dodgeball, watermelon-eating and a three-legged race. Drinking, “which is optional, makes it a bit more ‘adult,'” Gibbons said.

“Everybody expects that you would kind of get there and go nuts,” said Gibbons. “That happens with one or two people, but other than that, people are just so excited to escape the real world they pretty much just act pretty chill.”

What kind of fun are we talking about, exactly? Well, Gibbons doesn’t like to reveal too many details. It’s kind of like Vegas: What happens at camp stays at camp.

Relationships run the gamut, from singles to couples to spouses. Honeymooners have been known to attend, said Gibbons, and at least two babies have been conceived at Camp Throwback.

The rules require men and women to sleep in separate cabins — but that doesn’t stop the romance.

It’s fun “to wake up at 6 a.m. and see who’s doing ‘The Walk’ from the girls’ cabin or the boys’ cabin each morning,” said Gibbons.

Chestnut, who returned to the camp this past spring, said people will be people. “Some single folks show up and they become ‘not-single’ for the weekend,” he said. “Then it seems like they go their separate ways.”

Campers have come from Canada and all over the U.S., including Colorado, California, Florida, New York and Texas.

Some have found themselves face to face with raccoons and the occasional field mouse. “Just seeing the way these very citified folks interacted with wildlife was a pretty good time,” recalled Chestnut.

Band camp and rock fantasy

Looking for a more unusual summer camp that might jar a few memories loose?

How about that time… at band camp?

Near Traverse City, Michigan, a six-day adult band camp starts in August at Interlochen Center for the Arts. The program is entering its 11th year. Campers “will truly get that experience of feeling young and maybe wanting to come here as a youth, or remembering times when they went to camp as a youth,” said director Leslie Donaldson.

Wanna rock out? The first weekend in August, the Musicians Institute in Hollywood hosts Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, offering wannabes of all levels a chance to learn and perform with actual rock stars.

For $1,999, said spokeswoman Valerie Ince, “We put them in a band. They don’t have to have any musical experience at all.” They’re given a rock star counselor. They rehearse in jam rooms and attend master classes. Campers will have a chance to perform with guitarist Warren DeMartini of Ratt and get access to rockers from bands like Dio, Quiet Riot, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Butterfly, Bon Jovi, LA Guns and Foreigner.

“It’s really a life-changing thing for a lot of people,” Ince said. “They’re all sharing their love and passion for music and hearing the rock stars’ stories. They walk away making friends for life.”

For folks who need to disconnect from the world — while connecting with new friends — Gibbons recommends a safe, fun camp experience in a quiet, rural setting.

There, she said, they can remember the freedom of childhood while enjoying the perks of being a grown-up.

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