When presented with a kid who’s facing a long haul in juvenile hall, former ocean lifeguard and O.C. harbor patrol officer Scott McClung doesn’t see delinquent; he sees a challenge.
“I had the vision of being able to take our young men who are making poor decisions and making them modern-day heroes,” says McClung, founder of San Clemente’s just-launched Waterman Academy. “Throughout history, most societies have had passages for boys to enter into manhood. We’re not challenging our young men enough.”
For $5,920, Waterman will challenge boys (so far, there’s no programs for girls) between the ages of 13 and 19 on a three-week voyage up the California coastline. However, this isn’t the stuff of “White Squall.” Calm waters line the journey from San Diego to Santa Cruz Island, allowing the Academy’s charges to earn certifications in CPR, first aid, shipboard firefighting, land and sea navigation, scuba-diving and small-boat handling.
Like other adolescent diversion programs, Waterman is based on taking kids away from their Xboxes, TiVos and ringtones. However, Waterman doesn’t use “adolescent transport specialists.” Boys must come voluntarily while facing a significant consequence, such as juvy hall, if they don’t enter a program.
Each session can handle up to 60 troubled boys at a time, with supervision coming from a crew that includes cops, firefighters, life guards, Coast Guard enlistments and Naval Reserves.
As for McClung, he’s s a 20-year licensed ship captain, not a youth counselor. But the 145-foot “Rapture” — monikered on a faith that, he swears, is kept out of the program — has seen more than 60,000 high school students on various expeditions. Seeing what onboard adrenaline rushes did for science nerds got McClung wondering what it might do for delinquents.
The program also includes something McClung calls “nighttime evolutions” in which squads of 10-12 boys are woken in the middle of the night and brought into a briefing room where they’re given a specific mission — say, fetching a downed pilot from the water.
“They really get a lot out of that,” McClung says. “You get these young men out there, cold and wet and frustrated and dirty, trying to complete an almost impossible task in the middle of the night. When they get back to the ship, you’ve never seen guys this age so happy.”