Andy Wexler is the founder of Pali Aventures, an innovative (and expensive) summer camp where kids can indulge their inner fashionista, gourmand, filmmaker, and more. Pali caters to some of the most specialized tastes. Want to teach your kid to be a stunt double? Then Wexler's Hollywood Stunt Camp is for you.
FAST COMPANY: The idea of specialized camps isn’t entirely new, but you seem to take it to new extremes.
ANDY WEXLER: We’ve come up with specialized camps no one on the planet has except us. The concept of the camp is really a camp of choice. There’s 375 kids at the camp, and all have their own unique schedules. There’s our Secret Agent Camp, where kids learn to be spies, and our Hollywood Stunt Camp, where they learn to jump out of a three-story building, and our Fashion Institute, where they put on a fashion show. The beauty of having 16 different themed camps all in one location is a kid in the Culinary Institute can still learn how to do the trapeze in the afternoon.
So it’s something like choosing a major at a college?
It’s like a choosing a major at college; you choose something for the week you do in the morning, then at breakfast, on Apple iPod Touches, the kids pick their afternoon activities there at the table. We created our own propriety software.
How’d you get the idea for specialized camping?
I’ve been doing this for 22 years now. In 1990 I started a day camp, and in 1995-96, I started doing some overnight programs, where kids could choose between a whitewater rafting trip, volleyball camp, golf camp, or paintball. In 1999 I started with 8 specialties, and around 2006-2007 I got up to 16. We’re right now in the middle of a large construction project and will add a few more specialties.
Has it proved to be a good business decision?
There’s about 10,000 camps in the U.S. I decided to offer people the best program available, at a full price. We’re the Ferrari or Lexus or Mercedes of the summer camp industry. The American Camping Association says there should be 8-10 kids to a staff member; we have three to a staff member, not counting the cooking or cleaning staff. We charge full price, and people really get what they pay for. For what we’re charging, kids shouldn’t just say, “Oh, it’s good.” Kids should say, “It’s the best experience I’ve ever had in my life.”
What do you charge?
It’s $1,695 per week. We run 10 weeks, and we offer one-, two-, and four-week sessions.
Did you hire a professional Hollywood stuntman to run the Stunt Camp?
Yes, Dean Cudworth. He used to work at Universal Studios, and did these fantastic high falls. He’s just a guru. He loves being a stuntman, and also loves teaching kids to be a stuntman.
What are some films in which we may have seen his plummeting body?
I know he’s been in a ton, but I barely remember what I had for breakfast.
For a lot of parents, isn’t teaching their children to jump off of high things the last thing they want?
There’s some kids who are such daredevils, they’d much rather have them jumping off a building in the safety of a professional setting, versus jumping off the roof into the pool at home. Some are comfortable with it, and the ones that aren’t, they send their kids to the Acting Academy or Filmmaking Camp.
There’s a moment in this video where Dean Cudworth shows a jump that’s so high, you can’t hesitate. That seems... dangerous.
Everything is dangerous if not done carefully, not done with precautions. You’re probably seeing the 35-foot jump. It takes kids a week to build up to that. I’ve made it as high as 12 feet and it definitely gets the heart pumping.
If they’re at 35 feet at the end of one week, where are they at the end of four weeks?
We go a little higher. But they do two kids jumping at a time, they learn to do stunt fighting, and we incorporate what they do with the Movie Make-up Camp and Filmmaking Camp.
Do you hope kids will go on to pursue these specialities as a profession?
No, the goal is for the kids to have a summer where they got to try a thing they never tried before.
So the CIA isn’t recruiting out of the Secret Agent Camp?
That’d have to be a secret. I couldn’t tell you.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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