march 2011


‘Knee-Deep’ In Summer Camp Romance

By Stephen Winbaum

Summer romance is as traditional as camp.

Teachers warn kids to hold off for a while, and camp directors talk about the risks of peer pressure to find a summer steady. The general wisdom about summer camp romance is: Don't try too hard. Make new friends. Keep the old ones. Remember to have fun. You will be more appealing to others when you are happy.

If you practice the above advice you might find a summer romance too.

Those are neat suggestions, but that's not how summer campers fall in love. Most campers actively seek romantic encounters or innocently fall into them. Teenagers often arrive at camp hoping to find a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

I have no statistics, just my personal experience, and the billion-dollar popular entertainment industry that pumps out stories of young love. Teenage romance is a big part of society, the media, and summer camp.

So what's a camp director to do?

A signpost might help--be observant when teenagers are “knee-deep” in a summer romance. “Knee-deepers” spend all their time with each other constantly stare into each others eyes, forget about their beautiful natural surroundings, skip out of activities, and barely make it back to the cabin before lights out.

There are parents who approve of teenage summer romance. Again, no stats, just personal experience. My parents quietly accepted my inevitable entry into teenage longing. If I acted responsibly.

Was I responsible? Read the following story.


The Beach Boys, ‘The Warmth of the Sun’ (1964)

As a camper, I was not an active seeker of summer romance but a dreaming, blue-eyed boy who couldn't talk to girls, or figure out the angles. I was quiet, guileless, and tounge-tied.

“What's going on inside his head?” potential girlfriends wondered? A lot was going on, but nothing matched up to the real world. I preferred to dream. Reality was for those who drew straight lines.

The dreaming ended when Naomi Weiss chose me to be her summer boyfriend. Naomi was my camp's 15-year-old version of a teenage beauty pageant finalist. I didn't understand why she chose me until camp was nearly over.

Mid-summer and camp teenagers boarded a bus for a two-day drama festival. I sat alone by the window when Naomi eased up beside me and asked, "Is it okay if I sit beside you?"

"No," I muttered in a dumb, shy-guy fashion. "I don't mind."

It took three hours to drive to the festival, and within 90 minutes, Naomi Weiss's head was resting on my shoulder, and her arm embraced my chest. She had fallen fast asleep and I had fallen deeply in love.

I was ecstatic when I returned to camp. Soon, my cabin mates were conditioned to seeing me sneak in just before lights out.

The two of us became an item. We were inseparable.

I still had a great summer: lead role in the camp musical, MVP of Summer Super Bowl, and co-winner of the Summer Olympics. And, I dedicated all my victories to my summer sweet heart--Naomi.

But I was uncertain. Why did she love me, the quiet guy who preferred to dream? One night at Lookout Point I asked her. Her answer: "Because I find you attractive, I like your blue eyes, that's all!" I was tongue-tied. I thought Naomi Weiss loved me unconditionally, beyond my exterior.

We preserved our romance as camp wound down. I hoped that Naomi and I would remain an item long after camp. I didn't consider that we lived nearly 1,000 miles apart. Somehow--a few telephone calls, a few trips to see her, and we would be together permanently. After camp, I phoned Naomi twice. Both times she was pleasant but detached.

I figured it out. I was dreaming. I had to shake off this summer romance and get back to school--get good marks. By mid-September all was forgotten.

The Beach Boys, ‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’ (1965)

I never saw Naomi Weiss again. But, I keep a small part of her in my heart--even now.

The diagnosis! I was a “knee-deeper.” The cure? Non-existent. Just listen to all those pop songs!

Camp directors: There are no simple solutions. Summer romance is often seen as mysterious, left to the camp's discretion. SO: Relax. Most kids are responsible.

Summer romance is the longest running--Broadway play, TV episode, blockbuster movie, pop song of all time!

The events and names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent.

my summer camps
Stephen Winbaum is the Communications Coordinator at

The Beach Boys, ‘All Summer Long’ (1965)

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