VENICE BEACH, CALIF. — The parking lot is full of SUVs, BMWs, and other pricey vehicles. Men and women in brown, brimmed hats and khaki pants are yelling and cajoling dozens of gasping "civilians" as they scramble around the beach. Are these victims of displaced Marine drill instructors from Camp Pendleton? No, these folks are doing it willingly, and paying 75 bucks a week for the so-called privilege.
Everyone expects the unusual on this stretch of sand known for its bodybuilding devotees, New-Age shops, and beach culture. But this latest craze in fitness is not unique to California.
People from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., are signing up to be shouted at and bossed around in military fashion. All in the name of bigger biceps and washboard abs.
Alan Ross explains why he subjects himself to beach obstacles, hard runs in soft sand, and as many chin-ups as he can do: "It was peer pressure and a sense of pride that got me to sign up," says Mr. Ross, who compiles and publishes "The Healthy Yellow Pages."
"Being able to keep up with the 20-somethings is a good feeling. I expect to live into the hundreds, and I think it's important to stay fit."
At that moment, Jay Williams, a cinematographer's assistant and freelance photographer, is dragging a 60-pound briefcase through the sand on a rope. "I want to qualify for the Los Angeles Fireman's Academy training program," Mr. Williams huffs. "I'm doing this in hopes it will give me an edge," he says, explaining that the jerry-rigged briefcase is similar to the academy's hose drag.
Raphael Verela, a former Marine and founder of the Optimum Boot Camp, is easy to spot, not just because of the khaki pants and drill-instructor headpiece, but also because he has the bearing of a guy in charge. Spotting stragglers shuffling their feet at the end of the 20-minute run, he pushes them verbally: "Hey, run all the way in. Don't stop till after you've done push-ups."
A certified personal trainer, Mr. Verela started the boot-camp fitness program four years ago in Pasadena, Calif. Last year he began holding sessions on Venice Beach and, more recently, in Malibu. He and four assistants conduct sessions three days a week, starting at the crack of dawn. When participants complete the course, they are given a certificate.
"I find the [military] concept outstanding," says Verela. "Everyone is in it together. And just like the military, no one gets left behind. If someone falls behind in the run, we go back for them. When everyone finishes together, they're hugging each other."
Even though it's tough, it's fun, too, says businesswoman Joanna Brody. She has just crawled under a 20-foot tunnel of netting on her hands and knees and is getting ready to climb over a 12-foot wall.
"All my fitness is taken care of here," she says. "The gym isn't the same as being outdoors. You can't beat watching the sunrise."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society