Adventure Out!

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Ten years ago, during Adventure Out's first year in business, Cliff Hodges was a one-man outdoor school, teaching rock climbing, wilderness survival and surfing courses to 250 students. As the sun peered over the mountains across Monterey Bay, Hodges would load his ’96 Tacoma with ropes, harnesses and carabiners and head to Castle Rock State Park for a morning climbing clinic. Coiling his ropes over lunch, he then drove back to Santa Cruz to teach afternoon surf lessons at Cowell's. Evenings were spent filing paperwork and planning future courses.

Hodges, a Santa Cruz native, was motivated. He had spent five years back East earning his masters degree in electrical engineering from MIT, and had worked for a time in Silicon Valley before deciding that he preferred the outfitter lifestyle over a tech career.

“I think I did it just to avoid getting a real job," Hodges says jokingly. "Still, I never thought it would grow into what it has become today.”

Hodges' full-time pursuit of outdoor education has made Adventure Out one of California's premier outdoor schools and guide services. In 2013, Adventure Out's 30 instructors taught 5,000 people skills ranging from bow making in Boulder Creek to surfing in Baja. From hide tanning to mountain biking, from Central America to Big Sur, Adventure Out aims to reconnect students with nature. The company's on a mission to rekindle awareness and spark reconnection between pupils and their environment, and revive ancestral skills woven into the fabric of human culture.

“Starting a fire or teaching someone how to stand up on a surfboard recreates that connection with the natural world,” Hodges says. Whether it’s the ancestral experience of making a primitive bow or the thrill of riding a wave, exposing people to the natural world creates a link that is lost when freeways and computer screens become a recurring reality.

With the best guide-to-student ratio in the Bay Area, Adventure Out's rock climbing classes are safe and fun.

There's another benefit to giving folks the opportunity to learn and play outdoors: When people connect with the natural world, they gain a vested interest in the preservation and appreciation of their surroundings.

“A lot of our clients pursue environmental endeavors and support local organizations because of that connection, which they may or may not have had before participating in those programs," says Hodges.

Hodges hopes his courses offer an alternative perspective to the constant influx of information and technology. “Ideally [the skills and courses] are not really an escape but rather a reminder, an influencer. Learn how to put the smartphone down and learn how to enjoy your surroundings.”

He recalls a class he taught to a group of leadership students from Oakland. Never having left their urban neighborhoods, the kids expressed some apprehension on their first trip into the woods. However a day of shelter building, water collecting and friction fire starting transformed their fear to excitement.

“You know, humans are the only animals that are afraid of the woods,” he says. Transforming fear to appreciation is a foundation of Adventure Out, and effecting that sort of change in students inspires Adventure Out and its founder.

“Just the transformation you can see in people and the impact you see over the course of one day is really cool.”

Adventure Out's surf instructors offer classes in Santa Cruz, Pacifica and more exotic locales.

Hodges’ passion for the outdoors stems from a childhood spent hiking, biking and surfing throughout Santa Cruz. He spent his younger years adventuring throughout the county until he left for MIT.

Throughout his five years in Cambridge, his love for the outdoors endured. During a break from school, a wilderness survival course on the East Coast exposed him to the world of primitive hunting and wilderness skills. The experience fascinated him.

"These skills are a major part of human history and were necessary to human life on the planet for so long," he says. "Now these skills are retained by so few—and they are dying off.

"For me the history of it, as human beings, was fascinating. And the fact it was so rare these days—I just felt a calling to preserve it.”

From building fires to making tools and weapons, Hodges set out to reclaim the skills of his ancestors. During breaks from fluid dynamics and calculus, he continued to study the basic skills that formed the foundations of human existence. He would travel to courses around the East Coast then bring back what he learned and teach his fellow students.

“MIT had opportunities on summer break for students to set up and operate their own classes," he says. "I brought skills I learned back to MIT and did mini wilderness classes for those interested in signing up.”

The experience of teaching his fellow students intensified his appreciation for the primitive skills, and also sparked his desire to teach others.

“I enjoy teaching," he says. "I like seeing people reconnected with nature. The experiences I get to see people have are very rewarding.”

Adventure Out's mountain-biking instructors can get you rolling safely, or teach some new tricks.

After getting his two degrees at MIT, Hodges returned to California and settled on a job at a Silicon Valley firm manufacturing and selling computer memory.

“I was neither excited nor unexcited," he recalls of the job. "I just guess I thought, 'this is what I do next.' I had graduated and gotten these degrees and I guess I was supposed to get a job then. And it happened.”

Citing a lack of passion for flash memory, Hodges left the job after two months and at 23 years old moved back in with his parents in Santa Cruz.

Though he eschewed the technical training from his degree, Hodges credits the skills learned at MIT as integral to the founding of Adventure Out.

“I don’t consider it [my degree] a waste…it was a degree in problem solving. I apply my problem solving and engineering skills to business every day I don’t build computer chips and solve calculus equations but I do apply the principles to what I do all the time.”

Through problem solving Adventure Out turned a passion for adventure into a viable business venture. Now the largest outdoor school in California, Hodges must grin at the success of his brainchild that began as an alternative to a real career.

Check out upcoming Adventure Out classes and trips and book an adventure right now!