SANTA CRUZ -- Taking a break from earning merit badges and learning survival skills this fall, more than 1,000 Boy Scouts and their families camped out Friday night in the scouts' largest gathering yet at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
They came from as far away as San Luis Obispo and Lodi to pitch tents in the shadow of roller coasters such as the Giant Dipper. After a dinner of chicken strips and baked beans with candy for dessert, the scouts planned to act out skits and watch the Will Ferrell movie "Kicking & Screaming" on a screen on Main Beach.
Liz Hansenberg, a leader with Troop 325 from San Jose, said the scouts bonded and had fun at the special campout.
"It's a cool experience for the boys," Hansenberg said. "There's so many troops, and the older kids mingle with the younger kids."
Saturday morning, they planned to have a sand castle building contest then ride the Boardwalk's roller coasters. Scouts ages 8 to 14 attended.
Leaders said the event has grown in popularity since it started four years ago with 200 participants.
"It's been growing quite a bit every year," said Karley Pope, director of promotions and events for the Boardwalk.
Luckily for the scouts, clouds and rain transformed Friday into a mild evening with a pastel sunset.
The scouts could choose their campsites at designated areas on the Boardwalk, but they had to be off the beach, Pope said.
Last weekend, about 850 Girl Scouts participated in a similar sleepover event at the Boardwalk.
"The kids love to come out here and camp under the rides," said Hansenberg.
Friday afternoon, 10 scouts and their chaperones from Troop 291 drove about three hours from Lodi to attend the event.
Matt Lee, a 14-year-old senior patrol leader, just finished setting up his tent. He said it was his first time to the Boardwalk.
"I'm extremely excited," Lee said with a grin.
Assistant Scoutmaster Joe Giammona of the Lodi troop said some of the scouts already learned some camping skills this summer. But a few were newbies.
"For one or two (scouts), it may be their first night camping," Giammona said.
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