Out on America’s West Coast, just to the left of California about 60 miles, lies a 21-nautical-mile-long geographical wasteland known as San Clemente Island.  It makes up the southern tip of California’s Channel Islands, making it the metaphorical hell to the comparable heaven of Santa Catalina Island, which is located a bit to the northeast.

While San Clemente might be considered beautiful and a piece of untamed nature to some, to the indoctrinated it is an infernal hellscape, populated by more foxes and feral goats than humans, and the scene of unspeakable tortuous training meted out by Navy SEAL instructors during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Third Phase.

They call it “The Rock”

Ok, I might be employing some hyperbole here, but in the mind of the typical BUD/S student, still trapped in the almost-completed 26-week training program, San Clemente Island represents the last big hurdle of SEAL training.  It also represents a voyage into the heart of darkness, where BUD/S instructors have free reign over the trainees, unbridled by the rules of civilized society found back on the mainland, at the BUD/S compound.

There ain’t no Navy brass to save you on San Clemente Island.

Given that BUD/S instructors have only about three and a half weeks left to make a final determination regarding a trainee’s fitness to become a full-fledged Navy SEAL, before the class heads back to Coronado for graduation and movement on to SEAL Qualification Training (SQT), the San Clemente portion of training has assumed a mythical standing as a unique and final crucible within BUD/S.

Due to that reputation, and the necessity to make students prove themselves one last time in training, the time spent on “The Rock” has assumed its place in BUD/S lore alongside Hell Week and Pool Comp as a major obstacle to be overcome.  God knows, this author witnessed some of his strangest and craziest moments at BUD/S while at San Clemente.  Here are just ten of those, though there are surely more that my feeble mind has tucked away in its darkest, most recessed inner gray matter, never to be thought of again.  Self preservation in action.

1. The surf zone brakes a trainee’s leg

San Clemente is known for its big surf and cold water.  In fact, one of BUD/S’ numerous fatalities occurred at the Island some years back, when a trainee emerged from the 5.5-nautical-mile swim (which used to be held at San Clemente), and died right there on the shore, of hypothermia.  The water and the surf zone are no joke.