Arizona orienteering clubs embrace diverse terrains and target new members

Orienteering participants use compasses and detailed topographic maps to move from point to point along a course. (Photo by Jack Milton / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Cristina Luis charted the course of the Cholla Chaser map during Southwest Spring Week in 2019. She says the group has around 30 cohesive members but relies on a mailing list of 700. (Photo courtesy of B. Brooke Mann)

PHOENIX – Ask the president of the Greater Phoenix Orienteering Club, Ron Birks, what sets Arizona apart from other states for orienteering, and he’ll answer you in one word: “Trees.”

In many places in the Arizona desert, Birks says, “You can see forever. And that’s just not a challenge enough for Birks and his fellow guidance people. They compete in a sport that tests both physical fitness and navigation skills, as participants use compasses and topographic maps to find destinations called checks as quickly as possible.

But orienteering in the desert is quite doable. This relies solely on the mapping skills of those designing the courses.

“What we’re looking for are things a little more rippling,” Birks said, “that have gully systems that we can put destinations in so people actually have to use their navigation expertise.”

Arizona has more than a desert, and indeed, in the summer, Birks and his club shun the Phoenix heat and host events in Flagstaff, where there are lots of trees. Cristina Luis, president of the Tucson Orienteering Club, said the state’s diverse environments make it possible to participate year-round.

“It’s actually a great place for orienteering because we have such variety,” she said, “and although you wouldn’t want to orient yourself in the valleys at this time of the year. year we have all these different altitudes. “

Birks and Luis are both runners who have long been interested in maps (Birks collected topographic maps from the age of 8), who find orienteering much more entertaining.

“If you have to run a marathon, it’s only three and a half hours, four hours on the curb,” Birks said, and it gets a little boring. Luis also called running on the roads “mind-numbing”.

In contrast, there are countless sources of variety in orienteering. On the one hand, the Phoenix club offers different categories of courses: traditional point-to-point challenges and events called differently “Score-O” or “rogaining” in which participants can choose for themselves the points towards which they wish to go. return, within a fixed period. Not all routes are done on foot either. An upcoming event features a “Bike-O”.

Ron Birks, right, speaks to attendees at the Sundance Park Beginner’s Clinic at the Phoenix club on June 5. Attracting younger members has been a priority since Orienteering USA. (Photo courtesy of the Greater Phoenix Orienteering Club)

Then there is no shortage of variations depending on the terrain, in terms of altitude, foliage, vegetation, etc., to differentiate orienteering from other sports.

“A tennis court in one location is very similar to a tennis court in another location,” said Bill Cusworth, a counselor in the Bay Area. “I always use that as an example because I played tennis, but in this sport, every time you go somewhere, everything is different.”

Cusworth has competed in orienteering races in about half of the 50 states, as well as Scotland and Australia. His favorite course, he said, was at Riverside State Park near Spokane, Wash., A wide open area with boulders he found interesting.

Cusworth said he was a member of the board of directors of the national governing body Orienteering USA for six years and is currently involved in a youth orientation map program, through which he has worked with Birks. He said that despite a big push from young people in sports, it is difficult to get the attention of children.

“There are so many different things competing for children’s time,” he said. “It’s hard to be on their radar and make it sound like something they want to do. “

Luis said his club members were also mostly on the older side. She added that they are eager to share the “secret” of orienteering and that they are not ashamed to participate.

“They probably don’t care a lot about what people think of them,” Luis said, “because they’re doing a weird sport, and you usually wear weird clothes, and you’re, like, doing. run in the wilderness or the forest or wherever you do.

Or, as Cusworth rated the community, “They’re all types of geeks like me.

The Tucson club has several built-in mechanisms for community outreach. Luis said they have a mailing list of around 700 people but only 30 members so there are lots of opportunities for expansion. Additionally, she has been “relentless” in recruiting members for her running club. Luis wants to run more events with tight deadlines so that competitors can socialize before and after and compare their scores.

She also helps welcome newbies with introductory lessons. There is a lot to be learned about orienteering, which requires a balance between physical and navigational abilities which Luis says most people would say around 50/50. Birks said it’s easy to lose sight of your positioning when “running like a gazelle”.

“The best results I get are when I think I’m running too slowly,” he said.

Both clubs have events coming up later in July. The Tucson club have a Score-O coming up on July 17th at Jesse Owens Park. And although the recent Coconino National Forest closures have forced a two-week postponement, the Phoenix club are heading towards Thorpe park for Flagstaff 2021 sailing games on July 24.

Dino J. Dotson