From the depths of the Berkeley High School (BHS) club fair comes an activity known to only the most adventurous and alternative students. An activity centered around the idea of getting lost and then un-lost and one rumored to be the very most efficient method of earning sports credit, the orienteering club at BHS has been hiding in the shadows for far too long. Orienteering is a sport played mostly in Scandinavia, based around a mixture of navigating, hiking, and racing. The way it works is that you are given a map of an area; generally one in nature, with multiple points on it that you must make your way to in a specific order before returning to where you started. Despite sounding simple, the sport can be very complex. Often the maps are incredibly basic and the terrain can be difficult, with no roads or paths to help you along the way. It’s a physical but also a very intellectually challenging sport as navigation and map reading are key skills you need to succeed.
As the previous Co-president Ben Jacobson-Bell put it, “It’s like hiking with a purpose.” The sport is only as competitive as you want it to be; many folks look at it as a nice walk around a forest while others view it as high stakes, a cross country dash towards the finish line. There is a ranking system for course difficulty from 1 to 7, and the harder ones have less detailed maps and more detailed terrain, making the process more difficult.
BHS is unique in having a team, as orienteering is not a common activity for high schools to offer. The orienteering events in the Bay Area are organized by the “Bay Area Orienteering Club,” and those are the events that the BHS team attends. According to Jacobson-Bell and the other prior Co-president Nathan Booth, the demographic of those at a meetup is mostly people in their thirties to fifties, boy scouts, and some families. High school teams are far and few in between. BHS is ahead of the foreseen orienteering boom that may occur post-pandemic, when surely high schoolers around the country will be struck with the urge to run through brush and trees with a map.
Besides the sport itself, orienteering at Berkeley High is known for its generosity to those who are seeking sports credit. Members are required to attend some meets and there are meetings and practices every week, but it’s only as hard as you want it to be in terms of physicality. As long as you walk home at a self reported brisk pace, it counts towards your hours spent exercising. Orienteering is a great option for those who don’t know where to start in regards to sports, but still want to find a community during their physical career at BHS. According to Booth and Jacobson-Bell, the community self identifies as “nerdy,” but of course is welcoming to all, no matter what social designation they give unto themselves. Unfortunately, activities are currently on a hiatus due to coronavirus restrictions, but as soon as things open again they will be ready to join back in the fray. So, as one would imagine they say in orienteering, “Grab a map, grab a compass, and have yourself a blast!”