Woodridge Preparatory School Grade 7s dig deep and score a Great Tri

By Billy Teeton

Since the school’s inception over 70 years ago, Woodridge ‘Preppies’ have learned to rough it, both in the Van Staden’s Valley and in the Thornhill district, between Port Elizabeth and Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape.

During the year, the bush here buzzes with activity as pupils take on challenges, perpetuating a routine that these South African boys and girls have been delighting in for many years. Exploring deep valleys, ‘kloofing’,1 splashing in crystal-clear streams, swimming in dams with nature’s interesting and wonderful creatures, mountain biking on farm roads, tracks and footpaths: all this wealth has been theirs. It is largely thanks to an extensive campus of nearly 240 ha and to extremely neighbourly and supportive landowners that our pupils have been able to venture from the classroom door to explore and camp in the most glorious of surroundings, sharing space with baboons, blesbok and occasionally even bugs!

The Great Tri

Yes, at Woodridge, we don’t have to go further than our immediate community to meet the great outdoors face to face. We always endeavour to achieve in a challenge of some sort, pushing ourselves slightly out of our comfort zones – be it on two legs, two wheels or by paddle power. It is then that we see groups evolving, problems being overcome. With the development of a sense of pride and achievement comes a modest confidence that opens many different doors in ‘real life’. At the end of the first term each year, one particular activity stands out from the rest – when every single Grade 7 boy and girl puts his or her best foot forward during a four-day triathlon that engages them in a wealth of opportunity for personal, spiritual and social development. The ‘Great Tri’ refers to the three outdoor pursuit disciplines of hiking, canoeing and cycling that the pupils undertake. The aim is to get the entire grade completing the 50 km challenge, which is NOT a race.

Initiative, resourcefulness, independence and teamwork skills are nurtured during a journey that includes off-campus biking, canoeing down the Gamtoos River and hiking along the beach to Van Staden’s River mouth. It is a wonderful opportunity for the staff who accompany the children to get a clear insight into the character, physical fitness and stamina of each of the pupils. It is also a chance for the students to develop leadership skills through serving and supporting one another.

The logistics, including the transportation of bikes, canoes and general kit is a pretty complex operation. As a result, parent volunteers play a vital role, also assisting with the catering and safety on the water, and generally helping with special treats to ‘sugar the pill’ in some cases. For many of the new pupils, this could be their very first night out under canvas, so this is an opportunity for the ‘old hands’ to show them how it’s done. The summer days are long, so there is no rush to get to the final destination; rather, is this a chance to enjoy the cool waters of Lilypad Pond in the Van Staden’s River gorge, and just so is the hiking or biking alongside one’s mates. There’s the opportunity, too, to stop and take in the comprehensive variety of wildlife that can be found in this pristine, coastal valley bush and along the remote coastline.

Embracing the ethos

Woodridge staff – both in the front office and on the frontline – embrace the ethos of outdoor education. They hike, bike and canoe, fix punctures galore, empty canoes of water and basically just ‘sweat it out’ with the children, giving truth to the catch phrase, ‘Woodridge is more than a school… it is an experience!’ Through experiences such as this, the Woodridge Preppies begin to realise this truth about themselves – that each of them has more courage, more strength and more compassion than they would ever have fathomed. “Now that’s why I came to Woodridge,” exclaimed one pupil, on completing the Great Tri.


1. Kloofing is an adventure activity that typically involves the descent into a deep ravine or watercourse that may be dry or wet. The defining factor is usually that the ravine is several times deeper than it is wide. All manner of walking, scrambling, climbing, swimming, plunging, jumping, slides or abseiling (rappelling) could be involved. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kloofing.)

Category: Featured Articles, Winter 2013

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