Go wild in the country;Reviews;Outdoor education;Books

9th July 1999 at 01:00
RADICAL SPORTS SERIES. Surfing, Mountain-biking,In-line skating, Windsurfing, Snowboarding, Rock-climbing, Canoeing and kayaking, Orienteering. Heinemann pound;9.99 each.

Yes, that's rad, not trad. Alf Alderson on a series that gets the adrenalin pumping.

This series of guides aims to get children over 10 years old out into the great outdoors by introducing them to some of the most popular "adrenalin" sports (although what's so "radical" about orienteering - unless you get lost - I'm not too sure).

The recent explosion in the popularity of outdoor activities hasn't always filtered down to the pre-teens, who are, apparently, more intent on getting their thrills from a computer screen. For that reason alone, these guides could well turn out to be a timely introduction to some unusual sports.

The books are very accessible, starting with brief history before moving on to the equipment needed. This focuses quite well on ensuring that readers - children - get gear that is suited to them rather than to adults, and that they don't end up with the wrong kit at the wrong price. Many of the sports featured are highly image-conscious, or have been in the past - and beginners often get fobbed off with equipment that looks good but is unsuitable for their abilities, so it's good to see this practical approach.

I was also impressed to find exercise, stretching and diet covered, but in a way that children will easily understand. It's important to encourage youngsters to look at the effect a sport may have on their bodies - apart from getting the adrenalin pumping - and understanding the demands of these high-energy activities from the start can only be of benefit as they get older, especially if they get seriously involved in their chosen sport.

From here it's on to techniques and skills, with illustrations to show how to stand up on a surfboard, paddle a kayak and so on. The text is perhaps a little light on technical details, but too much detail would probably put young readers off. And bearing in mind that kids generally pick up "balance" sports (which applies to most of those in this series) pretty naturally and a lot more quickly than adults, this will probably pose few problems.

But what about safety? There are safety tips throughout the chapters on technique and skills, covering everything from the obvious - such as checking your harness and rope before you set off rock-climbing - to the easily overlooked, such as wearing waterproof sunblock when surfing.

The "glamour" side of each sport isn't overlooked either, with information on international competitions and shots of the stars in action, followed by all the boring staff on clubs, associations and so on (which I noticed for surfing at least was out of date).

I'm not sure that the books have been written by experts in the various sports - there are some strange definitions in the glossaries of the activities I know well, but the authors have succeeded in putting together a series of easy and attractive introductions to some popular outdoor activities.

Whether this will increase their uptake by young people is a moot point - they have to have some interest to read the book in the first place - but if their interest is there, these books will certainly point them in the right direction. They will also expose children to, dare I say it, risk, none of which is underestimated. This assumes parents and teacher will let their kids get out into the wild blue yonder in the first place - but without risk life is pretty dull, and when did you last meet an interesting and fulfilled individual who's led a risk-free existence?

Alf Alderson is editor of 'Surf' magazine.

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