To answer the question – it all depends (by now you should be used to the fact that there is never a simple answer 😉). The subject of 4×4 training has been bandied about relentlessly for many, many years – particularly in South Africa. At the height of the debate, many jumped on board what they considered to be the easy route to a “cool career”. The reality is that being a dedicated (as opposed to part-time / hobby) trainer takes resilience, commitment and experience. It is not an easy path, and many are no longer in play.
The word “experience” may have caught your eye. There are two components to this – it’s about both you and your trainer. Experience in this industry is about bums in seats experience. In his book “Outliers”, published in 2008, Malcolm Gladwell’s hypothesis was that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”. He found that it took a remarkable amount of time on practice (10 000 hours or ten years’ worth) to gain mastery. In my humble opinion, being an off-road instructor is no different. Beyond the qualifications on paper (which are also relevant), an off-road instructor should have done the hard yards behind the wheel, getting the experience in a variety of different terrains. The more experience an instructor also has with pupils, the better. Part of the job includes judging people, understanding where their limits lie, being able to push them to achieve without pushing them too far – which results in either damage, or them losing their nerve, or both. In fact, I would go as far as saying that a good trainer is perhaps part psychologist, with the soul of a teacher – a “keeper of the knowledge” who gets personal satisfaction from imparting this knowledge to their students and seeing them achieve their personal best. A really great trainer understands people, vehicles systems and the interplay between these two factors and the terrain. And that is a very rare combination…
The second part of experience is about you, and the understanding that having done a course is simply the beginning of a life-long learning curve. No course “qualifies” you (in real life as opposed to on paper) to achieve in the great outdoors – only actual experience does that. The more you actually do, the more you are capable of doing… And failure? There is a saying that goes “if you don’t get stuck, you aren’t playing hard enough”. Whilst this attitude is discouraged in the wilderness, it is not a bad ethos when training or when engaging in “weekend warrior” activities. Each time you don’t succeed, you (hopefully) learn – which earns you “experience” for when you are in places where there are dire consequences (financial and physical) to making mistakes (like a desert or the wilds of Botswana etc).
Talking of consequences, one way of mitigating serious drama is to travel with a “buddy” vehicle. Ideally, someone who works with the same level of sanity as you in difficult circumstances. Friendships of this nature are often forged on training weekends, where you are both trained to the same standard and are on the same page with regard to protocols and procedures. This is another, oft ignored, benefit of a training weekend / session with others. In many cases, the group that trains together often ends up travelling together in the future. Think of it as a pool of people from which to draw, to accompany you on your adventures. This is particularly important when you first begin off-roading, and don’t yet have a circle of off-road mates…
A good trainer is not necessarily someone standing in the middle of a circle, wearing a big hat and wielding the proverbial whip. The focus should always be on the clients. Many of the best trainers I know are quietly spoken individuals, with great inner strength. The strength is an important quality – one needs to be very firm with people on occasion, to ensure that safety codes are adhered to, and that no individual or vehicle comes to harm. The training 4×4 track is not the place for hooligans without discipline.
Off-road terms are regularly thrown around – a bit like name-dropping in the mink and manure set… In reality, not everyone understands the terms correctly – which is neither here nor there. What is of importance, however, is to understand the terminology correctly, in order to understand what follows, in the training environment. A good trainer will enlighten you, providing you with a proper understanding of the basic (and hopefully less basic too) terms which will enable you to understand the explanations of the off-road systems on your vehicle. With a proper understanding of what your vehicle has on board (particularly in this age of computerised / electronic systems), you will be able to get the best out of your vehicle, and limit possible damage. Often, what NOT to do is as important as what you should be doing. With this understanding under your belt, you can venture out and gain valuable experience with much less risk of damage. Sometimes, it’s as simple as knowing how to engage the right mode to allow for your vehicle to be towed (because, despite popular misconception, every brand is capable of having a ‘moment’).
Whilst on that subject, something else which is of vital importance is having the correct insurance for your vehicle. All insurance is NOT equal, especially if you are off-roading, crossing borders, or needing a vehicle to be repatriated from ‘the middle of nowhere’. Cross Country Insurance Company obviously offers great products with regard to this – so be sure to #TakeThemWithYou!!
A good instructor is more often than not humble, completely lacking in arrogance and always assumes that the group has a level of zero knowledge when setting out to train. Whilst clients often THINK they know, they may be mistaken or confused, and newbies in the group are often reluctant to ask questions for fear of appearing ‘stupid’. Starting at the very beginning mitigates these issues. Whilst on the subject of people assuming levels of knowledge they don’t necessarily have, one needs to address the comment that individuals “have been off-roading for decades”. This may be true, but it does not necessarily mean they have been doing it correctly. Vehicles systems also change all the time, and what would work with an older version will not necessarily work with the latest models – they require different driving techniques.
Another element of joining a training school is that they often organise excursions above and beyond the actual training, which allows you to join in, get experience, or even meet more people for your off-road tribe – or just enjoy a super trip without the stress of organising it yourselves. You would also have your trusty trainer close at hand should you encounter anything which makes you uncomfortable. Often, these outings may not even have anything to do with off-roading, but rather simply an outing to enable you to enjoy the great outdoors…
I have just scratched the surface on a subject which I am very passionate about. It is a long debate, and worth doing your homework before committing to a course and placing your faith in an off-road institution. For those of you based in Natal (or prepared to take a weekend trip), there is an association Cross Country has with an individual trainer / institution. Travis Duggan has a track in Hillcrest and has been training for over 20 years.
Here’s what Travis has to say on the subject of 4×4 training: “I believe every person who purchases a 4×4 vehicle should attend a reputable 4×4 Training Course. Whether you have driven 4×4 vehicles for most of your life, or if you are brand new to 4×4 driving – there is always something new to learn and take away with you to incorporate into your driving. The electronic features that the newer 4×4 vehicles are coming out with need to be explained and used practically by the driver, to ensure he/she remembers how it works and how to engage or disengage safely.
Once you know and understand your vehicle, and the safety protocols, only then go out and join in with your 4×4 Club days – to gain all the vital experience required to 4×4 safely. That way you’re not learning the bad habits of non-professional ‘trainers’ 😉. My belief is that you’re never too old to learn – I still learn new things, in different conditions, every single day.”
Travis offers 4×4 Driver Training, on-site 4×4 Training throughout the world, access to the Clifton Canyon 4×4 Track in Hillcrest, a Waterfall Experience at the Shongweni Farmers Market, a 4×4 Trail Experience of the Valley of 1000 Hills, Advanced & Defensive Driving (Skidpan), the Clifton Canyon Trek, Corporate events and many more. All Travis’ details are in the info block (he’s best on cell and WhatsApp) – go explore some of his options 😉.
And lastly, and in signing off, remember to have fun out there!!
Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team
#Off-Road #4×4 #TakeUsWithYou #CrossCountry #AllTerrain
Travis Duggan: 083-232-7065
Drop Travis a note (ideally on WhatsApp) and ask him to send you all the details to the activities detailed above – he’s got a stunning set of little WhatsApp brochures that give you all the info you need.