2009 Camp LA Sport

Camp LA Sport is an event that the 4WD megastore organises to bring hundreds of its customers and other like-minded people together to enjoy a weekend of social 4x4ing. We went along to Mabalingwe game reserve for the second staging of this annual event

Text and photographs: Stephen Smith

The second annual Camp LA Sport took place on the weekend of 2 – 4 October 2009, and offered real fun for the 4×4 family, as well as a number of noticeable improvements over the first year.

The event took place at the Mabalingwe game reserve just outside of Bela Bela (Warmbaths), the same venue as last year and the venue for all Camp LA Sports for the foreseeable future. Mabalingwe makes sense, being not much more than an hour and a half from Joburg, and maybe an hour from Pretoria.

And because LA Sport and Mabalingwe have formed such a close working relationship, and LA Sport has committed to holding the event there for a few years, LA Sport has been able to develop the trails and 4×4 playground into a quality facility.

This is the real reason for the improvements that we noticed in the 2009 event, having also attended the inaugural Camp LA Sport in 2008. The LA Sport team obviously learned a lot from the success of last year’s event, and also identified a few weaknesses.

The first improvement was the addition of two new 4×4 trails, Kubu Trail and Rocky Ridge, both offering a trickier challenge than the trails of last year. Rocky Ridge especially made everyone, no matter what vehicle they were driving, sit up and take notice of what the marshals had to say.

Beginning as a scenic drive down the rolling Mabalingwe hills, Rocky Ridge gets continually steeper and more difficult, culminating in a serious rock obstacle that had marshals scurrying hither and thither, moving rocks and sliding sand bags under wheels. Despite this a number of vehicles landed on their bellies, a noisy reminder to the drivers to keep an eye on the marshals, and to put the wheels exactly where they were told to.

Kubu route is a long, testing trail with spectacular views of the reserve, and a few rocky obstacles that kept most drivers on their toes. Our Jeep Rubicon, however, treated it with casual disdain, although we did approach it with a modicum of overkill, engaging both diff-locks, and disconnecting the sway bar. As they say: If you’ve got it, use it…

Camp LA Sport works because it is well organised. The vehicles are divided into groups, each led by a marshal. These groups then do one of the events at a time, be it one of the 4×4 trails, or the 4×4 gymkhana. So, having done the two trails, we moved on to take a bash at the gymkhana, and grab a spot of lunch at the same time.

Where the 4×4 trails are really designed with dad in mind, the gymkhana is for the kids. Yes, it involves some technical off-road driving, and tests both vehicles and drivers, but the name of the game is fun. Scooping plastic frogs and ducks out of a pond as you drive through it, before ramping up a muddy slope. Throwing balls at skittles as you drive by. Balancing a tin of dirty water on your head as you drive over axle-twisters and rocks. No matter the event, it had been organised with enjoyment in mind, and each one succeeded.

Having thrown balls, scooped frogs and spilt water, we headed towards the beer tent, not for a beer because we’d still be driving that afternoon, and sat down for a spot of lunch. The beer tent is also a new addition, and makes the day that much more relaxed, with tables and chairs to relax at while you enjoy a burger, lamb roll or one of the other meals.

That night, when all the action was over but before the “kuiering” was too advanced, the Voetspore team of Johan Badenhorst, Francois Marais and Gary Swemmer (also of LA Sport Menlyn) were on hand to give an account of their recent trip from Casablanca to Cape Town.

That done, most of the crowd (perhaps without the weary marshals) partied into the night, braai smoke blending into the starry night, and the sounds of happy families mixing with the sounds of the bushveld.

Then, morning arrived, it was time for everyone to head home in their own time, although a church service was held on the farm, and there is always the lion-feeding to watch.

One of the problems with 4x4ing is that it often takes a fair bit of time to do, or doesn’t really involve the family. Yes, going away for a week on holiday lets you really use your 4×4, but you can’t do it very often. And 4×4 trails can be done in a day, but they’re really about the driver, aren’t they?

But Camp LA Sport solves this issue by offering a weekend that blends family fun with some serious off-roading, and more. Camp LA Sport 2009 was such a success that the future of the event seems assured. Keep an eye on the LA Sport website (www.lasport.co.za) in months to come for news of the 2010 event.