The Arizona State Outdoors Club (AOC) has drawn students, staff and alumni from their day-to-day routines and into the environment since 1964. From kayaking to stargazing, to rock climbing and camping, AOC utilizes state and national parks and forests to bring its members into the present moment and appreciate the time spent with each other.
Sometimes, that quality time ends with a salsa dancing class in the desert.
Max Hackert, a freshman studying supply chain management, attended her first ever camping trip with AOC over this past Labor Day weekend in Flagstaff. Several weeks later during an AOC celebration in the desert, she stood before the group to teach an impromptu salsa class.
"There was a priority of 'hey, let's kick off the semester well in the fall with some music,'" Hackert said. "We had a DJ and there was a lot of dancing."
AOC is the largest outdoors club at the University. With over 300 active members, it is also among one of the largest organizations across University campuses, the club's leadership said.
Andy Ma, the vice president of AOC, said that, for him, "exercising outdoors is a more enjoyable experience" than going to the gym.
The opportunities for AOC members to escape the confines of University life are plentiful.
AOC has traveled to California, Colorado, Utah and Nevada in past years to make the most of the landscapes in the southwest. Members have taken trips to Horseshoe Bend to kayak, Monument Valley to backpack and all across Arizona for other adventures.
In addition to the weekend and multi-day trips – like kayaking the Colorado River and out-of-state backpacking adventures – AOC allows individual members to get together and plan their own trips throughout the year.
"We have a more relaxed approach to the things we do, it's good for beginners who are just getting started to connect with nature," Ma said.
For some of the more intensive trips, the club takes several safety precautions. AOC assigns an experienced member to lead trips and guide beginners throughout their adventure. The club also holds briefings and training before certain trips to educate members on procedures and details.
Ma said he realized that doing outdoor activities brings him back to what makes him truly happy: "the simple things in life."
"It brings to the simple life, and I find it really beautiful with the world we live in now," Ma said.
When AOC returns from trips, members get to reflect on their experiences and bond over the memories they made with each other.
"It is a strong sense of community, and that's a really good part of being mentally healthy," Ma said. "When you don't have the internet, it's only the company of your friends."
Ma said that he fondly remembers paddling 9 miles upstream the Colorado River alongside his friend while on a kayaking expedition through Horseshoe Bend. Eventually, he and the group reached an inlet where they could rest and recharge their spirits.
AOC President Nichith Ratheesh, a graduate student studying microbiology, said the club plans outdoor activities almost every weekend. But there are even more social hangouts outside of the trips they take.
Usually AOC members will gather after their weekly meetings at the Memorial Union every Tuesday to socialize at members' residences or out at restaurants.
Ratheesh's goal this year is to grow their community, get more sponsorships and work toward making their outdoor activities free.
Interested Sun Devils can partake in a two-week trial period where they can try club activities before committing to a membership and paying their dues, Ratheesh said.
The club has a $40 annual membership with free gear to their trips and 10% off at the Phoenix Rock Gym. Officers of the club are searching for new members who are spontaneous and "down for an adventure."
AOC has upcoming trips in September, including camping at Wet Beaver Creek, kayaking at Lake Powell and tubing in the Salt River.
AOC also has a "once in a decade" trip coming up in October where they will be chasing a solar eclipse in Monument Valley.
Edited by Grey Gartin, Alexis Waiss and Grace Copperthite.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @CacalMaile on X.