Indoors or outdoors, bouldering is quite possibly the most fun you can have with your pants on (or not as the case may be). Here’s the why and the how of it all…
If you’re outdoor-minded you’ve probably rock climbed in some way. Birthday parties, school camps and scout leaders love to hang kids from a rope and pull them up the wall. Even if you haven’t, the idea of dominating a bit of rock or plastic with some silly string attached to a harness probably isn’t new. So what about those blokes without a rope? What is bouldering?
Unlike free-soloing, which involves climbing cliffs unaided tens or even hundreds of metres above the ground, bouldering takes a less deadly approach by staying within 6m of the ground. Climbing takes place on actual boulders, small cliffs or on artificial walls in a gym.
Climbing gyms are the perfect place to begin bouldering. Outdoor bouldering requires extra gear like mats and even the lowest grades can get your fingers cramping. Indoor lets you build your strength and technique in a safe environment so you can crush it on real rock.
Often the bouldering area at a gym is on a mezzanine level that can make it look pretty intimidating but don’t be fooled by the raised platform and dreadlocked dudes in long pants. Boulderers are usually just stoked you’ve left the rope behind and are keen to dish out advice on climbs (this is called “beta”).
What To Wear
- A lightweight shirt that breathes well and isn’t too tight.
- Shorts that let you bend your knees up to your chest, or some stretchy pants if it’s cold.
- Climbing shoes. You might get away with grippy trainers the first few times but trust me, the shoes are worth it.
- A chalk bag with some chalk. Dipping your sweaty paws into someone else’s stash isn’t a great way to make friends.
Don’t Be A Gumby
“Gumby” roughly translates to the popular surfing term “kook”. Dressed right you might not look like a gumby, here’s how to avoid acting like one:
- Visualise your route before you sit in front of the climb, don’t clog up a wall.
- Take one turn and move away from the wall, though most people won’t care if you double dip after falling off the first hold.
- Learn how to spot other climbers: arms up, thumbs in and focus on directing the climber feet first onto the mat. If you’re unsure just ask!
- Leave no trace: indoor or outdoor, respect your spot and the others using it.
- Outdoors: don’t aggressively clean the rock and never, ever, chip a hold.
What About The Actual Climbing?
Compared to rope climbing, bouldering is shorter, more intense and works your upper body harder. Perfect if you’re going for that outdoor-beefcake look. That said, good technique goes a long way so focus on where you can place your feet (tip: higher than that!), spend a while climbing easier climbs to dial in your movements and give yourself adequate rests so each attempt improves on the last.
If you’re worrying about grades, congratulations! You’re no longer a beginner and you’re well on your way to becoming hopelessly addicted to bouldering.