My new-found addiction – bouldering, but it’s not just for adrenaline junkies (although there’s plenty of that too). You may ask what the hell is bouldering?! Just over a month ago I hadn’t a clue, now I’m getting withdrawal symptoms if I go a week without it. Basically, it’s rock climbing without the ropes – all you need is a chalk bag and a ‘spotter’ to help direct your fall, and nice soft mats to land on. It’s not about height or brute force it’s more about tackling ‘routes’ on low walls, the way marked by coloured ‘holds’. Each route is graded by ability, so you can chart your progression as you clamber your way around artificial features. A recent article in the Guardian claims that indoor climbing is growing faster than outdoor (something to do with the increasingly rubbish, wet summers and bitterly cold, windy winters?!) and rope-free bouldering is attracting the biggest crowd.
I knew coming to Norwich was going to be a challenge for me – I would be spending a few months working with the International Development research group (DEVCo) on a new sustainable livelihoods and marine conservation project in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society. So far so cool but unfortunately, to begin with, it was to be largely desk-based and oddly removed from the sea at University of East Anglia. Not much in the way of surf. What to do to fill this temporary, but gaping hole in my life? Then a friend asked me do I climb? ‘What, like trees?! Nope, never climbed before but I’ve wanted to for a long time.’ And so my introduction to bouldering began at the newly opened Highball climbing centre in Norwich.
Ok, so it’s not surfing – it’s a static environment and for now it’s indoors and not out in the wild elements (although more on that later). It is, however, one of the best activities I’ve found for cross-training. It’s as much about balance, agility, flexibility and creativity as it is strength and endurance. It enhances body awareness and positioning and you have to ‘read’ your route – not all that dissimilar to reading a new wave. For big-wave surfing and tow-surfing in particular its great because it really helps strengthen core stability and a strong grip, and you wouldn’t think it, greater leg power.
The other thing about it is the social scene, which beats the hell out of the gym. It’s really interactive, climbers of all abilities mixing, spotting, willingly sharing advice on new routes or technique. Very unpretentious, friendly fun. Best of all are the big couches and lounge area the Highball centre have cleverly thought of for you to collapse into when your fore-arms begin to seize and feet cramp. Their cafe has freshly baked cakes and intensely rich chocolate brownies. After a slice of that and a mug of chili-chai tea I’m ready to go again! You can easily hang out here all day – do a warm-up on the blues, take on a new challenge, have a break, mull over some new routes and tackle them again!
For more on outdoor bouldering in Ireland check this out, I’m very excited for that, especially given how epic my native Donegal looks for bouldering. I think it would make a great combo: A surfing-bouldering adventure trip, lots of down-time waiting for waves can be filled with climbing, once/if the weather ever improves!
And for the best indoor climbing experience (also offering rope climbing courses 2013), and the thing I’ll miss most when I leave Norwich, bouldering at Highball
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