The increasingly popular bouldering scene has climbers addicted. Louise Carroll visits Gravity Climbing Centre to find out what all the fuss is about.
Arriving at Gravity Climbing Centre, Inchicore, the volume of countless voices creates an echo that hums throughout.
The air is cool and people converse in every space, creating not just a sporting affair but also a large social gathering.
Tall, vividly painted walls zig-zag through the well-lit warehouse with colourful holds jutting out all-over.
These hand and foot holds range in colour, strategically placed, grading the level of difficulty for each route that can be taken on the walls, some stretching to a height of four and a half metres.
Not spectacularly high — but these walls are for bouldering as opposed to the likes of traditional climbing.
Don’t let height fool you — many of these walls make for a much more intense climb compared to that of the outdoors and holds are changed regularly to keep the routes fresh.
No ropes either — simply a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag that improves grip and reduces moisture. From here it’s up to the climber to hold on tight.
Those who have been bouldering for some time are easily recognisable — naturally protruding muscles on nimble bodies seem to be made perfectly for these dynamic leaps and movements.
The walls vary in width, incline and complexity, with some emulating caves, along with perfectly horizontal roof walls for the more advanced boulderers to try their hand at.
Overlaying every inch of ground is a gigantic ‘crash pad’ — essentially a blue mattress that is around one foot in depth — guaranteeing a soft landing when tired muscles give in.
It sounds like these precautions take the fear away entirely, however when I give it a go myself, it’s clear that a natural instinct to hold on tight and not let go is well and truly instilled.
I stand and watch the room for a few minutes, witnessing various levels of expertise from complete beginners all the way to advanced, and a willingness from many to help others improve.
It requires not only strength, but also demands focus and concentration. This can be seen before the climb, where many plan the strategy they will take to tackle it.
I meet Rob who started climbing over a year ago. “People look at where their body position should be, they’re checking that their feet are in the right position, that their hips aren’t out too much from the wall, looking at where is the best place to grip onto — there’s a lot of problem solving.”
“It’s expensive at first because you’re paying about ten euro each time — that’s to be able to borrow shoes and that,” he explains .
“It makes you strong and lean, not big and bulky,” says Rob. “Some people will tell you girls get on better when they start climbing. They don’t have much upper body strength so they focus a lot more on their technique which is huge.”
“A lot of guys would end up being able to climb not because they’re necessarily good at it but mostly because they can just hang on. Climbing can be very relaxed when you know how to do it properly and work on technique.”
A climber named Aoife explained how she began after being urged by her sister to do so. “My sister started bouldering when she was living in Australia. We went together here in Dublin — it was so much fun but I was terrible,” she says.
After an induction session and weeks of practice, Aoife began to enjoy the sport. “Everyone is very open and they just want to progress and have fun climbing — there’s a great attitude here.”
“There’s enough time to sit down, be tired and have a chat with someone. There’s a puzzle element to it also — if someone can give you a tip you’ll often end up completing that climb because of it,” she says.
How did bouldering come about?
The origins of bouldering are uncertain — some point to French alpine climbers in the 19th century who used sandstone boulders for practice when unable to make it up the mountains.
This potentially was the beginning of bouldering as a sport, but it is certainly an activity that nature has provided for man since the dawn of time.
Although popular in Europe, the US and Canada for many years now, bouldering is relatively new to Ireland.
Ricky Young, manager at Gravity Climbing Centre explains that “there were no sort of commercial walls in Ireland,” before Gravity opened over five years ago. “There were a few in Universities but they were mostly rope.”
“There were bouldering walls in England but none in Ireland,” says Ricky. “We thought the whole idea of bouldering was exciting and could certainly be expanded upon.”
There are noticeably more men than women climbing the walls, but compared to some other sports, it is doing exceedingly well at attracting more women to it. It’s probably around sixty per cent men, forty per cent women.”
There seems to be an air of teamwork and good nature among the climbers despite it being a sport played solely by the individual.
Competitions are run regularly for any climber that would like to compete and all ability is catered for in these.
“Mountaineering Ireland run a couple of different championships. We would also compete in England or in Europe,” says Ricky. “There’s an awful lot of opportunity and it’s also being included in the Olympics in 2020.”
Bouldering builds on both the physical and mental aspects of our bodies. Outside of competition, climbers compete with themselves and when you’ve given it a go yourself, it’s clear why this meditative and engaging sport is exploding in popularity.
Feature image by Louise Carroll
Video by Louise Carroll, made using GoPro Quik for Android