Last year, two climbing films – Free Solo and Dawn Wall – hit the big screen. A seemingly small moment that, if you ask me, will play a pivotal role in the climbing community. These two films put an incredible but overlooked sport into the limelight. If you’re new to the world of climbing, they might have left you wondering what is bouldering and whether you should start.
Alex Honnold’s ascent up El Cap had non-climbers on the edge of their seat as they watched him perform a monumental achievement. At this years Oscars, Jimmy Chin and crew won the Oscar for Best Documentary for Free Solo – the first time a climbing film has ever won this prestigious award. With all this recent mass-media coverage on my favourite sport, I’m excited to see what’s in store for the world of bouldering.
So, what is bouldering and why should you start?
What is bouldering? I once heard bouldering be described as “finding the most awkward route up a rock that you could probably walk around”. Honestly, that’s not far from the truth. Bouldering is, essentially, rock climbing but without a rope. It’s challenging, exhilirating and so much fun. It’s something that I urge everyone to try at least once and here’s 5 reasons why you should try bouldering…
1. IT’S ACCESSIBLE AND AFFORDABLE TO START
The most important point to begin with is that bouldering is an accessible and affordable hobby to start. It’s open to almost anyone of any ability and you don’t really need any equipment when you’re first starting out.
I’d recommend giving it a try before you buy climbing shoes. Most climbing gyms will have shoes that you can borrow. If they don’t, I’d recommend wearing some non-bulky trainers such as Converse.
How much does it cost?
Entry to a climbing gym tends to cost around £10. My local council gym actually has a bouldering room, so I’m lucky in the sense that I was able to use the bouldering room for free with my normal gym membership. But, £10 per session isn’t overly expensive and if you decide to go regularly you can get a climbing gym membership.
What equipment do you need?
As for equipment, all you’ll need is a pair of climbing shoes, some chalk and a chalk bag. That’s it! Climbing shoes can be expensive so for your first pair I’d recommend opting for something on the lower-end of the scale whilst you decide if bouldering is right for you. Do your research before buying shoes though as sizing can be an odd one for climbing shoes!
I use a Psychi chalk bag, which I find to be the perfect size for indoor climbing. I actually used to have this chalk bag in grey but, in true Tasmin fashion, I left it at a climbing gym and lost it. Psychi kindly gifted me a new chalk bag to feature on my blog, which just so happened to be a red version of my old, trusty Psychi chalk bag!
You’ll need some chalk if you want to get a grip on the wall. Chalk balls are perfect for beginners. They’re not as messy as loose chalk and they’re pretty inexpensive too. Some gyms won’t let you use loose chalk so it’s always a good idea to have a chalk ball in your bouldering gym kit.
Oh and I’d recommend getting a chalk brush so you can brush any excess chalk off the holds. It helps improve grip and if you’re climbing outdoors, it’s even more important to leave no chalk behind as it could damage the rocks. Again, you can pick up a chalk brush for fairly cheap. Psychi do a great chalk brush for £4.99.
2. GAIN CONFIDENCE
Bouldering can do amazing things for your confidence levels. After all, you’re quite literally throwing yourself at a wall. And if that doesn’t build confidence, I don’t know what will.
Confidence is one thing that I’ve always struggled with. I’m great at faking it but deep-down, I’m seriously self-critical and lack confidence as a result of that. So, bouldering is a sport that really does get me out of my comfort zone and help me build confidence.
Naturally, the more you go bouldering, the more your confidence will increase as you progress and become that tiny bit better with each and every move.
3. FUN-CTIONAL FITNESS
I love keeping fit. But, if you told my 14 year old self that I would one day become a self-confessed fitness lover, I would have laughed in your face.
What if you hate working out?
I haven’t always enjoyed fitness. But honestly, I don’t think it was sport I ever had a problem with. It was the whole “being forced to do sport I’m not good at with other people when I don’t want to” thing that I had a problem with.
If I only I knew then that all I had to do was find the right sports for me. All I needed to do was find the sports I enjoy and at the age of 25 years old, I can confidently say I’ve finally done it.
A couple of years ago, I dabbled in BJJ and MMA and absolutely loved both of those sports. I loved how freeing they were and how they made me feel strong. I loved that technique was just as important as strength and most of all, I loved that they were a form of functional fitness that could come in helpful if I ever found myself in a “tricky” hostile situation. But, they didn’t work around my current busy life so, with a heavy heart, I had to hang up my gi and my mma gloves. One day I would love to go back to them.
Thankfully, I found bouldering. A sport that equally makes me feel free. A sport that, like BJJ, is just as much about technique as it is strength. And finally, a sport that is functional. If I ever find myself stuck at the bottom of a ditch, I’ll be thankful that I learnt bouldering!
Honestly, bouldering is an amazing way to keep fit. You’ll train muscle groups you didn’t even know existed. Unlike other forms of exercise, bouldering provides a full body workout.
Yet, whilst climbing, it can be easy to forget that you’re even working out at all; it’s such a fun and exhilarating sport. It’s a similar reason to why I simply love getting outdoors or doing any kind of outdoors activity, especially the more serene sport of SUP.
4. CONSTANTLY CHALLENGE YOURSELF
Bouldering will undeniably challenge you. Whether you’ve just started out or you’ve been climbing for years, bouldering will always prove to be a challenge.
As you progress through the grades, you’ll find new challenges or cruxes to work through. It’s one of the things that I love about bouldering. It keeps me on my toes and forces me to push my limits.
It allows me to really put myself, my skills and my strength to the test. The best part? Completing a route that my brain was telling me I’d never be able to compete. The mental challenge of climbing is the biggest hurdle for me and that’s what makes it soooo satisfying when you finally send a project you’ve been working on for a while.
I truly believe that the physical and mental challenge of bouldering will help you build your confidence and equally, help you grow as a person.
5. GO BOULDERING ALONE OR WITH FRIENDS
Whether you enjoy spending time on your own or your a social butterfly, bouldering can be the perfect sport for you.
When can I go bouldering?
Unlike other sports, you aren’t confined to a schedule of set class times. Instead, you’re free to turn up to a bouldering gym (or a bouldering spot outdoors!) whenever suits you and your schedule.
It makes bouldering perfect for fitting into your life, whether you work 9am-5pm, 9pm-5am or any other time in between. Being able to go bouldering at a time that suits me is a blessing.
Who should I go bouldering with?
I’m an introvert and not much of a people-person. So, I love that you don’t need to go to group classes if you want to get into bouldering.
As long as you understand the safety precautions, you can head down to a climbing gym on your own and get stuck into some bouldering problems. Being able to go solo is perfect because I’m really not a fan of group-based sports.
Instead, you’ll find me heading to the climbing gym with my boyfriend. Although you can go alone, I find it much more fun to go with another person.
If you want to go with a group of friends, bouldering is a great social sport. Having a climbing partner also means you can spot each other and help guide or encourage on another on challenging projects. You also get to have a laugh together, try fun moves and make memories on the wall that you can share for months or years to come.
However, if you don’t have someone to climb with, or you’d rather go alone, don’t worry! Bouldering can still be the perfect sport for you as it’s an amazing solo sport. When it’s just you and the wall, you can really get into that climbing headspace and truly push your limits for a rewarding climb.
Bouldering is a sport that you’re probably going to see and hear more of over the next few months. So, if you’re looking for a new challenge, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and get on the wall for a day of fun.