Would you know what we’d been up to at the weekend if we told you we were smearing, flashing and crimping? If so, you’re probably familiar with the world of bouldering: indoor, ropeless climbing featuring a series of ever-changing, increasingly challenging, colour-coded circuits.
Bouldering’s not exactly new, but with 23-year-old Shauna Coxsey increasing its profile by becoming the first Brit to win the World Cup last month, we reckoned it was time to investigate the hype…
Boulder Brighton is set on a trading estate near Portslade station, and on entering you’re struck by the amount of bright, open space. The walls rise to about 20 feet, so just about vertiginous enough to freak out the average novice but not so high that you risk braining yourself on the springy crash mats below. As we soon discover, the absence of ropes, carabiners and helmets does make you feel more like a cool Californian beatnik climber than the corresponding British stereotype — clutching a thermos halfway up a soggy crag in Cumbria.
And it must be said, we spot a few dudes who fancy themselves in the former role, strutting around topless like characters in the documentary Valley Uprising (DVD available in the club’s shop if you haven’t seen it. It’s amazing). Sure, this’ll be a draw for some, maybe intimidating for others, but either way it’s proof of what climbing can do for your physique. These guys are ripped.
But the real boon here for the workout-phobic is that you’re so busy clinging on for dear life that you don’t notice you’re exercising — until you drop off the wall and realise you’re sweating, your chest is pumping and places you never knew existed hurt. Aching latissimus dorsi, anyone? How about a strained carpi ulnaris?
Yes, there’s nothing like being stuck on a wall to help you realise your limitations. After a couple of easy intro climbs, it quickly starts to get hard. Really hard. Luckily, our instructor Tom provides some beginners’ tips: cross your arms and get close to the wall to avoid barn-dooring (swinging outwards), straighten your arms to conserve muscle energy, and use your toes instead of the flats of your feet. Seems so obvious when you try it.
In contrast to the archetype of the solitary, meditative climber, battling against themselves and the elements, bouldering is marketed as a social activity. And this comes across as soon as you enter Boulder Brighton’s space. Co-owner James tells us about the events and competitions they organise, the popularity of the on-site cafe and the importance of music to the experience.
“I’m really into music and I make the playlists myself,” he says. “We want it to be alternative without being too out-there. It takes me ages to choose the tracks, they need to work within the space and I always check there’s nothing sweary on there.”
We ask him about other climbing complexes that have sprung up in the area, and he’s genuinely magnanimous towards the “competition”. “It’s great that they’re bringing more people into climbing,” he chirps. “It’s a really friendly sport where people encourage each other. Maybe because there’s no money in it.” Judging by the popularity of this place, that might not be the case for long.
For more about bouldering and booking details see www.boulderbrighton.com
To get you in the mood, here are our top five “bouldering” tracks…
‘World Upside Down’ – Jimmy Cliff
‘Hold On’ – John Lennon
‘Rock Your Baby’ – George McCrae
‘On The Wall’ – The Jesus And Mary Chain
‘Take The Skinheads Bouldering’ – Camper Van Beethoven (yeah, we know)