All climbing is physical, that means you can get hurt. And this includes bouldering at the gym.
When bouldering, more often than not you fail. And failing means falling. Ergo in bouldering you fall a lot. Generally that’s no biggie, you plop onto the mat, look quizzically at your fingertips and then get back on the wall for another try. But each fall is an opportunity to hurt yourself. We don’t want to be all doom and gloom, hellfire and brimstone, we just care about you and we don’t want you to get hurt.
We’ve worked hard to mitigate the risk of injury at our gyms but ultimately your safety is your responsibility. The Northside and Lactic Massive are here to help in any way we can but in the end you have to do it yourself because no one else can do it yourself.
FALLING IS A SKILL
Our floors are padded but it’s not like landing on a cloud and it’s important for you to learn how to fall. Judo masters, gymnasts, carnies, circus folk, even parkour-ers practice falling and we fall way more than all those dudes combined. Boulderers should practice falling.
Firstly, ask yourself if you’re comfortable falling from a particular problem – if you’re not don’t try it! If you are, assess the fall zone for things you could fall into, this could be slabs, protruding features, holds or things left on the mats etc. Make sure there is no one under the problem you are trying before you begin, people are just like big moving hazards. If you have any concerns about your fall zone then rope a mate in to spot you – a little friendly backup can go a long way in giving you confidence to go for it in the knowledge that you’re not alone.
The corollary to being aware of others is being aware your own damn self. Don’t wander through someone else’s drop zone. Don’t linger in dangerous spots, pay attention to where you are in relation to other climbers. Basically, don’t be a hazard.
Onto the falling part. Generally you know you’re going to ping off so eyeball your landing, manipulate your body – ideally before you lose contact with the wall – so you land on your feet with your weight distributed evenly and your knees slightly bent. Relax and accept the fact you are falling, don’t fight it. Avoid twisting or spinning in the air and don’t put your hands out to protect you, wrists go snap pretty easily. If when you hit the mat you can remain standing with little effort then do it, but if momentum is carrying you don’t be afraid to fall over.
When you are at the wall – and especially if you are new to bouldering – practice falling. Doing this in a controlled environment will get your body and mind used to falling correctly so you will engender safe climbing habits and encode engrams that will protect you and others from harm.
SPOTTING IS NOT CATCHING
Spotting is also a skill – the most important part of which is knowing why you’re doing it. You are not trying to catch the climber, you are trying to guide them to the ground safely. Stand strongly with you feet shoulder width apart and your dominant foot slightly ahead, your arms raised at the ready, elbows bent, hands up. Stay vigilant as your buddy climbs higher, keep your eyes on them and track them with your arms even when they’ve topped the route. If they do come off support their torso and guide them to the mat so they land upright on their feet. If they’re horizontal concentrate on supporting their shoulders to ensure their feet or legs contact the ground first rather than have them plow into the mat headfirst. Spotting is a serious responsibility, don’t do a half-baked job.
Before the climber leaves the ground, look at them in the eye and communicate verbally, a nod and a wink are not enough. At a minimum you need a “Go for it, I’ve got you.” so there is no misunderstanding. You have a contract with the climber that puts their life in your hands literally, enter into the contract solemnly and do a good job
The spotters secondary responsibility is crowd control. If your mate is up on the wall then keep other people out of the drop zone. This saves your mate from the potential of a nasty collision whilst at the same time saving the idle spectator from getting a kick in the head from an errant flying foot.
Remember spotting is like presents at Christmas, the giving is as important as the receiving. It’s nice to ask if someone wants a spot and it’s nice to be asked. Remember we’re all in this together so don’t be shy.
None of this advice is revolutionary, nor is it that complicated. Even though it’s simple this advice will not only keep you safe climbing indoors but it will also lay the foundation for you staying safe when you are bouldering in the outdoors.
Bodies are breakable so be careful, know your limits, take responsibility for your safety, stay healthy and keep sending.
For an exhaustive look at falling, check this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACimqUHPxoM
For a good piece on spotting, read this. http://www.climbing.com/skills/spot-on/