A crew from Northside Boulders – the best damn gym in Melbourne-town – blasts up the Western Highway to find idyllic and accessible Venus Baths offers some great bouldering.
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/
A couple of months ago we did something that was a long time coming, something that Melbourne has been screaming out for. We opened a brand spanking, new bouldering gym – Northside Boulders.
A year before that, we – that is a bunch of psyched boulderers – had bought the city’s iconic bouldering institution The Lactic Factory. Lactic is much loved, so much so that it was bursting at the seams and we immediately realised that it needed a brother. A big brother.
All around the world bouldering is booming right now but we wanted to do it right. So we planned and designed and schemed and plotted and ordered holds and fought with councils and battled with landlords and got heaps and heaps of climbers psyched to help us.
In this process Lactic hasn’t missed out. We have increased the frequency of regular setting, introduced new holds and put back into the business to reward the climbers who have trained here for years.
But we’re not done at either gym.
That movie Field of Dreams was pretty good but it didn’t get it quite right. “If you build it they will come”, it said. That’s partly true but it’s not the whole story.
We built Northside and rebuilt Lactic and people have come but that’s not enough and we know it. Northside and Lactic are ongoing projects and we are still working on them both. We’re working to make them better facilities, integrating more regular classes because every one wants to get better, expanding our coaching sessions, bringing in more training and conditioning equipment, hosting more rad events and creating a space that engages with local climbing issues.
Balancing a hotbed of training über-psyche with an atmosphere that is inviting for people looking to first enter climbing is not an easy task but that is our aim. We want to use the best holds to support the freshest setting to make engaging, challenging and fun problems. We know that we need enough stuff to make a session fun in and of itself but also enough stuff to allow people to train hard and focussed.
Most of all – and what all of these other things feed up into – we are working to build a community. That is the whole point. Both at Northside and Lactic we are working to create places that climbers feel a part of and want to come to.
If you build it (and make it awesome) they will come (and be a part of it).
So thanks everyone, here's to climbing loads, getting strong and having fun.