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Bouldering. 101.

Bouldering. 101.

Noticed a new bouldering gym pop up in town and want to try it? Good. New to bouldering? Even better. Here’s a cheat sheet for you:

The wall

Natasha Hirst Photography

The indoor bouldering gym usually hosts a 20 foot (or 6.1 metre) wall. It is an artificially constructed vertical (and sometimes overhanging) wall with a series of ‘problems’ which you climb up. The floor beneath the wall is padded with thick crash mats, so when you finish the problem, you dismount by jumping off. The climbing routes are graded by colour, getting progressively harder with smaller holds, a steeper incline of overhang, more difficult moves between each hold requiring greater balance or strength.


The best thing about bouldering is you only need two things. Climbing shoes and chalk. Both of which you can hire at the gym if you’re just dipping a toe into the climbing world. In fact, you can even use your converse or other stiff grippy shoes if you’re climbing for the first time. If you are going to invest in a pair, you will have to get the right balance between snug enough to ensure that your toes are engaged to be the bearers of weight when climbing, and not so tight that you have to wince and cry and take them off in-between problems. To hit this sweet spot in your climbing shoes, best consult the climbing gym staff or a qualified sales person in a shop.

Natasha Hirst Photography

Getting used to being looked at

The bouldering gym is an open space. You will be watched at times and you will be looking at others at times. This is totally normal, and a smile when you make eye contact is also a great way to make new friends. So stress less, as when people are watching you, the thoughts in your head are never a reflection of the thoughts in their head. You may assume: ‘They are looking at how poorly I’m doing’ ‘I don’t belong here because I’m a beginner’. Wrong. Have you ever crossed paths with someone giving it a red hot go? A middle-aged jogger in the rain with all her glorious wobbly bits? Do YOU ever think, ‘She doesn’t belong there’, or ‘She doesn’t look good’? I’ll wager not. I love seeing people like that, and in my mind I shout (and am known to also shout out loud) ‘GO GIRL!!!’. Stop worrying about the stares and get focusing on those lovely holds!


Going into a new world, it’s nice to know what is polite, and what will garner you contemptuous looks and head shakes. Take note, the climbing world is very inclusive, and a head shake or a polite redirection to better behaviour is the worst you might get if making a faux pas. Climbing etiquette includes:

  • Give people space. If someone is trying a problem right next to the one you want to try, and you can see that there is overlap between the problems, let them finish their turn. If there are a bunch of people taking turns on the same problem, go try another, less crowded area, and come back.
  • Stay off the crash mat when not climbing. This one is equally about safety and respect for the space. If you are lounging around on the mats, most people won’t ask you to move, but will wait until you do. Instead of having people wait for you, relinquish the space when you are done so that others may use it.
  • Don’t wander into another climber’s landing zone. This is clearly for safety. Climbing is very much about spatial awareness and being aware that someone is above you is a part of that. Ensure that no one is above you when you are walking around the climbing gym, especially when walking through overhanging arches. Also, if you are climbing, make sure your landing zone is free before dropping off the top.
  • If someone is stood in front of a problem, miming a bunch of hand gestures, or two people are looking at a route talking, ask them before you jump in front of them (and the queue) to climb in that space. They may be moments away from jumping on the wall themselves.
  • Encouragement is appreciated! ‘Come On! Have it! Get up it!’, are all welcome cheers to your mates, or even strangers you see pushing themselves.


Natasha Hirst Photography

Relax. Tuck your chin onto your chest. Bend your knees. Roll onto your back. Place your hands parallel to your body and ‘slap’ them on the mats in the moment of impact to absorb some of the fall.

Falling will be different every time you do it. The best way to get good is by practising, best done as part of a little warm up before you start climbing. On the crash mats, you can do a set of ten in a crouched squat position, then ten from a standing position. The peeps behind the counter will often get you to watch an introductory video which includes falling and may also ask you to fall so they can watch. They will also be able to direct you towards better technique by seeing you fall, than an article about falling can. Youtube is another great resource to see some demonstrations.

That’s it! You are ready and armed with some basic knowledge and the next step is to get to the bouldering gym! Send it girl!

By Stephanie Quirk

Still feeling a bit lost?
Read more about some basic bouldering language:

Bouldering Vocabulary

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