By Kel Rowe
Following the sport’s blockbuster debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it’s fair to say that the popularity of sport climbing is “sending it” to new heights. Recreational climbing dates back to the end of the 19th century, but its inclusion at the elite level has seen many more take up the sport in recent times.
Tokyo introduced a single combined event that featured three disciplines of the sport — speed climbing, lead climbing and bouldering. 40 athletes, 20 men and 20 women took part, with Australia sending two skilled competitors — Oceania Mackenzie and Tom O’Halloran. More individual events are set to be added at the Paris Olympics in 2024, but for now it’s bouldering that has captured the attention of beginners and experts alike.
Done without the traditional harnesses and ropes of climbing, bouldering sees participants freely navigate small rock formations or artificial climbing walls. Chalk and special shoes help climbers to maintain their grip on the wall, whilst high-density foam mats are used to prevent injury in the event of a fall.
Des, one of the brains behind Footscray’s newest bouldering gym Rocket Climbing, has seen the popularity of the discipline grow exponentially in the West.
A keen climber himself, Des has been involved in the sport for more than 15 years, after some climber friends introduced him to the sport when he was 20. As a kid who grew up scaling trees, houses — just about anything he could get a hold on — it made perfect sense that the sport was for him.
Fast forward to the present, and Des has seen firsthand how the scene has exploded since featuring at the Olympics. “It really kicked off in the last 2, maybe 3 years — we went from 1 to 15 or so bouldering venues across Melbourne” he says.
Part of the appeal is bouldering’s accessibility to climbers of all experience. Participants can climb individually or in a group, without having to grapple with the soaring heights presented by other climbing disciplines.
This, plus the ability to set a particular climbing route or “problem” (a sequence of movements that sees a climber reach the top of a route) that aligns with a participant’s experience level, means that everyone can enjoy the same sense of accomplishment when bouldering.
“If you’ve never done the sport, it’s easy to pick up in your 20’s or 30’s and find success,” Des says, noting that determination and the ability to problem solve is all that is required.
“It’s just so easy to try… people get hooked because they are rewarded as beginners — what other sport do you try where you are rewarded on your first day? There are very few sports where you can accomplish something immediately.”
Des is excited to see the expansion of sport climbing at the next Olympics, so that athletes can showcase the specific technical skills of their chosen climbing discipline. He notes that despite having a handful of members who utilise Rocket Climbing to train for competitions, Australia is a little behind the rest when it comes to the competitive climbing landscape.
“Many elite-level climbers are choosing to travel overseas to Europe, North America, and Japan to access better education and training” he says. “The underfunded nature of the sport here at home means that there are far fewer professionals with knowledge and training in the sport.”
Rocket Climbing is just one of the many new facilities that hope to change that: offering local climbers a fun, social and challenging environment in which to develop their skills.
The facility boasts a multitude of climbing walls, as well as a small strength and conditioning gym and a café! Despite only being open since December, Des says they have big plans for the coming year —building a solid member base, beginner’s classes, and bouldering competitions all on the cards.
The gym is clearly already a social hub, with groups enjoying both the climbing facilities and the proximity to excellent coffee (you may recognise the team behind Rocket as the very same who run local Footscray fave Rudimentary café). With something on offer for even the newest of enthusiasts, Rocket Climbing looks set to become a much-loved fixture for bouldering in the West.
Climbing facilities in and around the West
2/359 Plummer St, Port Melbourne VIC 3207: mlb.blochaus.com.au
Cliffhanger Climbing Gymclimb
61/65 Dohertys Rd, Altona North VIC 3025: cliffhanger.com.au
193 Maidstone St, Altona VIC 3018: climbwestmelbourne.com.au
Clip and Climb
Warehouse 2/134 Maddox Rd, Williamstown North VIC 3016: clipnclimbwilliamstown.com.au
3/98–108 Hampstead Rd, Maidstone VIC 3012: funtopiaworld.com.au/locations/maribyrnong
4/8 Franklin Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000: hardrock.com.au
Hopkins Bridge Bouldering Wall
Maribyrnong River Trail, Footscray VIC 3011
21 Mephan St, Footscray VIC 3011: rocket-climbing.com.au