In the past few years, people of all ages have taken up indoor climbing, and new centres are springing up across the UK. Why do so many people, young and old, want to spend their free time hanging off a wall?
It’s a Saturday morning in Southampton, and I am four metres from the ground, clinging to a wall and suddenly remembering that I am scared of heights. Everything was fine while I was moving, but now I have climbed as high as I can and I can’t find a foothold to start back down. My heart is hammering and my whole body is cold. I could just let go and fall to the heavily padded floor; but although that wouldn’t hurt, it’s somehow unthinkable.
” How did I get here ?” I bleat to myself, followed by:” And how do I get down ?”
The first question is easy enough. I am here to find out why so many of us are falling in love with indoor climbing. According to the Association of British Climbing Walls( ABC ), there were a million visits to indoor walls in 2017, about 100,000 of us climb regularly, and the numbers are growing by 15 -2 0 % a year. The athletic will get another boost in 2020, when it builds its debut at the Olympics. In 2015, pushing for it to be included, the International Federation of Sport Climbing estimated there were 35 million climbers worldwide.
I’ve tried it once before- two decades ago, in a cavernous former pumping station in north London, but then climbing was a fringe activity, and venues were few and far between. Little had changed since the 1960 s, when the first walls were created so that outdoor climbers could get some practice when weather or lack of time maintained them from their usual haunts. Numbers have exploded since then. From Stirling to Surbiton, Liverpool to Lyme Regis, there are now 500 or so walls in Britain where the public can ” pull plastic”, as it is sometimes known.
Enthusiasts with big homes and deep wallets are even installing their own private walls. David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, put one in the barn of his Yorkshire home and said he used it to teach his children” fear management “.
But Southampton’s Boulder Shack is a converted warehouse , not a politician’s outbuilding, and it’s all about fun rather than dread. When I visit, service centres is hosting” goat yoga”, which turns out to do just what it says on the tin. While a couple of dozen men and women do the downward dog or child pose, pygmy goats share their room, occasionally leaping on to a back for a better position. The organisers describe this as” an amazing style to unroll”, which is surely only true if you’re one of the goats.
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