Gripping stuff

By on November 4, 2008
Reaching for the brightly-coloured plastic obtrusion just a few millimetres from my finger tips, I heard those sweet words of encouragement from one of my tribe:

“Come on! I thought you were supposed to be Spiderman.” 

With that, I rose to the challenge, extended my right foot to what I thought was a secure ledge and attempted to shift my weight and swing my hand to the object of my desires, a blue plastic lump that looked like three golf balls welded together. As I did so, I slipped, fell backwards onto the safety cushion a few metres below, looking like the not-so-incredible Hulk. My nimble 11-year-old proceeded to scale the wall in front of me, and with the grace and effortless ease of a true superhero, traversed the entire face of the plywood cliff. A fitting introduction to the world of bouldering.

Gaining popularity around the world, the adventure sport of Bouldering has been gaining momentum here in Japan with climbing gyms appearing around Tokyo and Kawasaki. After months of broken promises, we were scaling the walls of B-pump, a cool climbing gym in Ogikubo, which is part of a six gym group that leads the way in the indoor climbing scene. Having just enrolled as members, we were being shown the ropes!

Actually, there are no ropes involved in bouldering in any form. It’s literally hands on (and feet!). Come as you are. 

Slip on a pair of extremely uncomfortable climbing shoes, which I suspect are part of the climber’s initiation designed to cripple so as to make you want to keep your feet off the ground, and off you go.

This particular gym is housed on the first two floors of a gutted office building. A skeleton structure that provides the back drop for a plywood world of multi coloured hand holds and foot holds varying in size from loaf size obtrusions to pieces no bigger than a large pebble.

“What good is something as small as that?” I hear you say, and indeed I was thinking the same thing but seeing is believing. 

The next minute I watched as a lithe climber hung nonchalantly by what looked like two fingers from this very piece. This is the art of bouldering whereby through a series of weight displacements and dynamic manoeuvres, you can follow a trail on the climbing face. The power-to-weight ratio means that children often have an advantage over us adults, and therefore they can excel, giving a nice sense of achievement for the youngsters and suitable excuse for the less supple family members to remain on the padded comfort of the mattress

The bouldering crowd is a mixed bag. 

On the morning we climbed, a few fathers came with their sons and daughters, the lone zen super hero who had displayed his powers earlier, groups of university students, young couples appropriately pair-weared down to their matching chalk bags (essential for the serious climbers out there) and shoes.

The great thing about bouldering is there are no limits or restrictions to one’s age, size, and thankfully ability. 

The atmosphere is a cross between a ski lodge and your local exercise gym. Experts do their thing alongside the beginners.

Different routes can be followed marked by colour-coded tape plastered onto the walls. If like us, you are just happy to be hanging on for dear life, there are no disapproving looks, merely camaraderie.

Once you pop on your undersized climbing shoes, smother your hands in chalk, and strap some tape to your fingers, you are a boulderer.

For the young ones, it’s a dream come true: a multi-coloured mosaic of strange wall hangings in a crazy old building with a bouncy floor, music blaring. It’s the ultimate den. Climb, push your limits, let go, fall, do whatever you want, and you can beat Dad.

It’s an unusual, fun environment, and the children thrive on it.

By the end of the session, our fingers were taped up and we looked like true bouldering buddies. We had survived the initiation unscathed; the next day was another story. Bouldering is now firmly on our family monthly calendar and next Sunday will see the return of the Incredible Hulk.

For details of all Pump climbing gyms around Tokyo check

We climbed at  B-Pump, Ogikubo. 1-24-10 Kamiogi,  Suginami-ku,  Tokyo. Tel/Fax: (03) 6750-9155

Prices for kids under Junior high school age start at ¥525 for a daytime pass & ¥2,100 for adults. There is a one time registration fee of ¥1,500.

About Carl Williams