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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Upward climb

Four new rock-climbing gyms have opened this year, including one just for children
The Sunday Times - September 27, 2011
By: Cheryl Faith Wee
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Upward climb Rock-climbing gym Kinetics, which caters to adults, is one of four new facilities that opened this year. -- PHOTO: GARICK BAY

Kids can drive you up the wall - but now, even four-year-olds are climbing walls themselves. That is, they are taking up the sport of rock climbing, which is becoming more popular here, both with children as well as adults.

Four new commercial rock-climbing and 'bouldering' gyms have opened this year, adding to around two existing ones.

The new kids on the rock include The Rock School, which offers an environment dedicated primarily for children to do the sport.

The facility, located at Bedok Community Centre, was set up by Ms Elaine Ng, 24, who says: 'It took us two years to find a suitable place. We wanted a child-friendly environment - think bright, colourful walls with rocks shaped like crocodiles or sharks.'

Children can choose to do either rock climbing, which involves scaling a wall about 7m high or higher with a harness and rope, or bouldering, which involves a shorter wall of around 3m and is done without both pieces of equipment but with crash mats below.

To ensure their safety, they are usually closely supervised by staff from The Rock School while climbing. Programmes such as parent-child classes promote bonding and also help children build up confidence through overcoming challenges such as getting to the top of the wall.

The other new places are Kinetics Climbing, Onsight Climbing and Climbers Laboratory, which cater mainly to adults.

General manager of Onsight Climbing, Mr Andy Tan, says that there are more people taking up the sport. The 30-year-old started climbing more than a decade ago.

He said: 'One indication is the number of participants in local competitions. There were fewer than 100 participants during the first few competitions organised around 2002. Now, there is an average of 300.'

Some local bouldering competitions held annually include Boulderactive, organised by the National University of Singapore's Climbing Club, and Pumpfest, by Nanyang Technological University's Outdoor Adventure Club.

Participants have to complete routes on a short wall about 3m high within a fixed time frame.

Each route involves a specific number of tiles or rocks that a climber can hold and step on. The aim is to try and get to the last tile using only what has been designated by a route setter.

There are also rock-climbing competitions where participants speed up a wall of about 15m high, such as the National Schools Sports Climbing Championship organised by the Singapore Mountaineering Federation.

Bouldering and rock-climbing competitions can be held either indoors or outdoors.

In the region, the sport is making headway with its debut at the SEA Games in Indonesia in November and with Singapore sending a team of 12 climbers.

Mr Rasip Isnin, 50, secretary of the Singapore Mountaineering Federation, says the demand for certified climbing instructors is also on the rise.

He said: 'Over the last two years, there has been significant growth. Compared to the 40 to 50 certified instructors in 2006, we now have more than 100.'

Among other things, the federation promotes programmes related to climbing and mountaineering in schools.

Some educational institutions such as Tampines Junior College offer the sport as a Co-Curricular Activity.

Climbers such as Ms Twang Xiao Hui took up the sport at the junior college three years ago and now makes it a point to visit a climbing gym at least once a week.

The 23-year-old senior communications officer especially enjoys bouldering. She said: 'The moves are more dynamic and less restricted without the harness. Also, it's challenging when you have to plan what moves to do for each route.'

Apart from experienced climbers such as Ms Twang, gyms are also attracting curious customers, says Mr Jansen Seah.

He is the business development manager of ClimbAsia - a commercial rock climbing gym in Singapore which opened in 2003.

'There's been an increase in the number of new members. From being seen as an extreme sport, climbing is becoming more accepted and no longer considered a dangerous activity,' said the 27-year-old.

As perceptions change, Mr Tan of Onsight Climbing hopes that there will be more people jumping on the bandwagon.

'There is this misconception that only the strong and fit can climb. My dream is that climbing walls will be as common as football fields or swimming pools.'



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