The Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Bouldering

BY: KIM BAUTISTA

What Is It

If you are looking to challenge your mind and stamina while having fun, bouldering may be a worthy choice. Bouldering is rock climbing in its rawest form, with climbing shoes and chalk as your only equipment. It challenges you to use both brawn and brain.

Since I started bouldering, I have built a physical and mental toughness that no other sport has given me. This sport challenges you to build relationships, improve your strength and test your patience.

“It makes me feel free. When you find something you are genuinely passionate about, it makes you come alive” said Ken Moon, four-year bouldering veteran.

What You Need to Know

Jargon

Like many activities, bouldering has a language of its own. If you are new to the climbing world, you will likely hear some unfamiliar phrases thrown around. Here are some terms that describe styles of ascent, body movements, holds and even common injuries:

Problem: A sequence/route leading to the top of a boulder

Hold: Part of the route that can be used to ascend a problem

Flash: Climbing a route on the first attempt without any prior knowledge (e.g., beta)

Beta: This is what other climbers give others when imparting information about a route, such as any trick moves or good holds. Betas for the same route can vary among those of different body types, strengths, etc.

Bucket/Jug: A large hold, which the entire hand can grasp

Crimp: A small edge that is held by wrapping the thumb over the index finger and pulling with the fingertips

Pinch: A hold squeezed between the thumb and fingers for grip

Gaston: A hold that requires the climber to pull away from one’s core

Dyno: A dynamic move in which the climber jumps or swiftly moves from one hold to the next.

Heel hook: A move in which the climber uses the heel to grip and pull the body toward the rock

Pocket: A hold that consists of a small hole (i.e. for one, two or three fingers)

Match: A move in which the climber places both hand or feet on the same hold

Mantel: A move in which the climber uses his/her knee or shin to push oneself up to the next hold

Flag: Dangling a leg out to improve balance when climbing

Traverse: To move laterally across the rock

Flapper: A piece of skin that hangs off the finger once a callus tears

Sandbag: A route or boulder problem that is notoriously tougher than the assigned grade

V-Scale for Bouldering

The rating system commonly used in bouldering is the V Scale. The V Scale goes from VB through V16 and beyond -- the lower the number, the easier the route. Some climbing gyms will add a plus or minus sign next to the value to distinguish difficulty levels within the same rating. Ratings are determined by a variety of factors, such as the number of holds, its type and size and the distances between each hold.

Equipment

Chalk bag and chalk: Chalk is used to keep fingers and palms dry, which helps to avoid slipping. Bags come in various prices ($10-$30), shapes (cylindrical or tapered) and sizes (small, standard or buckets).

Climbing Shoes: All gyms require climbers to either rent or purchase rock-climbing shoes. If you do choose to purchase your own pair, they are supposed to be a snug fit with very little space between your toes and the tip of the shoe. Also, keep in mind that there are different shapes -- straight, asymmetric and downturned. Straight shoes offer the most relaxed fit and are considered to be neutral shoes, while asymmetric and downturned are aggressive shoes designed for more difficult routes.

Fortunately, for those who live in the area, the Evolv store in Buena Park sells demo models, factory seconds and close-out models for half the price.

Bouldering Tips

Bouldering is not for the faint of heart. It is a sport that requires both brawn and brain. Those who are not ready to test their skills outdoors can train at an indoor climbing gym. You don’t need an exorbitant amount of strength to boulder, but you do need to learn and practice techniques that will help achieve balance and build stamina needed for bouldering.

Here are some tips to remind yourself:

Think Before You Act: While bouldering does require strong forearms, a strong core, good stamina and balance, it is equally important to be patient, flexible and tactical. Before you begin a problem, be sure to survey and visualize a route. Identify all holds and the most efficient path.

Quads over Biceps: In bouldering, strong legs are essential in propelling your body upward. Beginners tend to reach higher holds with their arms. Instead, try to move your feet up first, then briefly bend your arms for the next reach before straightening them again.

Hang Smart: When you bend your arms, it causes your biceps, triceps and shoulder muscles to exert a lot of unnecessary energy. To reduce muscle effort and conserve energy, always keep your arms straight.

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Where to Go

As bouldering popularizes beyond thrill-seeking adventurers, more private indoor climbing gyms are being built around the Long Beach-North Orange County area. Now, both professionals and newbies alike can grab (or rent) a pair of climbing shoes and head on over to the many gyms that offer day passes and annual memberships.

The Factory Bouldering (Orange, California)

While most climbing gyms consist of top-rope climbs and lead walls, The Factory is the largest bouldering-only gym in the area. With 13,000 square feet of space, The Factory boast over 300 boulder problems and angles, from 85-degree slabs to cave climbing.

Amenities: The fitness area is equipped with a treadmill, rower, assisted and free weights, as well as exercise balls. There are climbing specific training tools, such as the campus board, peg board and system wall. Additional amenities include free Wi-Fi, pool tables, yoga classes, ping pong tables, etc.

Student Rates:

  • $14 day passes
  • $49 monthly
  • $490 yearly

Hanger 18 (Long Beach, CA)

Centrally located in Signal Hill, Hanger 18 is a great indoor climbing gym for CSULB students who are interested in bouldering. The 12,000 square foot space includes bouldering, top-roping and leading.

Student Rates:

  • $33 monthly

Sender One (Santa Ana, CA)

Sender One is an indoor rock-climbing facility that features bouldering, top-roping and leading. It is the ultimate playground for adults looking to have fun doing a multitude of challenging activities.

Amenities: The facility includes a fitness area, youth programs, group events, instructed yoga classes, fitness classes (additional costs) and aerial classes (additional costs).

Rates (no discounted rates available for students):

  • $22 day passes
  • $84 monthly + $49 initiation fee
  • $949 yearly