Bouldering: New Sport Has a Firm Grip on Germany
Enlarge image Climber Luisa Deubzer climbs during the semi-final of the German Boulder Cup in Munich, Germany, 29 January 2012 (© picture alliance / dpa) Muscles clenched and hands caked in chalk – but all that counts is the next hold. This is bouldering – the new “in” outdoor sport, performed without ropes at short heights from which one can jump down easily – and it is attracting throngs of would-be climbers. Growth has been enormous. In recent years, the German Alps Association (DAV) has registered a 70-percent increase in its active members. This Thursday, the leading European trade show OutDoor is slated to begin in the southwestern German city of Friedrichshafen, and bouldering will take center stage at the four-day event.
“The sport is attracting people like crazy. This is just the beginning of its development,” says Thomas Bucher of the DAV. For climbing experts, the fascination of bouldering lies in its playful mix of skill and athleticism. “This means that the athlete does not always have to see whether he or she is secured properly, so he or she can concentrate on difficult or spectacular moves.”
But Bucher would not classify bouldering as a dangerous sport, even if it involves moving from hold to hold without ropes. The blocks and rocks are usually no higher than four or five meters. “Maybe somebody sprains their ankle coming down. But major injuries are rare,” he adds.
For many athletes who regularly go bouldering, the sport is all about feeling their own strength and appreciating the learning process. If one can’t keep going, then one can simply jump off the wall and land softly on the crash pads below, specifically designed to protect the joints. The mats can also be folded up easily into small bags, carried to outdoor bouldering locations, and laid out in front of the rocks. Indoor climbing gyms make it even easier, as all the floors are already padded.
“A major benefit of the sport is that it doesn’t require much material,” says Bucher. Only shoes with thin soles, tight clothing, a chalk bag – to hold the chalk powder climbers use on the hands to improve grips – and the mat are needed.
Despite the relative simplicity of the equipment required, many outdoor outfitters concentrate on this segment. “Clothing designed for bouldering is much more airy than typical climbing clothes, and often much more stylish and colorful,” says Ariane Malfertheiner. Technically, the clothing is somewhat comparable with skiing and snowboarding duds. At the OutDoor trade exhibition, Malfertheiner’s clothing company, based in the Alpine town of Bolzano, Italy, is to show new products. Her firm is already in its third year of producing a collection specifically conceived for bouldering.
The right clothing also plays a role in a rather fun offshoot of the sport: table-bouldering. On the internet platform YouTube, there are several clips featuring athletes trying to climb up and around a picnic table without their legs touching the ground or getting stuck. Many winter sports enthusiasts are getting into the trend, which is often followed by a third or fourth drink, though it is a bit different from those practiced among Alpine lodges. The OutDoor trade fair is slated to exhibit table-bouldering until this coming Sunday.