Last time I wrote about climbing, I said it was all about precision, placing your toe or grip in the most considered, accurate, foresighted way you possibly could. I forgot to mention another important thing, which is that you should also do the opposite of that. They call it “dynamic” climbing, the technical term for leaping, or hurling yourself. Either of those verbs will do, the ones that in normal life are used metaphorically for bravery, and only literally when telling a story about the time you broke your arm.
Leaping gets you to the hold you can’t reach however you’re positioned, so short people use it a lot, because they can’t reach anything. Strong people do it because they can – my sometime coach Louis Parkinson could swing himself along the ceiling like an orangutan – and show-offs use it to show off.
You’d normally encounter it on a more advanced run, a red or a black, and it could be the start of the climb, a two-handed hold too high to reach from the ground, with nowhere to put your feet first. In this case, you just run blindly at the wall and jump, as if it’s platform 9¾. Don’t close your eyes. Harder dynamic climbs might involve a lateral hurl when you’re already halfway up.
Obviously, there is a whole lot of dynamic climbing etiquette: unlike the gym, where you’re in a self-contained pod and everyone else is an illusion, you’re allowed to interact in a climbing centre. This usually means a lot of men talking to you as if you’re a toddler carrying a glass of water (“Almost… nearly there… well done!”). It’s quite an easy environment to feel humiliated in, but maybe that’s about me and my foolish pride.
If you really can’t stand the casual scrutiny of strangers, you need a human shield. Couples climb together quite a bit. It is the only sport I know, off the top of my head, that two people at wildly different levels can do at the same time, since the same wall will have climbs from novice to mad hard. Male friendships solidify over the problem-solving (“Maybe if you started with your left foot there…”).
It’s possible to overthink the ideal conditions for trying a move you don’t believe you can do; there is no ideal. It would be better if you knew you could do it, only you never will, until you try. It would be better if the centre were completely empty, only it never is, because this is a boom sport. It would be better if you were 14 and thought you were indestructible. Just – what do they say in adverts? – just do it. How bad can it be? I’ve heard people say, “Ow!” I’ve never seen any blood.
This week I learned
If a hold is scuffed with black rubber, it’s for your toes; if it’s dusted with chalk, it’s for your hands. Unless everyone else has got it wrong.