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Solo Sports: Bouldering

You're clinging to the side of a giant rock, looking for a handhold or foothold so you can climb up just a little more. You concentrate hard to keep your balance and slowly take a step up to a small crack, jamming in the toe of your sneaker.

Are you:

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  • Stuck on a tiny grain of dirt in one of those "incredible shrinking kid" movies?
  • Trying to break INTO Alcatraz prison?
  • Looking for a spot to plant your flag and claim ownership of a fallen asteroid?
Girl rock climbing NO! You're involved in the cool sport known as bouldering!

Traditional rock climbing is usually done by teams of climbers who use ropes, anchors, and lots of other special equipment. A much less scary and dangerous version of rock climbing is bouldering. Bouldering is a type of free climbing, which means you don't use ropes…just your good old hands and feet.

The point of bouldering is not to get really high up on a rock or cliff, but to climb in challenging places. In fact, most bouldering is done just a few feet off the ground. Once your feet are on the rock, you'll need to find handholds and footholds (little ledges and cracks) to keep moving up. To keep safe, use crash pads, which are thick squares of foam that cushion the ground in case you fall.

Bouldering can give climbers lots of confidence as well as a healthier body and mind. Instead of you against another person, bouldering is all about you against the ROCK. To be a good boulderer, you'll need to keep your cool, take your time, and carefully plan your way up. It's a sport that's equal parts mental and physical, and it can be a real rush to do with just one partner or with a club or group of friends.

Cool Bouldering Facts:

  • Bouldering is considered the most disciplined of climbing techniques because your only "equipment" is your body and your brain.

  • Because you often have to support your weight with both your arms and legs, bouldering can build both upper and lower body strength.

  • Clinging to the side of a big rock can help you improve your balance and grip, and your ability to make sound choices at a moment's notice.

  • A spotter is another person standing at the base of the boulder, watching you climb and helping to give you directions. A spotter may also help catch you if you fall, or move the crash pad directly beneath you as you climb.

  • Comfortable climbing boots that have sturdy treads are a must for any type of free climbing.
What Kids Are Saying About Bouldering and Rock Climbing:

"I'm 13 years old and I just joined my middle school rock climbing club. It's a blast! I have many friends in the club and we have good times."
--Rachael, 13

"I try to climb everyday during the winter and summer months when my football season is over."
--Adam, 12

"They have a climbing wall at the gym that my family goes to, and I love going up as far as I can. There are stretchy ropes so you don't really fall if you slip, and it's a blast!"
--Keran, 10

"If you like climbing trees and stuff like me, you should try bouldering. It's kinda tough at first but once you get the 'hang' of it, it starts to become really fun."
--Sonia, 11

Get Involved!

If you live near the mountains, desert, or areas with lots of big rocks, it should be easy to go bouldering…you'll just have to convince your parents and friends to go out with you. If you live in a more urban area, it may be a little more difficult to find outdoor bouldering locations, but your local parks probably have rocks that are perfect for beginners. Many communities and schools have organized climbing clubs. Some gyms, activity centers, arcades, and malls offer man-made climbing walls with rubber or plastic handholds and footholds bolted on.

Choosing a place to climb is one of the most important parts of bouldering, because you don't want a rock that's too easy or too difficult. Check the area for dangerous obstacles like roots, sharp areas, or anything that you might land on that could cause injury. Climb slowly and patiently, make sure you're balanced and safe before moving up, down, or sideways, and try to place more weight on your feet that on your hands and arms.

Because there's always a danger of falling, you should never go bouldering by yourself. This is a great activity to get your parents and friends involved in! If you plan to go more than just a few feet off the ground, safety equipment like an approved helmet and crash pads are a good idea.

Next: We look at Running.

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