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“I see people hanging on the wall like clowns”

“I see people hanging on the wall like clowns”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Illustratie Janneke Swinkels

Boulder introduction lesson

UM Sports opened the doors of the new university sports centre one year ago. Each week, Observant shows up in sports gear to participate in one of the sessions, and will do so until the summer. Today: Boulder introduction lesson.

The beginner: “Apologies in advance,” laughs climbing instructor Ivanka Smitsmans at the end of the lesson. “Can you already feel it in your lower arms? You will really notice it tomorrow.” And that is not an understatement: typing on the keyboard works reasonably well, but holding my grip, like using the brakes on my bicycle or holding a mug, takes a lot of effort. I even had to get my partner to slice cheese.
Bouldering (a boulder is a rock) is an intensive way of climbing without climbing gear and ropes. Smitsmans. “That is why it is important to alternate climbing and resting.” The eight participants are divided into couples. While one sweats like a pig on the wall, the other watches from the mat, then we switch roles. This watching is called ‘spotting’ in climbing terminology. “Should your partner fall, you direct the body carefully towards the mat. No, you don't need to catch the person falling.” I still need to work on my spotting qualities, because the moment my male climbing partner threatens to lose his balance at a height of two metres, this beginner jumps a bit backwards. Admittedly an unfriendly gesture, but catching an eighty-kilo body seems unfriendly to me too. All ends well, though, and he regains his grip.
A number of routes have been set out on the climbing wall, up to a height of 4.5 metres. “Don't go any higher, always determine before you start where you want to end.” Easy routes are alternated with tougher ones. There is even one where you have to hang like a monkey – using your hands and feet – on a ‘piece of rock’.
Bouldering is a combination of strength and technique, Smitsmans explains. “I see people hanging on the wall like clowns” (she places one foot to the left and the other to the right). “Try to put your feet in the same direction. You will be much more flexible that way.”

The expert: “Bouldering is a sport in which you use all your muscles,” says Ivanka Smitsmans who is not only team coach for climbing and strength & conditioning, but also co-ordinator of the student sports associations. “But you won't manage purely on muscle power. A while ago, I supervised a couple of which the (strong) man started off on a route enthusiastically. Eventually he had to give up, because he couldn't do it on strength alone. His girlfriend, a slender girl, used a lot more technique, allowing her to climbing the entire route.”
Once you have mastered the climbing technique, you will also start using your muscles more, in particular the leg muscle. One of the techniques that Smitsmans explains, but which requires some practice, is placing one foot (let’s say the right one) on a grip while your opposite hand (in this case the left one) also looks for a grip. “That is how you prevent yourself from twisting away from the wall, like an open door.”

Target group: Experienced climbers and participants who have never climbed before. Some see the introduction lesson as a step up to a climbing course (four times two hours) with gear and rope. Even foreign students with climbing experience have to do an exam with UM Sports in order to meet the requirements of the Dutch climbing and mountaineering association. Those who have completed the introduction lesson, receive a mark on their sports pass, which gives access to the climbing hall where anyone can boulder freely.

The facts: Boulder introduction class, 13 February, 13 March, 10 April, 8 May, and 12 June from 17:00 to 18:00hrs. New climbing courses, Start Climbing (gear and rope), will start in March; registration from 13 February.

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