We’ve reached the final edition of the Alternative Exercise Series, and I’m so happy to say that I think lots of people have learnt something new from at least one of the sports featured so far. BUT, it’s not over yet, and we’ve saved a cracker for you all to enjoy in what’s last, but definitely not least!
I reached out to Ben Woodhouse, who is hooked on bouldering. You may not know much about bouldering, like me, but if Ben’s answers and insight don’t give you the urge to try it, then I don’t know what will!
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into bouldering?
How long have you been doing bouldering?
It’s now coming up to around three and a half years since I first started bouldering.
Why do you like bouldering?
Well, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finally standing on top of a boulder after ascending the project you’ve been working on and just taking in the beautiful view. Beyond that though, there are so many things I love about this sport; it’s not only a superb work out for your body but it’s also a great problem-solving exercise and I love a good puzzle! It teaches you that if you want to push your limits you need to fail a ton before you can succeed. It’s taken me to places in nature that I wouldn’t have otherwise been and to top it off the climbing community are some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
Is bouldering for men and women?
Absolutely! The great thing about bouldering is everyone can figure out their own unique way of climbing a problem that pertains to their own particular skill set and body shape so gender really doesn’t come into it!
Is it an expensive sport?
As far as hobbies go I’d say it’s pretty reasonable. When you first start out you’ll probably be hiring climbing shoes and chalk. Add that to the entry fee and you could be looking at £15 a time in some places. Once you’ve decided you want to stick with it you could get a membership which gives you unlimited entry for a month and often that doesn’t cost any more than an average gym membership. Climbing shoes start at around £60 and a chalk and chalk bag are £20 – £30. The only “big” purchase would be when you eventually want to climb outside you’d need to purchase a bouldering mat and they start at around £150.
What’s the most fun aspect of bouldering?
Personally, I find big dynamic moves the most fun; there’s no feeling quite like soaring through the air, latching a hold and controlling a wild swing!
How long did it take to learn skills/techniques?
I’m still learning today and certain I’ll still be learning in ten years time. Climbing is like anything; the more time you dedicate to practice the more improvement you’ll see!
Did you change anything else in your life; e.g. diet, gym classes, sleeping more when you got into bouldering?
Well, I think I have bouldering to thank for me being in Australia right now. It ignited the spark of adventure in me and now I want to see (and climb) the world! Other positive lifestyle changes would be my increased interest in nutrition which has resulted in my diet being better now than it’s ever been and doing a lot more stretching as I soon realised how important flexibility was.
Where the best place you’ve ever been bouldering, and why?
For me it would have to be Fontainebleau in France; the bouldering is world class and the setting is enchanting. Beautifully textured sandstone boulders in a forest carpeted in sand… What more could you want?
Have you ever had any close calls?
Just recently actually! I pulled on to the starting hold of a boulder, planted my feet to make a big first move then just as I was about to throw the flake of rock I was holding on to just snapped off the wall! I flew backwards in a cloud of dust and ants and landed on my arse with a pointy flake of rock stuck in the boulder mat right between my legs. Luckily I was just a bit winded!
Any funny stories you’d like to share with us?
A friend of mine was bouldering on a beach in summer, trying really hard when a tourist approached him and said: “You do know you can just get up this way don’t you?” He then proceeded to show him how to really easily walk up the back of the boulder; thanks for the tip mate! Also, I’ll never get tired of the looks and comments from people who you pass with a bouldering pad on your back… “What’s in the bag?!”
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the bouldering?
Get down to your local climbing wall and get stuck in! Watch and learn from other people who are better than you, stay humble and don’t expect to be an expert straight away. But most importantly, have fun!
Who is your personal inspiration, if any?
As far as professionals go, Jimmy Webbs and Nalle Hukkataival are two of my biggest idols for their constant motivation for seeking out first ascents and pushing the limits of what is thought possible. Closer to home there’s nobody who inspires me to set my goals higher and believe in myself more than local legend Mikey Clevedon. After suffering a stroke at 27 and being told he would never climb again he was back bouldering 8A within a year and has since put up first ascents of some o the hardest boulders in Devon and Cornwall… If that’s not inspiring I don’t know what is!
Where do you see bouldering going in 5-10 years?
Well, with bouldering being in the 2020 Olympics, I can only see it getting more popular. I’d hope to see more climbing gyms opening and a growing number of kids to take up the sport to carry on taking it to new levels. I think it’s also likely we’ll see a few more V17 boulders after Nalle’s recent ascent of his long term project “Burden of Dreams” and maybe even V18 and beyond! As the sport grows, I’d also like to see more bouldering specific research in the sports science and nutrition literature.
Do you think bouldering is becoming more appealing?
I’d say so, and even since I started three years ago there seems to have been a surge in its popularity. We now have a bouldering World Cup champion in Shauna Coxsey which can’t of hurt the appeal of bouldering too much. Further afield I know that in places like Japan and China professional climbers are incredibly famous so I can only assume bouldering is becoming more appealing in that corner of the world too!
Why would you recommend bouldering?
It’s a fun way to exercise, it’s social and because it’s frickin’ awesome!
Do you have any favourite warm ups/superstitions before starting?
For warm ups, I always do some dynamic stretching before starting easy and building the difficulty slowly. As for superstitions, I’m not really a superstitious person but before I pull on a project I’ll always take a few deep breaths and try to clear my mind – that helps me get in the zone!
Finally, why would you tell someone to get into bouldering?
If you’re looking for a way to get fit, push your limits and you enjoy a mental challenge then you should definitely give it a shot!