2019 – Taking rock climbing to new heights

Only a few years back, rock climbing was considered a niche sport. Now, the number of social climbers and the newbies seem to have caught up with the adrenaline junkies and the muscly athletes which once dominated the sport.

Since the announcement in 2016 that climbing will be considered an Olympic sport, its popularity has boomed. With just a year and a half to go until the start of the Tokyo Olympics, more people are curious about exploring new heights, both outdoor and indoor.

In 2017, around one million people in the UK tried indoors climbing, with around 100,000 climbing once every two weeks or more, numbers from the Association of British Climbing Walls show.

Edinburgh climber Robbie Phillips thinks the sport has grown because it has become more accessible. With four walls in Edinburgh alone, there is room for the community to expand even further.

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Climbing “El Niño” on El Capitan – Credits to robbiephilips.co.uk

“The modern climbing wall caters for the community like they never did before. Climbing walls are more like social hubs, it is not a case that a climbing wall is something somebody just goes to have a climb or train, they are places people go to meet, hang out with friends, drink coffee and eat cake! This bolsters the community as a whole, brings everyone a little closer and creates more retention in the sport,” says Phillips.

Climbing walls are becoming alternatives to traditional gyms and more people are joining for either social or fitness reasons. Phillips points out that as climbing has a reputation of being adventurous, it encourages people to discover the explorer in them and to push their limits.

This rocky adventure is also becoming popular on the big screen. Last year, two big climbing documentaries were released in the UK, warmly welcomed by the growing audience: “The Dawn Wall” featuring Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, and “Free Solo” with Alex Honnold. Both set in the climbing Mecca of Yosemite, the experience of being on El Capitan is brought right to you in the cinema seat. With film tours such as Reel Rock and Brit Rock – where you can see Phillips star in “Blood Moon” – selling out shows and set to make returns, inspiration continues to flow from the cinema screen.

These films showcase the mental side of climbing, which Phillips thinks is one of the most interesting aspects to the sport. He says: “Climbing keeps you fit in nearly every way and certainly attracts the kind of people who like a mental challenge as well as a physical one.”

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Rock climbing challenges both the body and the mind. Photo: Maria Gran

It is no wonder climbing has become so popular as Phillips highlights the good things about the sport. As a low impact sport, anyone can give it a try, it is a great way to stay fit, and it offers a chance to become a part of a very supportive community. Phillips even compares it to another popular activity, video games: “You can go as hard as you want, as easy as you want and you can literally make up your own adventure or climbing session – it’s like the RPG of the sporting world.”

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