Walk into Brooklyn Boulders, the Gowanus warehouse-turned-climbing-gym, and you might ask yourself: What’s with all these grunting people dangling six inches off the ground from a piece of faux rock, their bodies contorted into impossibly precarious positions, attached by lizard-like suction fingers to almost nothing? It’s bouldering, of course! What is it, and why you should you do it? We’ll tell you!
First, you need to know that bouldering is an offshoot of traditional rock climbing. While traditional and sport climbing share a pretty straight-up goal of getting to the top, bouldering is more Buddhist: It scales down the focus.
Instead of looking at an entire route, you’re now looking at one small part of it. The hardest part of a climb is the crux. And bouldering is basically doing the crux of a climb (but in bouldering, they call it a “problem”) without doing the rest of it. It requires intense focus, concentration —and biceps.
Bouldering problems are graded on a difficulty scale that ranges from V0 (easiest) to V16 (maybe one or two guys walking the Earth can master these). At Brooklyn Boulders, you’ll find 300 problems ranging from V0 to V13, and a motivated swat team of sweaty New Yorkers of all sizes, ages, and stripes navigating the toughest. One of the most impressive boulderers in the Northeast is a nine-year-old Japanese girl.
Juliana, a manager at Brooklyn Boulders, says bouldering’s become more popular because “where climbing used to be about exploring the unknown and conquering the mountain, bouldering is smaller and more extreme. It’s about doing the hardest possible moves to condition yourself for what became the harder sport climbing. And then it became an end unto itself.”
Admission Brooklyn Boulders costs $15 (including shoes and chalk bag, before 4pm and after 10pm on weekdays). The rest of the time, you’ll pay $20, plus $7 for the gear rental.
Lessons or demo for newbies available Brooklyn Boulders actually recommends that you just come on down and give it a try…no lessons or certifications required. But you can do private lessons to hone your bouldering technique at $100/hour.
Buying gear A pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag cost about $100, if you want to fork out for your own.
How should you dress? You can wear jeans if they’re loose enough to move, a T-shirt or tank top (so you can free up your arms). Women tend to wear the same thing they might wear to yoga. Pretty much anything from Prana is perfect (www.prana.com). A toothbrush to clean chalk residue off the holds makes the perfect accessory. (Not kidding.)
And what if you don’t have any friends who want to come with you? Go anyway. Go alone. Make friends. That’s what it’s all about. Every time I’ve walked into Brooklyn Boulders by myself, I end up in a crew, hanging out, talking, spotting people, and climbing the walls. —Ashley McCullough
Brooklyn Boulders, 575 Degraw St., at 3rd Ave., Gowanus, Brooklyn, www.brooklynboulders.com
Ashley McCullough is a former professional cyclist who has recently channeled her hyperactivity disorder into rock climbing, ice climbing, snowboarding, and cyclocross. A sometimes contributor to Velonews and cyclingnews.com, she makes her real living as a copywriter for the women’s sportswear brand Athleta.