Monkey business

This weekend I swapped the sea for the hills. I was supposed to be surfing in Croyde but, for various reasons, I  found myself hanging upside down off a bouldering wall in Sheffield instead. Like most climbing walls, it was set within a vast converted warehouse in a murky corner of the kind of industrial estate that assumes a horror-film creepiness in the shadowy dark. Inside, the temperature was only marginally less icy-cold than the ocean would have been, such that I began to crave my head-to-toe neoprene winter surfing gimp outfit. However, the climbing scene is not immune to fashion-fuelled posturing, and that certainly wouldn’t have helped my feeble attempts to blend in with the regulars.

As I gripped onto a hold with two sweaty palms and ineptly flailed around, trying to hook my foot over another hold at the same level as my hands, I flushed at my previous surety that this would be a breeze. I had cockily assumed that my yoga-honed core and shoulder muscles, combined with having done a bit of climbing and bouldering in the past, would see me scampering up the simulated rock-face like some kind of simian dervish. However, ‘desperately clinging elephantine lump’ seemed more appropriate at this particular juncture.

As I dangled helplessly, I looked around at the bouldering pros around me, and mused (yes, I even muse whilst upside down) at the irony of becoming physically specialised. Whilst I can pop up into a handstand or headstand without breaking a sweat (a skill of sadly low application in day-to-day life I’ve found) or twist myself up into confusing knots that look like I’ve sprung a few extra limbs (again, not that useful), this did not translate well to the art of bouldering. Observing the keenies in beanies around me, I noticed that their own physiques were pretty specialised too, with triangular torsos and spindly legs, and I appeased myself by imagining their discomfiture if they attempted to apply their strength to some kind of weird yogic contortion.

If you look at any ‘athlete’ (by which I mean anyone who has become proficient in a particular sport), they will have a body shape that reflects their dedication to their chosen pursuit. The Olympics were brilliant for this – we saw the whole gamut of specialised body-shapes, such as squat weight-lifters, compact sprinters, willowy distance runners, rangy basketball players, thunder-thigh cyclists, stocky shotputters and bear-like rowers. At the end of the day, we make choices about what we dedicate our time to, and our bodies become an expression of that, whether it’s yoga, bouldering or pizza.

Anyway, rather than feel dejected at my lack of climbing ability, I decided to see the experience as a lesson in humility and a new physical challenge to embrace. Plus, there is a certain liberation in feeling like a complete numpty-nube – there’s no pressure at all to meet external expectations, or to look ‘cool’, when the prospect is so clearly unattainable. And, on the odd occasion where my yoga flexibility enabled me to fling a leg up in a move that probably hadn’t been anticipated by the route-setter, I smiled inwardly and determined that bouldering was something else that I’d like to ‘get into’ more seriously, as if I don’t already have a million and one things I’m trying to get into – when will I learn?!

The cocky delusion:

climbing monkey

(photo credit:

The reality:

climbing elephant

Some other things I learnt this weekend include:

  • Learning the guitar is HARD and makes your fingers hurt (yes, this is something else I’m trying to ‘get into’);
  • Puppies are not always cute, especially when they have an incessant super-sonic, yelpy bark;
  • Marching up a steep hill at dusk makes me happy, despite calf muscles that have lost their previous lakeland hill-walking specialism; and
  • Superman 2 is still a brilliant film, made even better by the sweet overlay of childhood nostalgia. Christopher Reeve rocked.
This entry was posted in Bouldering, Olympics, Yoga. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Monkey business

  1. Ray says:

    yes i remember it well, but should not go bouldering unless the warm summer sun is on your back, and the mighty midge is nowhere to be seen, remembering flasked coffee and strawberry jam and cheddar sarnies lol

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