Climbers rise to challenge

By Betty Jeeves

Mount Maunganui hosted the third round of the 2012 Climbing New Zealand National Cup series at the weekend.

Seventy-three competitors - boys and girls from Wanaka, Rotorua, Tauranga and Auckland - were taking part in the event held at The Rock House. Numbers were down from the usual 100 or so because of the school holidays.

The various age-group sections featured two climbs to qualify for the final, then only 10 minutes to look at how the final climb was set.

As the competitors sized up the course and planned their assault it was like watching mime artists at work.

While discussing the climb with fellow competitors they were mentally climbing, using their hands in the air to work out where they would place them on each hold. Then they were sequestered in isolation until their turn, after which they could watch their rivals.

With just six minutes to scale the 10-metre-high wall, then four to five metres along the roof to the final "quickdraw", contestants had not only their physical skills but also their mental skills put to the test.

Competing for Team Rockhouse Tauranga Girls' College, student Becca McPherson, 15, has been climbing for three years, trains two to three times a week at The Rock House and loves the sport. Competing in Youth B she placed fifth during the weekend.

"It's really awesome because it's different. Ken MacPherson [no relation] is my coach. I was a little scared of heights when I first started but he helped me get over the fear.

"Most people think it's strength you need, but you need technique."

The teenager also goes to the gym for fitness and core work. "The best thing is meeting new people, trying something different and realising how good you could be at something you wouldn't think of doing normally.

"I played netball through primary school, but it was too normal. It's good to have a sport that's unique so you can stand out.

"I'd encourage people to try. Even though it's different some people just click how to do it," she said.

The only equipment required is a safety harness, climbing shoes and chalk, and safety is paramount. Contestants chalk their fingers for a better grip, and two adults stand below in case competitors fall before they can clip on the first quickdraw attached to the wall. There is a numerical value on each hold and the way contestants move between them gets progressively difficult. They must clip on to each quick draw on the way up.

James Maguire, president of Climbing New Zealand, said: "It's a big mental challenge, a lot of mental pressure for climbers.

"The aim of the competition is to split the field. This is the third event in the National Cup series. We've got a number of competitors going to the world champs.

"Five of the competitors today would be at a standard that can reach the top 26 in the world," said Mr Maguire.

He said there was often a sizeable gap between the top and new climbers and it took time to develop all the required skills. Climbing was hard on the forearms and although there was no impact on the body, competitors had to use their own body weight to build up strength in their muscles.

"It's a strength-to-weight ratio sport," he explained.

Parents were heavily involved supporting their offspring. "Even though they're competing against each other, they're supporting each other. It's an awesome sport."

The next event is to be held at Auckland, on August 11 and 12.

A team of five from Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch and Wanaka has been selected to compete at the Youth World Champs, in Singapore in late August.

Mr Maguire was also on the International Climbing Board and said climbing was one of eight sports on the shortlist being considered for the Olympics in 2020. "It's a long process and relies a lot on how they feel the sport will fit into the programme. "We find out next year."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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