Impact Bouldering Competition at BKB

Impact Bouldering Competition at BKB

Brooklyn Boulders Somerville will be hosting Impact Boulder Competition on January 26th to address gender disparities in the climbing world by having an all-women routesetting team behind the scenes to make it happen. LCC ambassador, Jennifer Legaspi, had the chance to sit down and listen as the setters explain setting, discuss gender disparities, and share some comp tips for new competitors.

What is Routesetting?

Routesetters, also referred to as “setters,” are more than just people paid to bolt holds on the wall. They may follow some guidelines on the placement of holds for safety and comfort, but they definitely aren’t mailed a weekly set of instructions from the IKEA of climbing on how and where to put the holds. That probably won’t happen anytime soon, but if that idea catches on, I’d like that money to go to the Access Fund. Okay, so if setters don’t follow instruction sets to put up the holds, what is setting and how does setting actually work?

Foxman Jamesa setter at BKB Somerville and the brains behind Impact describes the problems they set as, “puzzles for your body and mind,” explaining, “routesetters design these puzzles.”

When setters create boulder problems or routes, they keep in mind that a wide variety of climbers will try the climbs. While setters don’t have to ensure that every climber can complete every climb, they do try to give climbers of similar abilities, but different body types, an equal shot at being able to send the climb. Tricks like adding an extra foot for a shorter climber or setting a knee bar for different leg lengths are very useful to setters.

Sydney McNairHead Setter at EVO Rock+Fitness Concord, NH and Chief Routesetter for Impact Bouldering Competition explains setting as a “creative way to challenge people physically and mentally in the realm of climbing.” According to McNair, the responsibilities of setters are to “provide physical and mental challenges at various difficulties for a variety of people. Every climb someone gets on, regardless of the grade, should be teaching them something. This could be a new hold type, different body movement, or a thought-provoking sequence, that, if done incorrectly, could cause the climber to fall.”

Over time, setters gain knowledge about how different body types might have trouble. Forerunning is when climbers, generally the setters, test out the climbs—and this is where setters gain a lot of experience about body types. Having a group of setters and forerunners with diversity in body types and climbing strengths helps ensure a gym has great climbs for everyone. Women aren’t small men and men aren’t just tall women; women tend to be more flexible and men frequently have more developed upper bodies.

Mia DePaolis, a setter at Central Rock Gym Randolph, says, “having a diverse group of setters allows for all climbers to find something that caters to their body and style.”

Gender Disparities in Climbing and Setting

Excited about the competition, James explains, “the climbing industry has historically been overwhelmingly male-dominated, and while the industry as a whole is slowly becoming more inclusive, routesetting still lags behind. Very few women choose to make this a career, but the ones that do bring a diversity of perspective to their gyms that benefits the entire climbing community.” James wanted to organize a competition that highlights the immense talent that already exists in the industry, adding, “Our entire community will have a chance to climb a set put up by some of the most talented female routesetters in the industry.”

Sara Crowleya setter at Rock Spot suggests, “there are not a ton of women setters, but there are a ton of women climbers.” During the 2018-2019 season, USAC Bouldering Open Nationals, had 107 and 217 eligible women and men, respectively, between the two rounds of registration. It is not common to see gyms with more female than male setters and some gyms don’t even have any. Crowley adds, “Men and women climb so differently, it is important to have both men and women setters so that you are able to see different beta.”

Tips for new competitors

In climbing competitions, grades are often hidden by their scores. Bouldering grades based on the Hueco scale are often posted after the comp. This gives climbers an opportunity to climb outside of the grade limitations they might unintentionally impose upon themselves.

Sarah BucknamHead Coach and Team Manager at BKB Somerville mentions the importance that the climbing community, “recognize diversity, not just in its professional athletes, but also in those who make the competitions happen – the routesetters.”

Bucknam emphasizes, “Everyone can compete! It does not matter if you climb V1 or V11.” Encouraging climbers to try out the competition aspect of climbing, she explains, “competitive climbing is all about learning how to push yourself to try your absolute hardest in a super cool, fun and supportive environment.” On her Instagram, Bucknam is proud to show the falling aspect of climbing. It is critical to success after all.

Crowley says, “as long as you’re competing because you love to climb and because you want to have fun, then you’ll have a great time.”

Tonya Bamboe, currently a Setter at Planet Granite Portland, Assistant Head Setter at Club Sport Oregon, and soon-to-be Head Setter at Gemstone Climbing Gym, suggests that climbers try competing. She says, “it provides an amazing opportunity to try all kinds of problems without pressure of a grading system–while in an environment filled with comradery.”

Climbers will be placed into categories based on the other competitors. Folks in the middle of the pack won’t have much control over which category they will end up in. Climbers who have a “low-gravity, high-friction” day might end up getting bumped up. DePaolis adds, “Unless you’re competing at an elite level, if you’re competing to win, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.” Just have fun and climb the climbs you want!

McNair advises “to come early, scope out potential climbs to warm up on and climbs that will go towards your final score. Then find a place to warm up a bit prior to the competition actually starting.” This useful advice will help you avoid injury and flash pump. She adds, “If you’re completely new to competing, try to enjoy it for what it is and learn as much as you can from your experience.” McNair offers us one last, not-so-secret, tip: “don’t be scared to come say hi to the setters during the redpoint round and see if we have any secret beta for you.”

For more information, check out the event website:

Written by Jennifer Legaspi

By |2019-01-26T00:33:18+00:00January 21st, 2019|Article|0 Comments

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