How to start bouldering

With Canadian Junior Bouldering Champion Kindar McNamee

Bouldering has become a very popular activity, both indoors in the climbing gym and outdoors at the crag. This year, it will even make its first appearance at the Olympic Games in an event that combines three sport climbing disciplines: bouldering, lead, and speed. 

Canada is blessed with some pretty fantastic bouldering gyms and spots to partake in the great outdoors including Squamish on the west coast in British Columbia and Niagara Glen in Ontario with plenty in between.

Two of the top young climbers in the country are Kindar McNamee and his identical twin brother Guy

Guy competed at his first World Cup in Chamonix, France, and won the Canadian Open Boulder and Open Lead nationals. Kindar was second to his brother in Open Boulder and was the 2020 Canadian Junior Boulder Champion. They’ve both competed at multiple Youth World Championships and in addition to being national team athletes also climb for the Swarm team at the Hive Bouldering Gym in Vancouver, BC. 

Born in Haiti, the McNamee's grew up on the west coast of Canada and have been climbing anything and everything for as long as Kindar can remember. 

“I climbed everything when I was a young boy — trees, walls, on the roof,” he says. “I went to a gym called Cliffhanger when I was nine and loved it immediately. I have been climbing ever since. I just started outdoor climbing last summer, although I did a bit before. I am enjoying it as well.”

McNamee has been climbing lead and bouldering since he first started going to the gym, but the 2020 Canadian Junior Champion says bouldering comes first.

“I prefer it. I like how you can take many attempts. I like how each individual move is harder,” he says. “I also like how it’s more social. You can exchange ideas between attempts with your friends.”

He says although bouldering might appear more difficult in the beginning, both disciplines have their unique challenges. 

“Bouldering is more technical. It requires more aspects,” he says. “Each move in lead climbing is easier, but the combination of the moves and the length of the route makes it hard.”

Bouldering is done sans equipment like harnesses, all you need is shoes, a bag of chalk, and away you go. 

The climbing walls are shorter as a result of the whole no harness thing, so people don’t have so far to fall. Indoors, the bouldering area of the climbing gym is just walls covered with a variety of holds and giant cushioned mats. 

The holds may appear to be random to beginners, but each is part of a series that combines to form a route from the bottom to the top of the boulder wall. What is called a “problem,” which is usually seven to 15 feet up the wall. The routes vary greatly in difficulty from V0 to V17. But don’t let the V0 fool you, it is equivalent to a 5.8 in lead climbing. 

Outside, it is up to the climber to bring a thick mat with them to catch their fall as well as a spotter that can help prevent some nasty injuries. Never boulder outside without a spotter until you become an experienced and capable climber. 

With the pandemic, more people are committed to moving outside the gym and giving outdoor bouldering a try. 

McNamee says that outside is inherently more difficult. A V2 rating at an indoor climbing gym is just not the same as a V2 outside in the elements. 

“Bouldering outside is harder than in the gym,” he says. “Usually the same grade inside is harder to complete outside.”

With bouldering, there are many different types of holds and many types of problems. Holds are pretty self-explanatory in the gym. Problems are basically the route one takes to the top of the boulder wall. Climbers can work on a move over and over for as long as it takes to solve a single problem. This is called working on your “project.”

McNamee says when starting it’s important to try a variety of holds and problems.

“I think people should try different styles of boulder problems,” he says. “Some types of problems will suit some more than another. You should also try many different ways to do the same problem.”

REI has a great video of basic climbing techniques. 



When moving outdoors, it is also important to pick up a couple of very key skills that will help prevent injury. Learn to be a good spotter, as well as how to fall properly. The more you climb, the more you will begin to learn what moves to take and where falls might happen and position crash pads and spotters accordingly. 

McNamee suggests these training tips for bouldering:

    ·    Try many different styles of boulders
    ·    Work on weaknesses
    ·    Work on stretching and mobility
    ·    Work on finger strength using a hangboard
    ·    Work overall strength in the body - arms, legs, core
    ·    Work on mind game - sequencing 

“Make sure you have a passion for the sport before you dig deeper into it,” he adds. “It has to be fun. This is the one thing you cannot train.”


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