Rock climbing is taking off with more people getting into the sport and facilities springing up to meet the demand. By Gurveen Kaur
Rock climbing has hit new heights here as more people are getting into the physically challenging sport, thanks to a growing number of commercial climbing facilities sprouting up.
The number of recreational climbers has grown from 20,000 six years ago to more than 50,000 today, said the Singapore Mountaineering Federation, which promotes climbing here and issues certification for the sport.
There are now 10 climbing gyms that run the gamut from large all-in-one hubs to outdoor centres to boutique spaces that focus on bouldering (climbing that involves a shorter wall of about 4m and is done sans ropes and harnesses).
The newest kid on the block is Clip ‘n Climb from New Zealand, a climbing gym meets theme park, which opened recently at the new HomeTeamNS clubhouse in Tampines.
Other facilities include Climb Central, located in the middle of Kallang Wave Mall; outdoor space The Cliff at Snow City in Jurong East; and Climb Asia, one of the pioneers in the scene that opened in 2003.
As there are no legal natural rock climbing spots here, most climbing facilities here cater to sport climbing, which involves the use of handholds attached to the walls.
A day pass to a climbing centre starts at $13 for adults. Some spaces offer cheaper deals for visitors who sign on as members.
Internationally, climbing has also been given a boost, having been added to the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.
Mr Rasip Isnin, secretary of the Singapore Mountaineering Federation, says the figures for recreational climbers were derived from participation in roadshows, school camps, corporate team-building sessions, workshops and courses.
Climbing is no longer perceived as an extreme sport for adrenaline junkies, he notes. “It’s catching on and becoming one of the cool sports, especially among kids and younger adults.”
He attributes the sport’s soaring popularity to more facilities being built and more schools offering it as a co-curricular activity. He adds that more schools below tertiary level – such as Hougang Primary and Outram Secondary – are installing climbing walls.
The organisation, Mr Rasip says, even plans to change its name to the Singapore Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Federation to better reflect the sport’s popularity.
Climbing gyms are also seeing more climbers come through their doors.
At Onsight Climbing in Guillemard Road, which opened in 2011, general manager Ben Toh says there has been at least a 10 per cent rise in the number of climbers year on year and that the majority are youth.
Social media has also helped to promote the sport, he adds. “Climbing is a very dynamic sport. When you see photos and videos of it, it looks very impressive.”
The 38-year-old pooh-poohs the misperception that climbing is an extremely dangerous sport. “Statistically speaking, contact sports such as rugby and soccer have higher numbers of injuries. Like any other sport, there are inherent risks in climbing too,” he says.
At the climbing gyms, everyone from beginners to seasoned climbers have a space to scale. Starter courses are offered at most of these places and young children may be allowed to climb.
At Climb Central, any shopper at the mall can get off the ground for the first time after a safety briefing.
Many newbies typically start with bouldering, as no certification is required, before progressing to higher walls where equipment and a belayer (a person on the ground to assist the climber) are required.
The routes for the walls are changed routinely – by repositioning the handholds – to keep things fresh for regular climbers.
The sport promotes muscular strength and aerobic endurance, says Mr Ray Loh, a senior exercise physiologist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Sports Medicine and Surgery Clinic, and “enhances functional movements and hand-eye-leg coordination”.
For 55-year-old Bob Rosario, it is a great way to keep fit and active. Jokingly calling himself a senior citizen, the muscular engineer enjoys climbing outdoors at Safra Adventure Sports Centre in Yishun at least once a week.
“I never get bored as it’s like playing chess. You just have to make the right moves,” he says.
IT consultant Priscilla Lim, who is in her 30s, picked up climbing two years ago and has been hooked since.
“It’s also about problem-solving as you need to plan your route and figure out which way is the best to get to the top. Sometimes, I don’t succeed, but I just try and try again till I do,” she says.
CLIP ‘N CLIMB
Clip ’n Climb from New Zealand, which opened recently in Tampines, has 17 unusual wall designs and no minimum age for climbers. PHOTOS: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, EMBASSY OF ISRAEL
Quirkily designed walls awash in bright colours greet climbers at Clip ‘n Climb, which is not your run-of-the-mill indoor climbing joint.
There are 17 wall designs in the 260 sq m facility, such as the snaking beanstalk from fairy tale Jack And The Beanstalk, a lightning bolt and Morse code-inspired one.
Some of the climbing structures do not resemble walls – one is in the shape of a skinny tree trunk, while another looks like a twisted DNA strand made out of colourful blocks.
Clip ‘n Climb, from New Zealand, is a particularly fun introduction to climbing for children and beginners as an uncomplicated auto-belay system (that eliminates the need for a human belayer) is used for each 8m-high wall. Climbers need to undergo only a short safety briefing before they are good to go.
There is no minimum age for climbers, they just need to weigh between 10 and 150kg.
Seasoned climbers can look out for walls which are labelled as more difficult or try a harder route.
Where: 03-03 Our Tampines Hub, 51 Tampines Avenue 4
Open: Noon to 9pm (Mondays to Thursdays, except first Monday of the month, when it opens from 2 to 9pm); 10am to 11pm (Fridays, Saturdays, school holidays and eve of public holidays); 10am to 9pm (Sundays and public holidays)
Admission: From $18 (member), $22 (People’s Association and Safra member), $25 (guests)
Kinetics Climbing in Serangoon Road has bouldering walls for everyone, from beginners to advanced climbers. PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Nestled in a shophouse in Serangoon Road, Kinetics Climbing is a cosy bouldering space.
Most of the 2,000 sq ft space is dedicated to bouldering walls that range in difficulty from beginner to advanced. To keep things fresh, the routes are changed twice a month.
There is also a small area for top-rope climbing and training.
Managing director Jay Koh likens bouldering to a sprint and top-rope or lead climbing to a marathon. “Bouldering builds strength and power, while top-rope builds endurance. They complement each other.”
With no need for certification, anyone can try bouldering. Children have to be at least four years old.
There are beginner’s courses on bouldering for those who want a more structured understanding of the sport, as well as private coaching sessions and Singapore National Climbing Standards Level 1 certification courses.
Where: 511 Serangoon Road Open: 4 to 10pm (Mondays), 1 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 10am to 7pm (weekends and public holidays)
Admission: $17 an adult, $12 a student (age 26 or below, with a student pass, before 7pm on weekdays)
SAFRA ADVENTURE SPORTS CENTRE
Safra Adventure Sports Centre in Yishun has outdoor sport climbing walls as well as an indoor bouldering gym. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Home to a wide variety of sports, Safra Adventure Sports Centre is one of the few places with outdoor climbing walls.
Climbers who prefer to scale outdoors can pick from three types of sport climbing walls that are 15m, 18m and 25m high.
There is also a two-storey, 100 sq m indoor bouldering gym if it gets too hot.
A Singapore National Climbing Standards Level 1 certification is required to scale the outdoor walls.
Those who are not qualified can try the 15m-high Canopy Sky Walk nestled among the greenery instead, which is open from Fridays to Sundays.
Or take a break from climbing and check out other activities, such as laser and archery tag, in the Safra clubhouse.
Where: Safra Yishun, 60 Yishun Avenue 4
Open: 9am to 9.30pm (Tuesdays to Fridays during school holidays), 1 to 9.30pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 9am to 5.30pm (weekends and public holidays), closed on Mondays
Admission: $8.55 (Safra Adventure Club member), $10.70 (Safra member), $16.05 (non-member)
Onsight Climbing, housed in the former Singapore Badminton Hall, has top-rope (above), lead and speed walls for competitive climbers. PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Expect to see hardcore climbers at this 7,000 sq ft indoor climbing gym, which is dedicated to those who have at least a Singapore National Climbing Standards Level 1 certification and are hungry for tougher challenges.
All types of indoor climbing are available here: top-rope on 8m walls, lead on 14m walls and speed on 15m walls, which is a race against the clock to the top and mostly used by competitive climbers.
The highlight for experienced climbers are the 11 lanes in the lead-wall zone, where only those with a Level 2 certification can enter.
There is also a substantial bouldering space that ranges in difficulty from amateur to advanced.
Climbers can condition their bodies at a training zone equipped with pull-up bars, wooden rungs to improve strength in the fingers and arms as well as finger boards to work on gripping.
Housed in the former Singapore Badminton Hall, the space has tiered stadium decks for climbers to rest and watch others.
Where: 100 Guillemard Road Open: 11am to 10pm (Mondays and Fridays), 11am to 11pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), 10am to 9pm (weekends and public holidays)
Admission: $18 an adult, $10 a child (aged five to 12, must be accompanied by an adult)
No certification is required to scale more than half of the 46 lanes at Climb Central in Kallang Wave Mall. PHOTO: CLIMB CENTRAL
Chances are you would have seen the towering walls of Climb Central if you have visited Kallang Wave Mall, which sits in the Singapore Sports Hub.
Given Singapore’s sweltering weather, the facility’s air-conditioned venue is a big draw for both seasoned climbers and beginners.
The 1,000 sq m space is perfect for newbies to try out climbing as no certification is required to scale more than half of the 46 lanes.
They can climb after a 15-minute safety briefing, thanks to an easy-to-use set-up where the belay device is mounted on the ground. Children have to be at least five years old, weigh more than 20kg and stand over 1.1m.
There are 13 auto-belay lanes for those who prefer to go solo.
The walls range in height from 4m for bouldering to 12m for toprope and 16m for the lead walls.
There are more concise introductory programmes for children and adults who are interested to find out more about climbing techniques and safety systems.
Where: B1-01 Kallang Wave Mall, 1 Stadium Place Open: 11am to 11pm (weekdays), 9am to 9pm (weekends and public holidays)
Admission: $22 an adult, $28 an adult and child; for first-timers: from $32 for an adult day pass (includes climbing harness, shoes and registration fee) and $38 for a family day pass (an adult and child)
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline ‘Hooked on climbing’.