Lest you see the video above and think me some sort of innately brave urban spelunker, well, let me be the first to assure you that I am not. My preferred athletic endeavors tend to be decidedly indoors—think SLT, Pilates, yoga, or Aeroboxing—and the only carabiner I’ve ever personally owned was on a Proenza Schouler bracelet. This is all to say that I am not who you picture when you think “Rock Climbing”—but if I can do it, dear reader, trust me, so can you.
As far as practice sites go, Brooklyn Boulders—a converted truck garage off Third Avenue in Gowanus—is exactly what you’d want from an out-of-Manhattan fitness experience: graffitied walls, hunky, helpful instructors, an active, chummy community, and a rather killer soundtrack. The space boasts a variety of climbing and workout surfaces throughout its 22,000 feet—brightly speckled boulders, soaring arches, slack lines, free-weights, and one sloping under-hang that mimics the roof of a cavern called “The Beast” that would later become my nemesis. After meeting my instructor, Luke, I was quickly handed a pair of climbing shoes (note: these are not meant to be comfortable, and they sure weren’t!), a bag full of chalk to aid in gripping the holds, and pointed towards one of the “boulders.” These 12-to-15-foot walls gently curve to mimic the gigantic rocks found in nature, and are meant to be scrambled up without a harness, although I quickly discovered that the impact of any and all tumbles is muffled by thick foam pads at the base.
After some adventures in falling, clambering up, and falling again, specifically off of the aforementioned “Beast,” I moved on to the big guys—the 30-foot climbing walls. My first foray up the easiest route left me feeling chuffed—I’m a natural! Born to climb! Watch me go!—until I spied a petite figure scaling a model of the Brooklyn Bridge arch that had been deemed beyond my reach. She is, according to Luke, one of the gym’s all-stars. She is ten.
To improve on my footwork, we retired to an eight-foot-tall practice wall, where I ran through a series of holds which left me twisted in something like a flattened fourth position, pressed into a craggy faux-rock, the way Looney Tunes characters look when they’ve been crushed by cartoon trucks. “That was the best move I’ve seen you do all day!” Luke cheered, as I maneuvered one leg under another and curved into the wall. So maybe I am a natural? (Climbing Magazine: call me!) Also, that torso curve? That’s where abs come in. Hell-o, obliques!
But back to the walls: Harnessed up and attached via belay to the helpful Luke, it became immediately apparent that climbing is not for the weak of hand, or wrist. Periodic breaks to flap and stretch my arms were required, as was a lot of chalk. (I later found my hair to be full of it, which in an interesting turn of events, proved a nice, if obvious, dry shampoo.) And it’s not just an upper-body workout, explained Luke: The best climbers hook onto a hold with both hand and foot and stand up into it, thus distributing tension into the entire body. Hot tip for any fans of the halter dress: This is how you get great, sleek back muscles.
Beyond that, there’s a whole mental aspect to climbing: It’s a very physical method of problem-solving, and one which leaves little room for any other daily stress you may have brought with you. By the end of the afternoon, as I clung, hands quivering, to a plastic hold that looked like a screaming Gumby face some thirty feet in the air, I found that I was almost, dare I say, Zen?
And seriously sore. The next morning my arms looked terrific and felt horrible, which, as we all know, is the sign of a good workout. The result? I will definitely be back. And as for you, Beast? I’m coming for you.
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