It was a late Saturday afternoon at ProClimber Gym. As a sports instructor kept bawling "Be sensible!" to young climbers who were having fun and eagerly moving up an indoor wall in order to reach their goal, parents were keeping their eyes on their children and cheering them on.
Nong Petch hangs from the wall.
The group's star was Nong Petch, who is absolutely outrageous. Small yet strong, the nine-year-old had tried a few climbing challenges with strength to reach the top of the wall. He fell off after taking a couple of steps via a difficult route on his first attempt. But nothing could beat his commitment and passion.
On his second try, he crossed his arms to get a better hold. He used his strong legs to his advantage, climbing corners by bridging the gap with his feet, pushing with his hands and feet across the sides, working through difficult climbing problems by taking small calculated steps up before eventually arriving at the top.
Meanwhile, seven-year-old Nong Pim, a rising star in the group, was finding the best handholds and then using her hands to grab them while her legs pushed and propelled to reach footholds, then slowly shifted her weight to maintain balance in order to change position smoothly. Her moves were easy but steady with big holds.
"It's fun and challenging. It's dead tiring," Nong Petch gasped. "The most fun part of climbing is when I'm at the top and look down at my starting point. It's cool.
"And it always feels so good to climb up a route that I have been struggling with for a while."
"I really enjoy climbing," Nong Pim said, and then resumed her activity. Nong Pim's mother, Supawadee Inthawong, said that her family last year went to Krabi where her daughter was captivated by the thrilling adventure of rock climbing in the great outdoors.
"When we returned to Bangkok, my daughter kept talking about rock climbing and wanted to give it a try. She asked me to find a gym that offers the sport and we found this place," Supawadee said.
On her first try, Nong Pim spent about six hours climbing and playing with friends at the gym. She has enjoyed the sport for five months and made positive development in many areas.
"My daughter has become healthier and leaner. Her allergies are not so easily triggered," Supawadee said.
Coach Kraisak Boontip said that while climbing, children use almost every part of their body - arms, hands, wrists, shoulders, spine, knees, ankles and feet. Their leg muscles are exercised pushing upwards, while their arms and fingers are used for balance, boosting both their arm and grip strength.
"Needless to say, climbing helps children stay in shape and develops flexibility and balance," he said.
The best aspect of climbing, Supawadee said, is that it's not a competitive sport. In addition, gym climbing allows her daughter to develop social skills and enhance critical thinking skills.
"Well, life is so competitive. I don't want my little girl to compete with others; I just want her to have fun doing what she likes," Supawadee said.
"She makes new friends with whom she discusses plans to climb and shares techniques and tactics on how to achieve their goals. They are supportive and that creates an encouraging environment."
"Climbing is a sport where it's just you against yourself and a partner to help you in order to enjoy a wonderful experience," said Kraisak, a former rock-climbing athlete. "Each climber has a different body type and level of strength and stamina. So, they have to explore climbing techniques depending on their own physical ability and level of risk acceptance.
"Also the sport requires strategies, so children exercise their planning skills in order to make it to the top," he said.
When Kraisak was asked to teach them at a private school he found that climbing can help develop mental focus among children with special needs who had difficulty concentrating.
"I was so stressed at the beginning. Some of them screamed, others were nervous on their first try. So, I tried to keep things simple and take it slowly. I accompanied them, let them have fun and gave them support. More importantly, we celebrated their success and that gave them encouragement and boosted their confidence," he said.
"Training them to climb for even just a short period was a challenge but it was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life."
ProClimber is a "bouldering" gym that offers a great opportunity for people to sample a taste of the sport of rock climbing. Bouldering is a style of rock climbing done on short, low routes without the use of a safety rope.
The gym's wall is covered with a structure featuring resin hand and foot grips along with coloured route markers. Holds come in different colours with those of the same colour often being used to denote a route, allowing routes of different difficulty levels to be overlaid on one another.
A cushioned bouldering mat below the wall is used to ensure the climbers' safety. There is a spotter who watches from below and directs the fall of the climbers away from hazardous areas.
"The wall has different grades of route for children. When we realise that children have developed their climbing ability, we will try to come up with more challenging routes," Kraisak explained.
In addition to helping children develop both physically and mentally, wall climbing serves as a springboard for those with the potential to become national athletes. Kraisak's daughter Watchareewan (Nong Ploy) Tomas won a silver medal in the discipline of bouldering at the 2011 SEA Games.
Wall climbing was included in the 2011 SEA Games for the first time and sport climbing will debut at the 2020 Olympics.
Helping children develop skills is part of Kraisak's aim of opening the indoor climbing gym. But his mission is to promote the sport among children while searching for those with power and skill who are able to compete at international level.
"Even though gym climbing has become increasingly popular in urban areas, this sport is restricted to a particular group of people," said Kraisak. "I'm very pleased that some schools have introduced this sport, helping to widen its popularity."
"Climbing is a physical challenge," said 16-year-old Nong Ploy, a sports enthusiast who counts swimming, badminton, basketball, golf and tennis among her hobbies.
"It always offers me an opportunity to challenge myself and go beyond what I could once do. I have become stronger. And when I reach my goals, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment.
"It's also about problem solving. I have to figure out my own ways to overcome a difficult part of a route, which is sometimes totally different from other climbers' ways. Climbing allows me to experience life lessons.
"The wonderful thing that got me hooked on climbing is that there is no repetition and no routine. There are a lot of routes to climb so that I never get bored. It's truly challenging. It is an absolutely fun thing to do."
Nong Pim climbs to the top of the wall.
About the author
- Writer: Sukhumaporn Laiyok