indoor climbing, the sport that climbs

4:35 PM, April 29, 2022

“Climbing is sport what the Irish pub is to a bistro”, says Pascal Blaugy, director of the Climb Up climbing room in Porte d’Italie (13th Paris). Bamboo suspensions, light wood chairs: an Irish pub, this space has more atmosphere than the colors. Located on high walls, the regulars launch ” go ahead ! “ and ” well done ! “ before we meet at the bar with a pint of beer in hand. Here there are no multivitamin drinks or detox juices or headphones in the ears of the practitioners like in the gyms.

The same atmosphere in Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin) in the Roc En Stock room of Ghislain Brillet, President of the Union of Climbing Chambers (UDSE). Twenty-five years ago, this professional opened one of the first bouldering areas in France, a discipline practiced without rope or harness on walls 4.50 meters high. “At the time, everyone looked at me with suspicion: the mountain guides thought you couldn’t climb indoors, the others said that climbing wasn’t really a sport”he remembers.

Three million practitioners in France

Time proved him right. Since its integration into the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, the discipline is more popular than ever, with 3 million people attending the venues. In France, there are more than 200, and the UDSE plans to open about 20 more this year. This spring, the largest structure in Europe will be inaugurated in Aubervilliers (Seine-Saint-Denis), while in Troyes (Aube) construction begins on a complex in a former pound.

The block is made of cardboard because it is easily accessible. You don’t have to be guided or take lessons

“The block is a hit because it’s easily accessible, explains Pascal Blaugy. You do not need to be supervised or take lessons. † To tackle your first catches, all you need to do is rent soft-soled shoes and pay around fifteen euros to get in. This Thursday evening of the February holidays, the Paris hall will be stormed from 6 p.m. A procession of children parades through the spaces accessible to them from 3 years old. “The junior courses are sold out all over France because parents realize that climbing is as natural as walking, says Ghislain Brillet. They tell us they bring us their kids because they climb everywhere! †

The adults, on the other hand, embark on more difficult courses in a labyrinthine room with walls dotted with multicolored holds. They are between 18 and 35 years old, females equal to males, with often athletic physiques sculpted on these artificial walls. Their passion is also one of the most complete sports out there and promotes concentration, flexibility, coordination and muscle building. “from fingers to toes”.

“Spidermen” seeking socialization

Carving out steel muscles is by no means the only motivation for this new generation of ‘spidermen’. “I especially like the friendly, slightly hippie spirit, makes Tony, 36, excited. Everyone talks to each other, encourages each other. † The entrepreneur started climbing a few months ago after practicing triathlon for several years. He now climbs three times a week.

There’s no pressure, no competition, we’re all pushing each other up

Melissa, 24, a physiotherapy student, was introduced to the block at her home in Marseilles, in the Calanques, at the end of her first delivery, and she registered in a room nine months ago. “This sport allows me to overcome my fears, she assures. There is no pressure, no competition, we are all pushing each other up. † Nayanne, 27, practitioner for three years, appreciates the mix of places: “In fitness we often find women in thighs-abs-glutes and men in bodybuilding; when climbing, both sexes make the same gestures, work the same muscles’ she rejoices.

At Climb Up porte d’Italie, as a young woman goes from yellow grip to yellow grip, one of her comrades advises her to “put right foot first”† Clumps of climbers form in every corner of this high-ceilinged space, offering advice and forming friendships. “You can come alone and you will inevitably meet people”, Nayanne summarizes. This digital marketing employee even found her soul mate during a climbing internship. Better than a dating application, the rooms thus promote the formation of couples. “At least here we don’t have to ask what the other person likes in life”ironically Pascal Blaugy.

The brands have understood this well: climbing is more than a sport, it becomes a way of life. The halls are popular places of socialization in a post-pandemic world. For example, Arkose, one of the leaders in the sector, offers climbing lofts, climbing lofts and not just any rooms. In Strasbourg, Ghislain has installed Brillet sofas, a library, a pool table and board games. “And at the bar I sell hectoliters of beer a year”, he says. Like in the Irish pub then.