Collage von alten Boulderbilder in der Halle.


Bouldering: chalk and nostalgia

Portrait von Verkaufsberater Alex
Sales Consultant, Transa store Lucerne
© Fotos

Bouldering has advanced from an outsider sport to a popular trend. But how did bouldering start in Switzerland? Transa’s Alex researched the sport and visited three old bouldering halls in central Switzerland. Their owners, René, Luk and Dodo, talk about a past without crashpads or run-and-jumps, but lots of allure.

Squeezing past a punk rock school band running through its paces and a stack of rolled-up Persian rugs, I come to a dingy back door with a Five Ten poster stuck on it at an angle. This must be the place. I put the key I bought for CHF 200 into the keyhole and gain access to the ‘Teiggi’, a high-ceilinged, gloomy bouldering hall in Kriens. It’s 1998 and the hall is the first of its kind in the area. There’s smoke wafting up from the ashtray. I put out the mini fire, click play on the hi-fi and venture to the white wall with the artificial holds to the sound of ‘Best of Metal’. 

Bouldering then and now

The first bouldering halls in Switzerland were built for training on rainy days. ‘Mountaineers would mock the pure boulderers back then,’ says René Schweizer, who was a bouldering hall pioneer with his ‘Teiggi’, built in 1989. ‘I was seriously asked quite a few times whether I was training for the north face of the Eiger.’

From DIY to dual texture

In the past, people would screw anything you could hold onto to the walls, such as rolling pins, skirting boards, stones or fence slats. If you were taking it more seriously you might mimic real rock using concrete or polymer cement. ‘The edges of those holds were coarse and sharp and often you’d need more pain tolerance than grip strength for bouldering,’ says Luk Gisler, whose bouldering wall in the canton of Uri is adorned with a collection of holds. 

Thirty years later, holds have undergone rapid evolution: corners rounded, edges anatomically shaped and huge volumes added. The latest craze is dual texture, or holds with a smooth and a rough surface. Maximum-strength traverses and small-grip routes have become fun run-and-jumps, dynamos and difficult coordinated movements. Triumphing in today’s bouldering halls takes more than just tensile strength, it requires mobility and body tension as well. Holds and routes tell of how indoor bouldering completely separated from outdoor bouldering and developed in a new direction. 

Mattresses for crash pads

‘Back then, we only had Persian rugs under the walls, and they were just for decoration,’ says René with a smile. Crash pads were rarely available and thick gymnastics mats were too expensive, so you’d think twice before attempting a difficult move. Dodo’s bouldering hall in Emmenbrücke boasted discarded mattresses from its launch in 2000, but a clumsy landing could still result in a sprained ankle. ‘We never had any serious injuries though,’ Dodo recalls. He has been training on the bouldering wall several times a week for over twenty years.

Portrait von Boulderer Alex.
Photo © Somara Frick

Alex …

discovered the sport in the dusty bouldering halls of central Switzerland when he was 12. ‘Bouldering is more than just sport; there’s a culture behind it,’ he says. And it is precisely this culture that he wants to share. At Transa he runs the climbing shop and provides advice in the Lucerne branch. 

Because the sport was young and training methods still in their infancy, warming up and balance training were less of a priority in the early days than they are today. Old climbing magazines would advise the reader to do a few dozen pull-ups a day, but saw bouldering itself as mere preparation for proper climbing outdoors. 

From broomstick to LED

One thing has remained almost unchanged in recent decades: in older bouldering halls, the walls are full of holds without the colours, markings and difficulty ratings that are common today. A random order of holds was defined and, if mastered, the best two holds were replaced with harder ones. The broomstick served as a tried and tested tool for showing others the next hold or step. Other sequences were drawn under the holds with a marker. These walls still exist today: they are now called spray walls, MoonBoards or kilter boards. Digitalisation has arrived and instead of the broomstick, small lights now show the way and can be controlled using an app. 

Since bouldering entered the World Cup in 1998, the competition has continually set new standards in terms of route building and wall dimensions. While many climbing halls are adapting to the innovations, Luk is seeing a trend that goes back to the sport’s beginnings: ‘I think bouldering is going old school to an extent.’ Dodo hasn’t been to a commercial venue in years and doesn’t care about competitive trends. René, on the other hand, believes in even more sophisticated materials, more aesthetic routes and more LEDs. 

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