Bouldering Popularity Climbs

Susan Ballesteros, Staff Writer

The Austin Bouldering Project (ABP) opened for climbing on Springdale Road in 2016. Since then, the popularity of climbing as a sport has increased, and it even has been included in the Olympics.

Many LASA students have begun working out at the ABP. Junior AJ Leigh has been climbing for about five years and regularly uses the space through his membership.

“I’ve been climbing there for a while, so I’ve gotten to know all the people there really well, and that’s kind of the reason why I got into the sport,… it’s because of that gym, so I’m really thankful that it’s there, and that I’ve been able to get into the sport and do things competitively,” Leigh said. “In general, I like that it’s a mix between outdoors and indoors, and all the people are always really nice and outgoing… at the Austin Bouldering Project, it’s really easy to make new friends or just meet new people.”

According to Leigh, different classes and equipment, like fitness classes and weights, are offered at the ABP, but currently a few facilities like the showers are closed due to COVID-19. Junior Charlie Sernovitz has also been going to the ABP for four years and agrees with Leigh that the atmosphere in the gym is what attracts many people. According to him, however, sometimes there are too many people climbing at once, which is a reflection of the increased popularity of the sport.

“What I dislike is that it can get very crowded, and a lot of the features that make it great are less of a benefit when lots of people are crowding the facility,” Sernovitz said. 

The North Austin Rock Gym has also gained traction in the past years and served as a place for beginners to learn about climbing. Owner Erica Wilson has owned the gym since 2006 along with her husband, and, according to her, bouldering’s popularity has increased because of its high accessibility. 

“Bouldering is one of the easiest ways you can get into climbing because you don’t need a lot of equipment,” Wilson said. “Essentially, if you can climb a tree then you can boulder, whereas when you get into technical climbing or sport climbing there’s a lot more involvement.”

According to Wilson, mass-made climbing walls for indoor gyms has led to an increase in interest in, and accessibility of, bouldering. Leigh believes that this may be a reason for an increase in the number of people climbing that he has noticed over the past four years.

“I would definitely say that there are way more people climbing now, especially now with free solos, it’s a pretty big field, and climbers are getting into the news,” Leigh said. “It’s just in the media. People see it more, so they want to do it more. Definitely a lot of more younger people getting into it, like a lot of my friends for example, and just a ton more people at the gym than there used to be.”

In Austin, there are currently three climbing gyms. The ABP has been around for four years now, both following, and in a sense pioneering, an increase of bouldering popularity, according to Sernovitz. He mentioned that time, while affecting the popularity of climbing, hasn’t affected the popularity of the ABP.

“It has absolutely become more popular, but I think that’s at a larger scale,” Sernovitz said. “In the five years since the Austin Bouldering Project opened, climbing has become more popular nationally, but the Austin Bouldering Project has been popular since the day it opened. Austin just happened to be a few years ahead of most other cities.”

It’s not just high school students and adults that are bouldering younger kids are getting into the sport as well. The increasing demand for bouldering facilities and coaches supplies the money that’s invested into bouldering infrastructure.

“Bouldering is also getting more competitive, and a lot of kids are starting from young ages; they join youth teams,” Leigh said. “Also, in general, there’s been more money poured into the competitive side, they just see more people doing it, and they’re making more money.” 

In addition to climbing recreationally, bouldering has also increased in popularity as a competitive sport. Climbing will be included in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics for the first time. 

“Bouldering has definitely attracted more eyes, definitely a lot of more younger people getting into it,” Leigh said. “It’s definitely growing as a sport, and it’s going to be in the Olympics. I think it’s just going to keep growing and growing.”