SURREY – You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands.
Soft, perfectly-manicured hands will often tell a very different story than those with rough skin and a year’s worth of dirt under their nails.
For rock climbers, their hands say it all. Missing nails, bulging veins and gnarled fingers expose these people as devotees to one of the fastest growing sports.
Rock climbing is becoming a major player in the outdoor and adventure-sport world.
In Surrey, Coastal Climbing Centre owners Doug Thompson and Hung Le are watching as more people of all ages and genders get involved.
"You don’t have to be a bushwhacking nutter thrill-seeker out there trying to cut your way up a wall," said Thompson.
Modern climbing facilities are multimillion-dollar buildings and their clientele is changing.
"They look more like golfers than they look like the traditional dreadlocked outdoor climber," Thompson added.
Climbing is a diverse sport with many different styles. There is traditional rope climbing, free climbing without a rope and bouldering, which is a form of short-route climbing without a rope.
In bouldering the routes generally consists of four to 12 moves with each section being called a "problem."
As it is in a game of chess, a climber has to think multiple moves ahead to solve the "problem."
"The mental challenge of figuring something out is there, which is something you don’t get in a lot of other sports," says Le.
And while climbing is certainly about strength, technique and balance will take a person farther in the sport than brute force, and this is making the sport increasingly popular.
The draw, Le says, is more than just a physical challenge and a thirst for adrenaline.
He describes climbing as a form of moving meditation where a climber has to forget the troubles of everyday life to focus on making their next move.
"You put work out of your mind because if you are thinking about work when you are climbing you can’t climb."
If it is a workout you’re after, climbing has it.
From the tiny muscles in your feet and hands to the stabilizing muscles in your core, rock climbing works everything.
"The amount of physical work you can get in an hour session is beyond what you could get spending an hour in the gym," says Le.
As with any sport, climbers can get overuse injuries and have to balance out their bodies.
Much like a newspaper reporter, the typical posture of a climber is hunched over as if they spend all day sitting at a computer.
Taking yoga classes and stretching help to keep the body from becoming too tight.
And while the sport is dangerous, serious injuries rarely happen.
"You don’t often get a lot of good horror stories like ‘I was 100 feet up and I took big fall and I broke a knee.’ It doesn’t happen," says Marcus Ducayen, head instructor at Coastal Climbing Centre.
Climbers are more likely to strain a tendon or cut their fingers than suffer broken bones.
While Surrey doesn’t have the high granite cliffs of places like the climbing nirvana of Squamish, it has turned out some prominent climbers.
Thompson says the sport can be a great way to introduce urban kids to the outdoors.
"You wouldn’t expect Surrey to be this hotbed of climbers but it seems to be the way it is," he said.
"I was a little urban kid and it took a place like this [a climbing gym] to expose me to the outdoors and I realized this is so much better than being in the streets."
From the mental challenges to the physical workout, climbing has a lot to offer. And as Le warns, if you try it you may just become addicted.
"You can try it, some people like it, some people dabble in it but when you are obsessed, you are obsessed. It totally becomes your life. All your friends become rock climbers," he said.
The Gear While a visit to the rock-climbing section of an outdoor store may make you think you need a lot of expensive gear, the truth is quite the opposite.
Strong fingers and all-around fitness are the most important part of the equation.
Clothing that allows you to move is a must: blue jeans just won’t cut it in this sport, and while you can climb in running shoes, a pair of climbing shoes specifically designed to help you grip holds with your feet make a big difference. Prices for shoes begin around $80.
If you plan to get into route climbing with ropes, you may want to invest in your own harness. Prices start at around $50.
A good plan is to start by visiting a climbing gym where shoes and harnesses are provided. This will let you test out the gear, and the sport, before you invest money in it yourself.
Where to go Finding a place to climb in Surrey isn’t an easy task.
Most climbers will venture further afield to Squamish or east toward Harrison and out the Fraser Valley to find rock walls that satisfy their urge to climb.
Some city parks have small 2.5-metrehigh climbing walls meant for bouldering that can offer first-timers a taste of what the sport can offer physically.
For people wishing to get better climbing experience, along with the some expert instruction, visiting an indoor climbing gym is the best option.
Surrey’s Coastal Climbing Centre is located at #202 – 7728 128th St. in Surrey. They offer youth programs, beginner and advanced courses, as well as dropin climbing.
For more information, visit coastalclimbing.ca