Association of British Climbing Walls Annual Conference 2021
- Tuesday 21st September 2021
The ABC held their 2021 annual conference recently; it was the first since the pandemic and the biggest event to date with loads of new shiny climbing related stuff on display.
Formed in 1984 to promote safe management of climbing walls the ABC has seen considerable development since; its current mandate is to promote the professionalism, health and growth of indoor climbing. Growing at a phenominal rate – estimated to be between 15 and 20% per annum, the recent appearance of climbing in the Olympic Games will further drive interest in indoor climbing.
Representing 70% of the larger climbing and bouldering walls in the UK, the ABC is a central and important player; hardly suprising therefore that their 2021 event was the biggest ever. As well as numerous trade stands, all crammed with shiny new kit, the ABC event hosted both their AGM, an evening lecture by Leo Holding and a host of in-depth panel discussions as well as 1:1 surgeries.
Climber representatives, David Simmonite and Keith Sharples, went along to the event get a flavour of what’s happening behind the scenes at climbing walls and the ABC as well as the exciting new shiny kit coming to market.
With numerous new walls opening all the time the development of holds continues at an incredible pace with the selection now available for walls and setters to choose from being utterly phenomenal.
One of the bigger producers and distributor of holds is Mark English of Rock City. Having been in the business from the outset he’s well-placed to drive both the production and distribution forward and unsurprisingly was very excited to show off a range of his new holds which are little short of wonders of creation.
From big volumes with sleek and super smooth shapes – no external edges - to some wicked new pebbles both aesthetics and function have been addressed.
Setters have been using ‘blockers’ for some time but now hold producers – such as Kilter – are increasing locked-on to the opportunities here and are now producing bespoke and paired holds/blocker combos.
Wood and fibreglass have been the traditional materials of choice for the bigger volumes but it was very exciting to see the first range of volumes using recycled plastic have been produced by blocz. Not only is this good environmentally but because they’re made from injected plastic the tolerances on the finished surfaces are excellent.
A number of companies have given some old favourites make-overs but as many companies continue to develop their ranges on an annual cycle the diversity and depth of current climbing shoes available is little short of remarkable.
With one eye on sustainability leading companies like Scarpa and La Sportiva are now both offering the factory resole service so you get another ‘cycle’ out of your favourite – and crucially worn-in and comfortable – rock shoes plus it’s good for the planet and your wallet!
The long-standing Swiss company Mammut were flashing their Climbax trackers off at the conference too. It’s the first-to-market climbing tracker ever produced; think Strava for climbers and you're about there! Keep an eye open at a wall near you as the Mammut UK Team are doing the rounds at the minute with their tracker holding demo nights at a variety of climbing walls around the country. Also, keep an eye out for the next issue of Climber, we're running a review of the system in there too.
On the sport/climber development front NICAS has had a major make-over and a new scheme launched; the intention is to make the scheme the entry point for the vast numbers of new climbers typically coming into our sport via the indoor climbing wall route.
Route Setting Panel Discussion
Stepping up to the mark, the ABC conference included a number of panel discussions from subjects as wide as diversity, insurance, finance and route setting. Whilst all the panels provided excellent discussions; the route setting panel though perhaps stole the show. Mike Langley, IFSC commentator and setting manager at The Castle, London, was tasked with directing the discussion – no small task given the panel’s lineage.
Percy Bishton, fresh from his role at Tokyo as head setter for the bouldering, was as passionate and experienced about setting as anyone and injected his gargantuan depth of knowledge into the discussion. Jamie Cassidy and Ayesha Khan – the other panellists and experienced setters - were no less passionate either talking not only about the business of setting for quality, innovation and diversity. Mark English, the final panellist, brought a wealth of experience – like Percy – as a wall manager as well as a hold maker and distributor. Suffice it to say that the drive for safety, quality and diversity was high, as was the no small matter of setters pay, crimps v’s parkour, comp’s v’s circuits! The future looks very bright for the walls and that means better walls, setting and climbing for us the users!