MONMOUTH — If you’re looking for a new hobby to pick up, head over to the Health and Wellness Center at Western Oregon University, where they offer rock climbing classes for anyone ages 4 and older on their state-of-the-art 40-foot rock climbing wall.
Classes are offered during the school year and in the summer, with the purpose of introducing individuals to a unique sport in a safe and fun environment, and taught by certified climbing wall instructors, most of whom have both inside and outdoor climbing experience.
“I really love climbing and I love introducing that to people,” Katie Nance, a climbing wall instructor, said. “It’s so different from anything you’ve ever done.”
Although kids’ classes have already begun for the summer, they are offered to children 4 and up once a term, on Mondays and Wednesdays, or Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 4 to 5 p.m. In this class, parents are totally involved, and learn how to belay their kids, which means holding the rope that’s attached to the climber and taking in slack as they climb up the wall. Kids are taught about the basic rules of the gym and how to act on the climbing wall, how to put on a climbing harness, a variety of technical and movement skills, and fear management. The class is created in a way so that it is differentiated to each kid.
Trying a new sport can be intimidating, especially since rock climbing requires you to leave the ground and put full trust in your belay partner, your rope and the harness you’re wearing.
“The first time I climbed, I maybe got 10 feet up and I blacked out and had to be lowered down,” Nance said. “I really love sharing my story with people when I’m teaching because (climbing) is hard, it’s a learning process but it is possible to overcome that (fear).”
Learning how to overcome the fear of climbing is an essential piece to the lessons because it is one of the biggest barriers individuals face when learning the sport.
“If (someone) is afraid, that’s the first thing we need to change, because if he’s scared there’s no way he’s getting up the wall,” Sierra Johnston, a climbing wall instructor, said.
The instructors have different ways of helping their students gain confidence, such as putting small pieces of candy on a climbing hold and encouraging the kids to retrieve it, placing a piece of tape at the highest point they climbed that day in hopes it will help push them a little higher for the next class, and even using blindfolds so the kids don’t know how high they are.
“I had one kid, we could not get her up the wall,” Johnston said. So she placed a blindfold on her and when she got to the top and took it off, Johnston said she was so excited. “The moment she realized she was up there and she could do it, that barrier was no longer there for her anymore.”
Youth 12 and older have the chance to learn how to tie their own knots, how to belay, and how to read a climbing route — the essential skills needed to rock climb safely inside a gym.
“I think it’s a really fun way to stay active and it’s different than a lot of activities that kids usually do,” Nance said. “It feels kind of like playing too.”
There are also adult belay classes that typically serve adults college-age and up but anyone 12 and older can join. Climbing wall instructors ask that you bring a partner with you to this class.
Having a rock climbing wall at WOU that is open to both students and community members opens up the chance for both parties to interact with one another.
“It’s done a good job of bringing both the community and the students in, because both can interact in the same environment and don’t feel that wall of construct between students and community that sometimes happens here,” Johnston said. “They’re just climbers.”
When the Health and Wellness Center opened in 2010, Rip Horsey, director of Campus Recreation, saw the climbing wall as a way for students to enjoy physical activity in a different way.
“For our WOU students, I think it’s been a cool opportunity for them to realize there’s another sport besides basketball, volleyball, soccer,” Horsey said. “It gives them something to learn, experience and do outside of their normal comfort zone, and we see people blossom once they realize this is really fun.”
“It broadens your perspective on what you can do,” Johnston chimed in.
Youth classes are $48 per term and include shoes and a harness. Adult classes cost $6, and include harnesses. Shoe rentals are $2 a session or $20 for the term. Climbing in close-toed shoes is allowed as well.
The adult belay classes are offered every night the climbing wall is open, which differs depending on the time of year, and starts 15 minutes after the wall has opened. The class lasts about an hour.
Youth 12 and younger are not allowed to come climb during the weeknight climbing hours, but youth hours are offered on Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m.
“Come climb at our gym,” Johnston said.
For more information on pricing, climbing wall hours: www.wou.edu/campusrec or call the Health and Wellness Center at 503-838-9530.