Between chalk and nostalgia - bouldering then and now

From an outsider to a trend sport: Bouldering inspires a wide audience today. But how did the beginnings of the Swiss bouldering scene look like? During his research, Transianer Alex visited three old bouldering areas in central Switzerland. Their owners René, Luk and Dodo tell of a time without crash pads and run-and-jumps, but with a lot of charm.

A contribution by Alex, sales consultant for the Transa branch in Lucerne

Past a rehearsing punk rock school band and a pile of rolled up oriental carpets, I find a gloomy back door. A Five Ten poster is taped to it at an angle. I have to be right here. I put the key I bought for 200 francs in the keyhole and gain access to the “Teiggi” for the first time, a high, gloomy bouldering area in Kriens.

The year is 1998 and the room is the first of its kind in the area. Sweet smoke is coming out of the ashtray. I put out the mini fire, click the play button on the hi-fi system and dare to “Best of Metal” on the white wall with the artificial handles. 

Documentary: Boudern then and now

«I myself found access to climbing in the dusty bouldering areas of central Switzerland. Bouldering is more than a sport – there is a culture behind it!»

Alex, sales consultant for the Transa branch in Lucerne

The first bouldering halls in Switzerland were built to train for the walls outside on rainy days. "Anyone who only bouldered was smiled at by the mountaineers back then," says René Schweizer, who was a pioneer in bouldering halls with his "Teiggi" built in 1989. "Not a few times I've been seriously asked if I'm training for the north face of the Eiger."

Bouldering in times when dual texture grips were still a long way off. Image: Transa
Bouldering in times when dual texture grips were still a long way off. Image: Transa

From DIY to Dual Texture

In the past, everything that could be held on to was screwed to the wall: Wall wood, carpet strips, stones, fence slats. Those who took it more seriously and wanted to bring a grip from the rock inside, modeled it with concrete or Sika. 

"The edges of such grips were coarse and sharp, and pain tolerance often had to be higher than grip strength when bouldering."

Luke Gisler

Thirty years later, the handle landscape has undergone a rapid evolution: corners have become rounded, edges anatomically shaped and powerful volumes have been added. The latest craze: Dual Texture, i.e. handles with a smooth and a rough surface.

High-strength traverses and small-grip routes became playful run-and-jumps, dynamos and demanding coordinative movements. It is no longer just traction that decides who triumphs in the bouldering hall today, but mobility and body tension. Grips and routes are evidence of how indoor bouldering has completely detached itself from bouldering on rocks and developed in a new direction. 

The handles from the beginning often demanded a high pain tolerance. Image: Transa
The handles from the beginning often demanded a high pain tolerance. Image: Transa

Mattresses instead of crash pads

“We only had oriental carpets under the walls back then. And they were decorative», René smiles. Crash pads were rarely available and thick gym mats were too expensive. Anyone who bouldered had to think twice before attempting a difficult move.

“We only had oriental carpets under the walls back then. And they were decoration."

Rene Schweizer

In Dodo's bouldering hall in Emmenbrücke, however, there have been discarded mattresses since it was built in 2000. But those who landed awkwardly between them when jumping off the ground sometimes sprained their ankles. "But we never had any serious injuries," remembers Dodo, who has been training in the bouldering screed several times a week for over twenty years.

Because the training theory of the still young sport was hardly developed, correct ones became Heat and compensatory training were less prioritized in the early days than they are today. Old climbing magazines advise readers to do a few dozen pull-ups a day. But actually, bouldering itself was training for climbing outdoors. 

In the past, crash pads were rarely available and gym mats were too expensive. Image: Transa
In the past, crash pads were rarely available and gym mats were too expensive. Image: Transa

Broom style becomes LED

Something has remained almost unchanged over the last few decades. In the old bouldering rooms, the walls are full of holds without the colors, markings and difficulty ratings that are common today. A random order of grips was defined and, if the ascent was successful, the best two grips were replaced with worse ones.

The broomstick served as a proven tool to show each other the next grip or step while bouldering. Other sequences were drawn with marker under the handles. These walls are still there today. Now they are called Spraywall, Moonboard or Kilterboard. Digitization has arrived and instead of the broomstick, small lamps now show the way and can be controlled using an app. 

Since bouldering made its way into the World Cup in 1998, the competition has repeatedly set new standards in terms of route setting and wall dimensions. While many climbing gyms are adapting the innovations, Luk is observing a trend back to the beginning: "I think bouldering is going more towards the old school." 

Dodo hasn't been to a commercial arena 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. 

The right Equipment and other blogs on the subject can be found at Transa at Advice and Blog | Transa Travel & Outdoor

Alex, sales consultant for the Transa branch in Lucerne

Alex found his way into climbing as a 12-year-old in the dusty bouldering areas of central Switzerland. "Bouldering is more than a sport, there's a culture behind it," he knows from experience. And this is exactly what he wants to give an insight into. At Transa he is responsible for the climbing shop and advises in the Lucerne branch. 

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Credits: Cover picture Transa Backpacking AG

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