Le Soul Sport

by shz


Fakhrul had been seriously, like serious-shitly talking about building  a bouldering wall in our not-so-soon to be renovated home. That guy – once he’s into something, he’ll dive deep into it. He started watching videos or read on how to DIY a boulder wall, surveying prices for the holds, trying to convince me with all his pretty sketches because he knows they turn me on. I get prickling sensations when he draws. Hiks. We’ve been pretty much crazed with climbing ever since we started lead climbing few months back. We started talking grades, moving on from 5c to 6a (or in his more advanced case, 6b+), convincing each other to try different routes, vandalizing the monkey bar at home, subscribing Rock and Ice and tell each other interesting climbing stories we came across either from another climber we met or from somewhere we read. And climbers always say something cool like “Psyched!” or have an interesting outlook in life of something like this:


I was standing in front of a 6a route the other day. The sight of the most-accomplished and favorited route by climbers in that gym, that Fakhrul just finished ascending so effortlessly did very little to calm me. I looked up, the wall is tilted towards me a bit and for the last three clips that were screwed about 25 meters from the ground, I’ll come across an overhang that always, always scare the shit out of me. Fakhrul tapped my back, reminded me don’t forget to breathe and like some Nike ad, told me just to do it. My knee started raising to the first hold, my hands looking for jugs, mini-jugs or any of those I can hang on to comfortably. But nothing is ever comfortable when you’re holding your body weight with the tips of your toes and your non-muscly arms. But then, just like that, it was me against gravity. Towards the end, I started to freak out as I was nearing the scary overhang,  nearly paralyzed by an internal voice whisper-screaming, “This was a terrible fugging idea!”. I drew breath with slow intention to slow my runaway heart rate. A cold sweat prickled my scalp and soaked my T-shirt. I did what climbers do when we get nervous – we chalk up. I chalked and re-chalked my hands with rhythmic compulsion. I held this pose and waited for something to change inside of me.

Suddenly, there’s a shift. Without my brain’s consent, my body moved. A quick few step up onto that little holds I’d only realized their existence and I reached the anchor. Still shaken by fear of falling, I pulled up the rope and finished the job. “Tiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggghhtt!!!!” I yelled down. Its a code word to the belayer to “please pull the bloody rope tight goddammit and bring me down to the flat ground where I belong. NOW!”. Well, only when you yell it like I did it actually means that. Between the anchor and the yelling, there was this glorious moment of happiness having accomplished something you initially thought impossible. Some guys would hit the wall panels loud overjoyed when they topped out,  having sent a route clean (no mix colours, no tight-resting) and can call themselves a 6b or 6b+ or whatever-grade climber. At that moment, I was just happy to overcome my ridiculous fear of heights.

That few minutes of ascending a route is almost like life journey in a literal form. Like life, you first put your trust in someone (a belayer); be it is someone you’re close with or a stranger offering a belay after a quick chat. You started climbing and realize some hard movements along the way.. your face shrinking at the thought of “my God, this is hard”, like some circumstances in life you tend to encounter. You would think the impossibles when actually you just have to figure out your way up to reach the upper hold. When hesitation hits, you’d hear a cheer from below telling you not to let go or hold on. And sometimes you slip by surprise and you’d fall few meters down with your entire life flashes in front of your eyes as if you were gonna drop dead, only to realize somebody catches you. You’d feel great that you’re OK even if you suffer a bloody scratch from it. You’d try again, pulling yourself up with the rope til the spot where you slipped and figure out a different way to get to the top. Some days you might give up, you went down and come back another day and repeat the same thing. Until you nail the last anchor, you’d feel liberated knowing you just surprised yourself. And you will return to get that feeling again.

Some days I thought of that day when I first went to that gym and started climbing. About how much that one accidental occasion had changed everything, my relationship with Fakhrul, my weekly routine, my life perspective and my health all for the betterment. And of course, that’s just in the gym with the plastic holds. I’m sure it will be a greater story when we get to the actual rocks.

That’ll be the next pursuit.