The Home Climbing Wall Boom: COVID-19 Constructions Article

© Imogen Horrocks

In 2018, an article in The Times explored the growing trend for home climbing walls. Who would have predicted that two years later, a global pandemic would arrive, triggering lockdowns across the globe and sending thousands of frustrated climbers into a home wall-building frenzy. While fingerboards and campus rungs were the first to fly off the shelves, those with the space and resources to do so turned to bigger objectives to keep strong and sane.

Imogen Horrocks on her garden board.
© Imogen Horrocks

A six-year-old Facebook group named Home Climbing Wall Forum has suddenly become a hotbed of ideas and information exchange, attracting an additional 3,134 international members in the last 30 days, with around 1,200 posts in the same one-month period since lockdowns began worldwide. During COVID-19, people are - quite literally - climbing the walls in search of something to clamber on other than kitchen worktops or bookcases.

Over the past couple of weeks, a steady stream of creative and ambitious home wall designs has been trickling into Instragram feeds, building to a torrent of photos of finished projects and proud owners dangling from their ceilings, hanging in the garden or grunting in the basement. For those with pre-existing home training facilities, a feeling of smugness set in during the days and weeks that preceded lockdown in the UK, as climbers joined thousands of others turning to unfinished DIY projects in hitting the hardware stores to buy materials for their constructions.

The walls vary in scale, cost and purpose, from humble campus board extensions to prefabricated Moonboards with flashing lights and structures worthy of a monthly membership. To save money and spend some of the excess time many people now have on their hands, some climbers are shaping their own wooden holds and even selling them online as a source of income. Many are expressing a sense of relief at having had both a creative activity to focus on during construction and - eventually - a wall to climb on during confinement.

Entre-Prises Climbing Walls have noticed a sudden increase in their online, non-commercial orders. Climbing Business Manager Mick Cooke told UKC: 'Up to about 4 years ago online orders for holds, t-nuts etc. accounted for about 20% of our holds business. It then dwindled to around 2% until the week before lockdown when there was a sudden rush. Now it's increased to roughly around 5%-10% of our holds revenue.'

Such is the disparity between spaces, lockdown circumstances and construction skills that some amateur climbers have built boards that a few Olympic-qualified climbers and pros would envy. Some keen board-owners are asking friends and fans to create problems for them by screenshotting a photo of the board and highlighting a sequence of holds in a virtual board session game. Anyone for Add-On?

Here are some home wall examples from a variety of climbers, spaces and projects that have popped up in recent weeks from around the world...

Missing your local wall? Consider keeping up monthly payments, buying a subscription/vouchers or donating.

Duncan McCallum's Garage 'COVID-19 Board'

Inverness-based climber and the force behind The Ledge Climbing Gym, Duncan McCallum converted his garage into a training area with a system board.

'The inspiration was partly Malcom Smith's legendary bedroom wall from the 80s. You don't get strong, he said, if you hang on resin holds on a small wall. Wood makes you concentrate on gripping and it means you can repeat moves often and save your skin. I wanted to build a proper system board as I felt that with such a small space a system board would give me the best training effects. I know I can move on rock, so a pure bouldering wall would almost be a waste of space. So a system board it is.'

Duncan McCallum's garage board.  © Duncan McCallum
Duncan McCallum's garage board.
© Duncan McCallum

Duncan took two full days to build his wall, which included research and driving from his home to B&Q before the entire country went into lockdown.

'I took a total flyer on the design and the materials and winged it regarding the chains, fixings and design. I have built two other home walls before and I knew that 40 degrees was only good for me once I had warmed up properly, so it needed to tilt. Fire door hinges make it tiltable and they are safe and rated to 150KG a pair. It uses two pairs.'

In all, the project involved 20 hours of woodwork and fixing, not including attaching holds. The cost was £230 including all the fixing screws for the holds.

Duncan built the wall by himself. 'I used my crevasse self-rescue knowledge and built a 3-1 pulley system on a Petzl Traction hauling pulley to lift it up to the point where I could push the kick board into position.'

Sophie Nicholson on the COVID-19 Board.  © Duncan McCallum
Sophie Nicholson on the COVID-19 Board.
© Duncan McCallum

'It was so satisfying to do this so fast with little planning and not all the correct tools - I had to improvise a bit to make it work, but I really enjoyed it!'

Jonas Wiklund's Stand-alone Board

Swedish climber Jonas Wiklund created a small stand-alone A-frame wall in his living room in Toulouse, France. 'The holds arrive tomorrow,' he says.

'No piano lessons this week!' Jonas Wiklund's wall.  © Jonas Wiklund
'No piano lessons this week!' Jonas Wiklund's wall.
© Jonas Wiklund

Paul Diffley's Mini Traverse

Edinburgh-based filmmaker at HotAches Productions Paul Diffley created a wall traverse on the side of the house. 'It's a mini traverse wall. Set for both the kids and me. A pretty rough and ready construction, but I made it all by recycling my old campus board. Now I just need to find some motivation to use it.'

Paul Diffley's traverse wall.  © Paul Diffley
Paul Diffley's traverse wall.
© Paul Diffley

Gaz Parry's Multi-Purpose Garage

In Hungary, pro climber Gaz Parry has made the most of what used to be his garage. 'This is the library, pony view window, office, kitchen, dog room training combo. The fingerboard is in another room.'

Gaz Parry's multifunctional room in Hungary.  © Gaz Parry
Gaz Parry's multifunctional room in Hungary.
© Gaz Parry

Calum Forsyth's Garage Board

In Perth, Australia, rope access worker Calum Forsyth asked a friend to help build a garage wall and added bespoke volumes from a local furniture company. 'Always wanted a climbing wall in the garage growing up but never had a good enough excuse for the parents to build one,' he says.

Calum Forsyth's basement board in Perth, Australia.  © Calum Forsyth
Calum Forsyth's basement board in Perth, Australia.
© Calum Forsyth

Adam Lincoln's Pergola Board

Preston-based Adam Lincoln constructed a 10ft x 8ft 45 degree board on the underside of a Pergola. 'It's probably the only board in the UK built on a Pergola! Most people don't even know what one is! I wanted an outside board, but I also wanted a pretty solid roof, so this provided the best solution. Super solid. Dry. Perfect. Full size campus board is going to be the next addition, bolted onto the side.'

Adam Lincoln's garden wall.  © Adam Lincoln
Adam Lincoln's garden wall.
© Adam Lincoln

Callum Noble's Free-standing, Fold-Away Board

Engineering graduate Callum Noble constructed a lowerable 45 degree board, which can be stored face-down in a 'pit' and covered with a tarpaulin.

Callum Noble's fold-away front garden board.  © Callum Noble
Callum Noble's fold-away front garden board.
© Callum Noble

'My small front area is right on the road, so I wanted to make something that could fold down to remove the temptation for kids to jump on it and hurt themselves when I wasn't around. That has the added benefit of letting me change the angle really easily. I also don't own the wall on the lower floor of my building, so I had to make the whole thing freestanding. I modelled it up in 3D on my work computer over a weekend, which helped a lot. It still hasn't fallen down either, so that's a plus.'

Callum's board in storage mode.  © Callum Noble
Callum's board in storage mode.
© Callum Noble

Ethan Walker's Circuit Board

Sponsored climber Ethan Walker has one of the most spacious boards, which he'll be using as a circuit board alongside his partner Sabina.

Sabina sets the circuit board.  © Ethan Walker
Sabina sets the circuit board.
© Ethan Walker

'We had the space to build something a little bit special, so after sketching out a few designs and chatting with various folk for advice we decided to go big. What we have in the end is a 16ft x 12ft board set at 35 degrees. We wanted to build something that would enable us to set much longer circuit style problems of around 25-ish moves. The whole build process itself was pretty plain sailing in the end. To see it all come together was really exciting, and we now have something that will hopefully keep us fit during this lockdown period but also a really useful tool for us both to train on in the long term too.'

Toby Roberts' Garden Moonboard

GB Junior Climbing Team member Toby Roberts enlisted his dad Tristian's help in building a Moonboard in their garden.

'We knew the main issue was not having varied enough facilities to be able to carry out the different types of training in Toby's Lattice training plan. Different board angles and styles of problems were going to be a big benefit and allow training that would complement both his bouldering and lead climbing.'

'We settled on a 3.6m square board that was secured from behind the wall with adjustable posts and a winch to adjust the angle of the board. We can adjust the wall to 0, 15, 20, 40 and 50 degree angles and didn't need any posts in front of the wall.

A Moonboard built by Tristian Roberts.  © Tristian Roberts
A Moonboard built by Tristian Roberts.
© Tristian Roberts

As well as Toby being able to make up his own problems and circuits, there is also the advantage of having access to a database of problems.

'We installed a full Moonboard in the centre of the wall with the LED system allowing Toby access to 13,000 problems through the phone-based app (based on his hold configuration) and the option of using either the 20 or 40 degree board depending on the training session – this has already been hugely beneficial in accessing some of the Benchmark Moonboard problems.

'This left 580mm each side to install a set of campus rungs and most of the Hardwood holds to give options for some circuits. We also attached some bolts to the top of the wall which provides options for TRX and Rings, and allows us to connect some quickdraws for clipping whilst dragging a rope around the board.'

Toby enjoys a night session in the garden.  © Tristian Roberts
Toby enjoys a night session in the garden.
© Tristian Roberts

Oakwood Climbing Centre donated some mats they were replacing (prior to the lockdown) which have now been put to good use on Toby's board.

Toby said: 'I've always wanted a home board and am psyched to be able to train hard during lockdown. Hopefully we have some competitions and outdoor climbing to look forward to later in the year!'

Nathan Phillips and Tara Hayes' Cellar Board

GB Climbing Team members Nathan Phillips and Tara Hayes have constructed a basement board in their Sheffield house, complete with funky lighting. 'I'm not sure how much it's going to prepare us for competitions but it's keeping us ticking over during lockdown and at least we won't go crazy not being able to climb!' Nathan told UKC.

Imogen Horrocks' Garden Board

GB Boulder Team member Imogen Horrocks put her woodworking skills to good use by constructing a garden board angled to attract plenty of sunshine. She is also working on shaping some wooden holds to train on. 'It's my saviour, I don't know how I would have coped without pulling on for so long. I'm serious! It's not perfect, but it's done my mental health a world of good.'

Kyra Condie's (Cup)board

In Salt Lake City, USA, Olympic-qualified athlete Kyra Condie built a board in a small cupboard space to keep up her strength and power. 'I have to time my legs cutting loose to go through the door!' she wrote on Instagram. She has appealed to followers to send her screenshots of marked problems for her to attempt.

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20 Apr, 2020

Home walls (and associated DIY) = okay

Bouldering on your house = okay

Bouldering on a bridge = okay

Going for a cycle = okay

Going for a solo shunt from your house = not okay

I'm confused..

20 Apr, 2020

I wonder that, too.

I also ordered a stack of wood and plywood a few days ago.

20 Apr, 2020

Even the French are behaving on this one, probably best to do so.

20 Apr, 2020

Yes, I can’t believe UKC is promoting the irresponsible behaviour of having unnecessary goods delivered during this pandemic. Every drop a courier makes is another likely transmission point.

Bouldering at home is also no safer than bouldering outside, in fact with some of the samples I’ve seen I’d say it was far more dangerous. Tongue only ever so slightly in my cheek here, but when actual walking to and pottering around on local crags has been so widely condemned you do have to wonder.

Sorry, forgot to add.. “you’re shopping for holds while a thousand people a day are dying?”

20 Apr, 2020

I haven't got space for a home wall so a pull up bar and suspension trainer/gymnast rings will do.

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