The Big Flash 2015 Norfolk; not somewhere you’d automatically associate with the vertical requirements of climbing. But in amongst the flat agricultural expanses and shallow broad waterways of East Anglia, Highball Climbing Centre is flying the flag for the sport in an area of the UK otherwise devoid of natural venues.
Its Norwich-based facility more than makes up for the county’s crag deficiencies. The annual Big Flash Festival is a chance to show the climbing community and beyond what it’s capable of. And with multiple competitions, numerous activities, hundreds of visitors from far and wide, and the noble goal of raising funds for the Climbers Against Cancer and Community Action Nepal’s earthquake relief charities, the three-day 2015 festival was the biggest yet.
The weekend opened on Friday 18th September with the NuKids competition: over 150 climbers tackling 25 problems graded up to 6b/V4 in difficulty around the centre’s expansive bouldering walls. This was an opportunity for newbies who have never taken part in a comp, or more experienced climbers who don’t take things too seriously, to get involved with the festival. Following the popularity of the 2014 NuKids event, this year saw the competition split into two waves to give both competitors and spectators a little more room to manoeuvre. Nonetheless, it was still a busy start to the festival as climbers young and old took to the walls with the support of families and friends in an atmosphere of camaraderie. Crowds require feeding, and over 100 wood-fired pizzas were devoured during the course of day one, the spicily-topped ‘Dirty Flasher’ being in particularly high demand.
Day two saw the start of the Flash Championship; top stars of the sport from around the country rubbing rippling shoulders and muscular forearms with local climbers on the DMM competition wall (one of the largest permanent comp walls in the world) over two qualifying rounds. Once again, the number of participants exceeded the 150 mark, and the job of the 25 problems created by route setters Percy Bishton, Yann Genoux, Andy Long and Rob Napier was to whittle these numbers down to a more manageable 20 males and 20 females for day three’s semi-finals. Elsewhere in Highball, bouldering taster sessions offered complete newcomers their first taste of the addictive world of climbing, while all were invited to investigate the benefits of physiotherapy and massage in boosting recovery and performance at the centre’s in-house facilities. The evening presented the opportunity to kick-back and relax with a screening of Exposure II on the big screen, although a handful of climbers opted to use the quiet time to clamber the routes still bolted to the comp wall without the pressure of a crowd.
While the climbing, physio and massage taster sessions continued on Sunday, the third and final day of the festival saw most eyes back on the re-set comp wall for the semi-final of the Flash Championship. One-by-one, hands chalked and minds focussed, the climbers emerged from isolation to pit their wits against the route setters’ devious creativity in front of an excitable crowd. Following the semis, attention was drawn outside where an epic battle was taking place in the final of the dyno competition. The GB Junior Climbing Team’s Tommy Matthews went into the final as the reigning champion, but this year, with hands heavily taped to avoid a repeat of 2014’s ‘flappers’, local climber Matt Catchpole emerged victorious from the two-man jump-off, much to the excitement of the assembled supporters.
Following a brief intermission with the centre closed for route setting and a hog-roast laid on outside, the crowd’s numbers began to swell as spectators flooded into Highball to take their places for the grand final of the Flash Championship. With every seat occupied and even standing room limited, an electric anticipation greeted the final six male and six female climbers, in particular the two local Highball regulars Sam Lawson and Rachel Hipkin who were no doubt boosted by the home support.
The final was an exhibition of everything that makes climbing an enthralling spectator sport: battling successes, astounding flashes, epic falls, fingertip misses, clutched saves, nervy moments of time-slowing anticipation and the kind of super-human displays that had the bristling crowd seat-edged and gaping jawed. Indeed, if the collective will of the cheering masses could have manifested in physical form, every single climber would have been carried to the top of each of the four problems on a wave of euphoric enthusiasm. While all this was going on, the commentators (Rev. Percy Bishton and Dr. Ben Hiscoke) did their best to entertain each other by goading the finalists (and each other) with some furious banter and quick witted remarks - none of which is printable.
As it was, there could only be two winners: Nathan Phillips pipped Dave Barrans to first place on the final problem in a nail-biting conclusion to the men’s comp, while Alexia Basch saw off tough competition to improve upon her second place last year and win out in the ladies’ final. It was a deservingly climactic end to an exquisite weekend of climbing that saw both aficionados and those completely new to the sport equally absorbed by the spectacle of world-class athletes performing feats of super-human ability on a world-class wall in one of the flattest counties in the country. Not only that, but with £3835 raised for the Big Flash good causes – Climbers Against Cancer and Community Action Nepal – 2015’s event was, in every way possible, a resounding success. Roll on 2016.
THE FLASH CHAMPIONSHIP 2015 RESULTS
1. Nathan Phillips
2. Dave Barrans
3. Matt Cousins
4. Tommy Matthews
5. Sam Lawson
6. Sam Cox
1. Alexia Basch
2. Diane Merrick
3. Sarah Pashley
4. Storme Biggs
5. Rachel Hipkin
6. Yasmin Roberts
First and foremost we need to thank our main event partners, DMM, Tenaya and Beta Climbing Designs - without them it would not have been possible to host such a large competition.
Big thanks also go to Moon, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Battle Oats, Hench Nutrition, Wild Country, E9, Edelrid, Friction Labs for providing raffle prizes and ‘crowd pleasers’ to throw into the crowd.
We’d also like to thank our neighbours, Interlink Express for sponsoring the NukIds Comp (and keeping the lorries out of the way all weekend); The amazing Hog Roast was very kindly provided Coffee Express and J.P Trett; Beeston Brewery for the Ale.
Thanks to Sensitive Soles, The Climbing Physio and Joshua Hall (Body & Balance), for providing treatments in the Highball Clinic.
And then there’s you! Thank you for coming along, watching, climbing, competing and donating; thanks for being part of something special.
Last, but not least, a personal thank you from me to my team, including the many volunteers and the route setters for working so hard all weekend (and beforehand/afterwards) on delivering such an amazing and successful event. Thank you!
See you all at #BigFlash16
To view The Big Flash 2015 image gallery please visit here.