Slabfest: A Gender-Neutral Slab Climbing Competition

© Benjamin Cannon

Organisers of this open-category competition hope that it will unite people in a celebration of slab climbing.

Events focusing on one particular niche style of climbing such as the WideBoyz Crack Fest, the Beastmaker International Footless Festival and dyno competitions over the years have proved popular with devotees of these eccentric disciplines. Slab climbing, while more conventional than offwidth or footless bouldering, can be divisive. The fear of foot slips and sliding down the wall or the frustration of failing on the same move over and over make it an especially unforgiving activity. In recent years, slab fans such as YouTuber Anna Hazelnutt have tried to make slab climbing trendy, proudly coining the slogan: 'Slab is Sexy'. Those with an inclination for the off-vertical will descend on LancasterWall to participate in Slabfest on the 2nd of December, where all genders can compete in a rare open-category format.

Slabfest will showcase slab climbing for all abilities.   © Benjamin Cannon
Slabfest will showcase slab climbing for all abilities.
© Benjamin Cannon

The concept of Slabfest arose from a meeting of slab afficionados. "We have a lot of staff who are passionate about the dark art of slabs and we felt like we wanted to dedicate a competition to celebrate this aspect of the climbing world with our community," LancasterWall centre manager, Callum Wernyj, said. 

As well as highlighting this simultaneously feared and revered style of climbing, the team wanted host an inclusive event to make customers feel welcomed with no barriers to entry. Slabs seemed to provide the perfect medium for an open event to keep all genders on an relatively even - if slightly inclined - playing field where flexibility, faith in your footwork and a cool head can trump brute strength.

"We feel the nature of slab climbing makes setting relatively uniform for most body types as it usually revolves around the climber's technical ability to stay in balance and move well," LancasterWall route setter Ben Roe said.

The team acknowledges that achieving success for all genders will involve treading a fine line. 

"The only real areas that would lead to an unfair advantage would be moves that are significantly easier for a taller climber or moves that are extremely bunched, but we'll do our best to strike a nice balance!" Ben said.

This is the first open-gender climbing event hosted by LancasterWall.  © Benjamin Cannon
This is the first open-gender climbing event hosted by LancasterWall.
© Benjamin Cannon

The competition will consist of 20 slabby boulders set by Ben and the rest of LancasterWall's in-house team, including Callum Amos, Grace Culling, Jos Carrick and Matty Pawson. Diversifying the route setting and testing team for the event is a key focus.

"We're hoping to get another female freelance involved in some wonderful slab-based creations," Ben said. "If that doesn't prove possible, we'll be utilising some of our amazing female staff members to help with the testing and tweaking process."

While the traditional slab style typically involves balance-oriented movements on small holds with tenuously technical footwork and delicate rockovers, the new-school parkour style of dynamic slab climbing has gained ground in recent years. Ben plans to showcase both styles at the event, with an emphasis on the former.

"We can't unequivocally state that there won't be a single co-ordination-based move in the whole competition, but we will definitely be focusing on the true art of technical slab climbing rather than a dynamic approach," he explained. "You can expect lots of amazing delicate movement over a variety of slab angles within a widespread range of grades!"

As an added challenge, those channelling their inner Johnny Dawes with his no-hands gritstone prowess can claim bonus points for topping a boulder without using their hands. 

The team also hope that a newfound or rekindled passion for slabs might encourage people to transfer their skills to the rock. T-shirts are set to be made for the event with the names of the 100 best slab climbs in Britain printed on them. 

Slabs favour flexibility and footwork over brute strength.  © Benjamin Cannon
Slabs favour flexibility and footwork over brute strength.
© Benjamin Cannon

In line with its gender neutral inclusivity, the event will also cater for all ages and abilities with junior, senior and veteran categories. "Anyone keen to get involved in the wonderful world of slabs can expect to find a challenge which matches the level they're at!" Ben added. "There will be some of the very easiest slabs up to the hardest of nailbiters on offer!"

Whether it's a classic Science Friction-esque smear-fest or a comp-style run-and-jump, the team want to encourage participants to enjoy the process of getting stuck into a stubborn slab — whether they succeed or not.

"It's definitely a love hate thing!" Callum said. "We currently use marmite as a bit of a metaphor for climbing and our hope is that we can help everyone to see how deliciously tasty slab climbing can be!"

Traditional teetery slabs and comp-style creations will be on offer for all abilities.  © Benjamin Cannon
Traditional teetery slabs and comp-style creations will be on offer for all abilities.
© Benjamin Cannon
For more information about Slabfest, visit LancasterWall's website.

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17 Nov, 2023

Looking forward to this!

17 Nov, 2023

As a self proclaimed ballerina with a beer belly, I fully endorse this! Sounds right up my street.

17 Nov, 2023

I am sure this post is going to get a ton of dislikes, but here goes. I can’t believe the gender debate has permeated into climbing! In my view the Western obsession with gender identity represents a significant affront to the emancipation of Women. Equality between men and women is woefully lacking, be it in sport, pay, work choices etc. I have no issue, whatsoever, with any person self-identifying with a particular gender, no gender, or anything for that matter. If one chooses to self-identify as a banana, or chocolate chip cookie, a man, a woman, or neutrality then so be it.

However, when this translates into sport, we have a very big problem. Men self-identifying as women and then competing in women’s sport is simply unfair to those women who have dedicated their lives to becoming the best they can be. We have seen this debacle play out in swimming and cycling, for example.

Yesterday on UKC, the news articles were full of fantastic achievements by women, both in bouldering and sport climbing, it was truly inspirational. Imagine if Ondra and Bosi self-identified as women, and now claimed to be the best female sport climbers and boulderers in the World. Would that really inspire female climbers to push the boundaries?

17 Nov, 2023

Did you actually read the article? They are specifically saying that they believe that slab climbing has less of a gender disparity since it relies more on technique as opposed to raw power compared to other styles of climbing. I guess we will find out whether this is indeed the case but it seems to me to be a very good opportunity to try it out.

17 Nov, 2023

I think that your post reflects Western obsession with negative. What is wrong with people trying to set up a sport where we do not have to have gender categories? Slab climbing is indeed ideal discipline to try it on. It is interesting experiment and I am looking forward to see how it works.

Ondra and Bosi do not have to change identity to be best. Otherwise, agree with you that women sport has to be protected, but again, why to bring it up here?

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