UKC

Slabfest LancasterWall 2023 - Report

© Benjamin Cannon

Are slab climbs the great equaliser in our sport? It was the question on everyone's mind at Slabfest 2023, a new competition hosted by Lakeland Climbing Centres at LancasterWall on Saturday 2 December. So, what was the verdict?

The Slabfest event aimed to provide a level playing field across all categories.  © Benjamin Cannon
The Slabfest event aimed to provide a level playing field across all categories.
© Benjamin Cannon

The day saw 150 climbers head to Lancaster for a gender-inclusive competition, where the only limit on boulders was simple: nothing would be set on a section of wall even vaguely resembling an overhang.

For years, competition climbing has been about pulling very hard on very steep, overhanging problems. The pendulum has swung back recently to also include climbing on slabs where balance, delicate foot placement, technique, flexibility and a cool head are essential ingredients for success.

IFSC competitions and the Olympics will now include vertical surfaces where the addition of very large volumes demand slab style movement and finesse. Unlike overhanging climbing, where competitors tend to climb (and fail) quickly, slab climbing brings the constant tension of 'are they on, are they off?'. For competitors and spectators alike, it adds a whole new dimension.

Thea Cameron (2nd place) in the morning round of competition.  © Benjamin Cannon
Thea Cameron (2nd place) in the morning round of competition.
© Benjamin Cannon

Slab climbing also begs the question of whether there is an inherent gender advantage for competitors. Slabfest accepted this conundrum head-on with an open category, where all genders competed against one another in the same competition.

Assisted by thoughtful route setting, which ensured that things like reach and strength didn't automatically lend an advantage, the results seem to give us a firm answer: Slab climbing really does level the playing field.

The majority of the ten senior finalists were female, and women made up two out of the three podium spots. How exciting would it be to see Janja Garnbret competing on the same slabby blocs as Toby Roberts or Adam Ondra?

A variety of slab styles were presented to competitors.  © Benjamin Cannon
A variety of slab styles were presented to competitors.
© Benjamin Cannon

But the idea of slab climbing as the great equaliser went further than that. Somewhat unexpectedly, the LancasterWall team realised that slabs also levelled the playing field when age was taken into account, too. The competition split competitors by age, with juniors (7-16), seniors (17-44), and veterans (45+), but qualification highlighted that many juniors and veterans were more than capable of qualifying for the finals. Perhaps next year we'll see a fully open event…

At 9 a.m. the day kicked off with a rigorous fun competition/qualifying round encompassing 23 boulder problems, three of which were hands-off bonus problems. There was also a problem featuring real slate holds, which gave competitors a proper Hodge Close or Rainbow Slab feeling.

For the Junior and Veteran category this was their main event and the top three scorers gained the glory of podium places when the initial competition culminated at 2 p.m.

Junior 7 - 16

Emily Chan - 1st

Keiran Lee - 2nd

Bert Harris - 3rd

Veteran 45+

Matt Leigh - 1st

Gavin Macrae - 2nd

Andy Marshall - 3rd

But there's more to the day than just a competition, Slabfest is a full-blown celebration of all things slab!

As part of the midday break, participants had the exclusive opportunity to attend workshops conducted by renowned experts Neil Gresham and Sally Lisle. These coaches shared invaluable insights into slab techniques to those lucky enough to secure a slot, while Andy McVittie from Process Physiotherapy presented an engaging max-strength grip test on his new, cutting-edge hangboard design.

The route setting even enabled young climbers to shine on tricky slabs.  © Benjamin Cannon
The route setting even enabled young climbers to shine on tricky slabs.
© Benjamin Cannon

Adding to the buzzing atmosphere were stalls from local brands and organisations such as Dirtbags Climbing, RWC Gear Repair, Built to Send, and Climbers Against Cancer. This provided ample opportunity for climbers to stock up for Christmas on handcrafted gifts and goodies. The event also delighted attendees with a delicious treat—complimentary pizza from Domino's, fuelling the climbers for their challenges ahead.

The pinnacle of the event was the Senior Finals, which featured four distinct slab-based climbs for our 10 committed finalists. Each climb tested a different combination of skills—strength, dynamic coordination, footwork and technique to name a few—resulting in a thrilling showcase of talent and determination. A massive congratulations to our winners Neil Mawson, Thea Cameron and Holly Wilson. (A table of our qualifiers and podium winners can be found below.)

Competitor

Neil Mawson - 1st

Thea Cameron - 2nd

Holly Wilson - 3rd

Stuart Walker - 4th

Elizabeth Goldsbrough - 5th

Molly Oliver - 6th

Mike Lea - 7th

Kyle Spark - 8th

Tszyau Lok - 9th

Winnie Lea - 10th

Score

3T 4Z 4 7

3T 4Z 4 13

3T 3Z 3 3

3T 3Z 21 19

2T 4Z 3 12

1T 2Z 3 9

1T 1Z 2 2

1T 1Z 8 7

1T 1Z 17 17

0T 1Z 0 1

Here's what the winners had to say about Slabfest 2023 at LancasterWall.

"It's been a great day, lots of techy slabs. Very outdoorsy style, so it suited me quite well. I'd love to do it again. When they're doing it again next year it's a good one to come to for sure." - Neil Mawson

"The whole day's been really, really good, the setting has been really cool and versatile - quite outdoorsy. Just really fun!" - Thea Cameron

"A brilliant day, thoroughly enjoyed myself throughout. Great setting, nice vibe and just fun all round. Thanks to all the staff involved." - Holly Wilson

More Slabfest events are in the pipeline.  © Benjamin Cannon
More Slabfest events are in the pipeline.
© Benjamin Cannon

As the day came to a close, one of the most remarkable aspects of Slabfest was the diverse representation across age groups, demonstrating that passion for climbing knows no age boundaries. From the youthful enthusiasm of the juniors, to the seasoned expertise of the veterans, the event truly embodied the inclusive and vibrant spirit of the climbing community.

We look forward to seeing you all next year, though please note that there will be a Slabfest in South London on Saturday 3rd February at CroyWall, with Johnny Dawes delivering technique workshops and another gender-inclusive competition to enjoy!

Watch a video from the event below:


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16 Jan

Looks like a fun format that can be used in any bouldergym or climbing gym with enough slab surface.

16 Jan

Cool! Those results tables for sure show the format is a good one!

Really enjoyed the buzz at Slabfest - a huge shout out to Lancaster Wall for inviting Climbers Against Cancer along https://www.climbersagainstcancer.org/ with our pop-up shop. Lots of connections with new and old supporters alike, and £400 raised for Cancer Research :-)

We're always on the lookout for comps and other events at walls to support - here are a few highlights from 2023 including Slabfest.

https://www.climbersagainstcancer.org/news/climbing-walls-against-cancer-celebrating-some-of-our-great-collaborations-over-the-last-year/

Get in touch with your ideas to hello@climbersagainstcancer.org

Cheers, Dom

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