Get your rock on: bouldering serves up sporty addiction

Shortlisted for the 2020 Olympic Games, bouldering is booming, especially in the UK, where more bouldering-only gyms are opening up and newly addicted climbers are hanging by their fingertips at impressive heights.

According to the UK's The Guardian on Tuesday, statistics released last week by Sport England reveal that indoor climbing will overtake the traditional outdoor version as the country's most popular mountaineering activity in six to 12 months.

Surging in popularity

The sport as a whole has been on an upward trend since 2005, according to the report. Next year the IOC will decide whether "sports climbing" will enter the Olympics in 2020.

According to a recent report in The New York Times, tracking participation in any sort of rock climbing is challenging because outdoor climbers do not officially report their activities to anyone, and only some indoor gyms report activity to the Climbing Wall Association. The Outdoor Industry Association puts total participation in the sport in the US at 4.7 million to 6.9 million people, according to the report.

Multicolored playground

And what's not to love? Indoor gyms resemble a "multicoloured playground for adults, complete with blaring drum and bass, dazzle paint, and bright red crash mats," writes The Guardian.

While indoor rock climbing requires ropes and harnesses, bouldering requires a chalk bag and gravity-defying agility, as you scamper up shorter walls (usually no higher than 20 feet or about 6 meters), with a foam pad to soften the blow when you fall. And now even young children are in on the action, with some gyms offering pint-sized bouldering stations.

"Indoor climbing is the safest way to do what people perceive to be an extreme sport, in a relatively benign environment," Rob Adie, the climbing walls officer for the British Mountaineering Council, told The Guardian. "It's a bit like watching Formula One on the TV. It has also definitely replaced gym use -- it's a social experience, rather than just being stuck on a treadmill."

Bouldering hotspots

Where to get your climbing fix? The Biscuit Factory's new bouldering-only center in Bermondsey, also features a cinema room to crash out on sofas and watch films with your friends. Brooklyn Boulders in New York City is a fully dedicated rock climbing gym, or check out Chelsea Piers, the mega-sized facility on the West Side of Manhattan that reportedly has the largest indoor rock climbing gym in the city, with more than 10,000 square feet (roughly 3,000 meters) of craggy terrain.

Want to take it outside? Must-try bouldering spots include Fontainebleau in France and Hueco Tanks in Texas, in the US.

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