By Sandy Wong
Samdy Wong Coutesy of Edwin Wong A belayer on the ground protects the climber. Sport climbing benefits participants both mentally and phaysically. Artificial rocks make possible different climbing routes
When people pass by some outdoor gaming areas, they may see people climbing up and down on colourful artificial surfaces. These people are sport climbing.
Sport climbing was introduced because people found that hosting climbing competitions in fixed locations was unfair. Competitors from the host countries have more opportunities to prepare and practice. It was unfair to competitors from other countries.
Sport climbing solves this problem with artificial climbing surfaces. The routes are different every time.
Fairness is possible because no competitor has tried the routes before.
Though the sport has existed in Hong Kong since the 80s, it became popular in Hong Kong only in recent years.
Ho Chi Ming, president of the Hong Kong Ngok Fung Rock Climbing Society, said sport climbing became popular in Hong Kong because people's attitudes towards the sport had changed.
"In the past, people thought this was a dangerous sport and a kind of adventure.
"People now know that sport climbing is actually not dangerous if all the safety measures are taken," added he. "It's just like having physical education lessons."
Some parents forbid their children from sport climbing because they think there are lots of potential risks in this sport.
"Sport climbing itself is very safe. Accidents only occur when people do not use the equipment carefully," said Mr. Ho.
Therefore, it is very important for participants to have a full understanding of safety measures when sport climbing.
Sport climbing is actually a team sport. Whenever a person is climbing, there is always another person on the ground. This person is called the belayer, and he is responsible for holding the rope. It is very important for belayers to be sensitive enough to manage any sudden fall of the climber.
Annie Wong To-mui, a sport climbing training officer for the Hong Kong Mountaineering Union, said, "Never do sport climbing without a belayer."
She had a terrible experience when sport climbing without a belayer: She fell from a summit.
She broke her legs and had to stay in hospital for a month and undergo three surgeries.
"Therefore, one must remember all precautions before playing," said Miss Wong.
Miss Wong said sport climbing is suitable for people of all ages.
"People who are over 40 years old and those as young as 8 years old are now sport climbing," said she.
"Even people who are blind, deaf or physically handicapped can do sport climbing," she added.
In addition, no special clothing is required when climbing. Players need only wear clothes that are comfortable for them.
According to Mr. Ho, sport climbing might be difficult for beginners.
"Some beginners have difficulties in coordinating their legs and hands," said he. "It is more difficult for those who have problems with balance.
"Hands are just used for balancing your body. If you know how to manage your hands and legs well, sport climbing is not difficult. It's just like dancing as you move.
"Therefore, there are no advantages for those who have strong muscles. Knowing the technique is the key to sport climbing," he added.
Miss Wong agrees.
"Climbers need to know that standing on the rock is just like standing on the ground. All the strength must be concentrated on the legs instead of on the hands," she said.
Miss Wong also explained that climbers need to have a clear mind when sport climbing. They have to think through each step carefully. Every movement is a new challenge for them.
In Hong Kong, there are a number of venues equipped with sport climbing facilities, both indoors and outdoors. Some are owned by the government, such as those in Shek Kip Mei and Shun Lee Estate.
The government subsidy of the sport, however, is not enough.
Said Miss Wong: "There are not enough venues for sport climbing in Hong Kong. The government is not willing to build more because they think only few people are using the existing facilities, especially in the daytime.
"They do not understand the active time for sport climbing is at night, when people return from work," she explained. "This will just lead to a slow development of sport climbing in Hong Kong. We are already far behind many countries like China and Japan."
In addition, due to the lack of support from the government, some potential climbers may lose the chance to compete overseas.
In fact, sport climbing can benefit players in other aspects besides a physically healthy body.
Ben Tsang Wing Fai, 19, has been sport climbing for nearly 3 years. He said he has learned a lot of valuable lessons precious to his life from this sport.
"Sport climbing is teamwork. If you are careless, it will harm others," he said.
"In the past, I did whatever I liked. Sport climbing taught me to listen to others and to be co-operative."
He said he has developed a greater sense of responsibility through sport climbing.
Mr. Ho said sport climbing can teach players to trust each other and pay attention to little things.
"I always encourage teenagers to try sport climbing," he said.
Mr. Ho gets satisfaction from seeing troubled teens who get back onto a moral path after participating in sport climbing.
"This is the thing that keeps me teaching the sport," he said.