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Conquering Feats of Strength

This past weekend, part of the Brooklyn Boulders route setting crew – and a few BKB members – took on Feats of Strength, a bouldering competition at The Cliffs Valhalla. Some of us are experienced comp climbers. Some of us are not. Here’s your guide to navigating climbing competitions.

The crowd at Feats of Strength at The Cliffs.

Aside from photographing our first climbing competition, BKBeatdown, this past fall, I’ve yet to compete in a bouldering competition. Until this past weekend. I climbed a bit throughout the week, took a rest day the day before, and had a coffee and donut the morning of the 10th annual Feats of Strength competition.

Now that it’s over, here’s my guide to surviving a bouldering comp.

A Guide to Bouldering Competitions

1. Prepare for Familiar Faces, and to Meet New Ones

grand central crew

When Phil Schaal, Garrett Koeppicus and I rolled up into Grand Central station to head up to The Cliffs, we immediately ran into familiar faces that are often spotted at BKB. The takeaway – the climbing community is tight knit, and you’ll often see somebody you know. Prepare to socialize, and if you’re serious about winning, prepare to conduct psychological warfare, which may include excessive muscle flexing or stern face intimidation.

If you’re new to the climbing community, don’t be afraid to ask others for a spot or a witness, or to cheer others on. It’s a nice way to make new friends.

2. Stay Focused During the Madness

Garrett and Linnea, scoping out the crowd and the problems.
Garrett and Linnea, scoping out the crowd and the problems.

Bouldering competitions can be crowded. It’s easy to want to start climbing straightaway, but the best piece of advice I got before competing was from Head Instructor Luke: before starting, observe all the problems thoroughly, figure out which ones suit your style best, and watch others climb to steal beta.

Most importantly: be hyperaware of where you’re walking and climbing at all times. Crowds that are climbing can be dangerous.

3. Have Fun

Attempting a difficult problem, shortly before falling.
Attempting a difficult problem, shortly before falling.

Don’t take the competition too seriously. While the competition format of bouldering adds a level of excitement and flurry to a climbing session, it still boils down to having a fun experience. Try hard, but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t climb at a certain level.

4. Entertain, and Be Entertained

Garrett, fixing Sam's beard while awaiting to attempt the next finals problem.
Garrett, fixing Sam’s beard while awaiting to attempt the next finals problem.

If you’ve got the skills to make it to finals, it’s even more important to remember to have fun. Finals are about entertainment – the spotlights, the DJ pumping out intense beats, and the next-to-impossible problems set for the top climbers.

Phil, Garrett and BKB climbers Sam Gardner and Linnea Russell all made it to the finals category. The problems were not easy. But it was hilarious to see Garrett poke fun at himself for repeated falls, and fun to yell and cheer the way the crowds at the Colosseum did at big moves.

5. Don’t Make Plans for the Next Day

If you’ve exerted all of your effort into climbing hard and having fun, you’ll likely be really, really, really sore. Certainly don’t make plans to climb the next day. Even going out for dinner or anything that requires a lot of walking may be pushing it. Make plans to rest.

Finals winners at Feats of Strength.
Finals winners at Feats of Strength.

See all the photos from our BKB field trip upstate here – and say congrats to Phil & Linnea next time you see ’em at BKB – they both placed 3rd!


Got an itch to try competing yourself? We’re hosting another bouldering comp at BKB this coming April.

Stay tuned.