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One hold at a time . . . New Zealand Alpine Club North Otago section committee member Nick Shearer hangs from the bouldering wall built by club volunteers last year. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Climbing is on the up in North Otago.

The North Otago section of the New Zealand Alpine Club is growing in popularity in Oamaru, as athletes from all generations take up climbing.

About 40 members were involved in the club, and families and young athletes were getting hooked on the sport at club nights, committee member Nick Shearer said.

The Waitaki Community Recreation Centre has indoor climbing walls as well as a bouldering room that officially opened last year. The new addition was created by a loyal band of club volunteers.

Bouldering – a form of free climbing – helped athletes wanting a challenge to take their skills to new heights.

“You can climb a lot more intensely on a bouldering wall. The guys who found the main climbing wall a little easy can come in here and climb much, much harder,” Shearer said.

The wall was mainly used by club members for the first six months, but the recreation centre had recorded 50 non-club visits in the past few months.

“We’re getting more and more people.”

The sport was also gaining traction among secondary school pupils.

Waitaki Girls’ High School pupils used the main walls for their winter lunchtime rock climbing club pupils from and Waitaki Boys’ High School were also regular visitors.

Waitaki Boys’ input was spurred by club member and teacher Sam Henehan, who helped build the bouldering wall.

“He’s managed to get a lot of enthusiasm,” Shearer said.

Involving athletes at a young age was one of the club’s aims, and many children who were not talented in “traditional” sports made good climbers, he said.

“There’s not the same pressure in a team. It suits individuals, I suppose, and they can express themselves.”

Many athletes went on to be active climbers.

“There’s been a whole lot of climbers [who] have come through here [who] have put up excellent climbs around the country.

“Some of that is thanks to the fact we’ve got the wall, and some very good volunteers, but also we’ve got some very good outdoor climbers as well.”

The club regularly organised trips to Long Beach in Dunedin and promoted outdoor climbing as well, he said.

Climbing’s popularity could continue to soar, as the sport was included in the Olympic Games for the first time this year.

Bouldering, speed climbing and lead climbing were trialled, and Shearer was rapt it increased curiosity in the sport.

“It’s a crowd pleaser. It seemed to be popular as a spectator sport, it’s got a little bit of drama and a little bit of circus-like atmosphere to it too, especially the speed climbing.

“I like the fact that we have more interest in it, and more people are coming along here.”