San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

National Stadium hosts a different kind of rock

There was a whole lot of screaming going on at the National Stadium last Saturday and Sunday.

Costa Rican rock climbers gathered over the weekend to compete in the 2011 National Bouldering Champion, and climbers, it turns out, like cinder-block-punching karate senseis, like to scream to a lot. 

Top prize went to Gino Negrini, a burly 21-year-old who won the competition by powering through a series of routes on artificial walls erected under the western concourse at the stadium. Competitors in bouldering competitions are scored based on a calculation of the number of attempts it takes them to finish routes designed by event organizers. 

Julio Arce organized the event with the help of the Costa Rica Federation of Mountain Sports and the Association of Climbing and Mountaineering. Arce says the climbing scene in Costa Rica is small – the competition drew about 30 competitors – but dedicated.

“Climbing in Costa Rica is real Spartan,” said Arce, who is one of a handful of Ticos who have gone abroad to compete at international climbing competitions. “We have to fight against everything we don’t have. Living in a country where you have so little rock is hard, but at the same time you also feel proud to develop new climbing areas, because you feel like you’re a pioneer.”

At the competition, dust from climbers’ ubiquitous chalk bags hung in air pulsing to a mix of techno and rap beats emanating from heavy speakers. A crowd of about 80 spectators showed up both days to watch climbers throwing themselves against the plywood walls studded with plastic, rock-shaped holds.

Blood was shed and tendons stretched to the max as the competitors vied for the championship. Daniel Guevara, 23, a climbing trainer at San José’s only rock climbing gym, Mundo Aventura, took second place in the competition, losing to Negrini only because he took one attempt more than Negrini to finish the final route on Sunday. On Monday, Guevara said, muscles in his shoulders, fingers, back and forearms were twisted into painful knots.

He chalked it all up to a desire to climb as hard as possible.

“It is a lot of sacrifice,” Guevara said. “And a lot of training to get good results in a competition, you have to sacrifice a lot and train really very hard.”

Climbing Comp 1

Gino Negrini, Costa Rica’s new national climbing champion, studies a route during the National Bouldering Competition at The National Stadium Saturday.

Clayton R. Norman

Bouldering competitions are designed to test competitor’s abilities to execute physically demanding movements and decipher the right approach to finishing a route. One facet of the structure erected for the competition featured a wall overhanging approximately 60 degrees forcing the climbers to make long, dynamic jumps between handholds as their feet swung in the air. Another wall featured a vertical roof that had climbers hanging upside down as they tried to scurry over the roof’s lip and head for the top of the wall. Their bodies made dull, sickening thuds against the pads piled under the routes when their fingers failed them.

Arce said he hoped the competition would give climbing in Costa Rica some legitimacy and, hopefully, attract sponsors or climbers from abroad to consider the country as a place to come develop new routes here.

“We really want to keep developing climbing in Costa Rica,” he said. “Everybody really loves to climb outside, but the gear to develop places outside is expensive and it takes a lot of effort. With competitions, you can attract the attention of sponsors who can help out with money, and with money you can develop new areas.”

Arce added that competitions are also a great motivator to encourage climbers to train hard and improve their skills.

Guevara, who has been climbing for three years, said he was hooked after making his first visit to Mundo Aventura, the gym where he now works.

“To me climbing was something different,” Guevara said. “I wanted to be different and to do something different, not play football like everyone else.”

He said climbing began to be a bigger part of his life.

“It helps me stay focused,” he said. “I can do my things; this is a lifestyle for me. I can go climbing at Cerro de la Muerte and then come back here [to Mundo Aventura] and go to work, and that’s what I want.”

Between the gym and studies in business administration at Universidad Latina, Guevara said he fits climbing trips in to places like Cerro de la Muerte, between San José and San Isidro de El General in the Southern Zone, and in Santa Ana, west of San José.

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