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The Circuit in Tigard rocks as boulderers face 'problems'
Competitors and spectators crowded the bouldering gym on Saturday, Oct. 7, at the seventh annual Portland Boulder Rally, held at The Circuit's Tigard location. The climbing competition is the largest single-day bouldering competition in the nation and attracts an impressive roster of professional climbers from across the country.
During the morning session of open qualifiers, climbers of all skills, ages, shape and size tackled "problems" — the sequence of holds leading to the top of the boulder — while a swarm of spectators cheered them on.Kris Nerczuk, 24, of Oregon City, showed up to support his friends in an environment he described as "welcoming and collaborative."
"The competitors are very supportive of each other — it's very cool to see," said Quanita Anwar, 28, of Portland.
A volunteer judge at the Rally, Anwar has been climbing for one year, and is considering competing in the Rally next year for the first time.
The Portland Boulder Rally has a reputation for inclusivity, with many of its 435 participants competing for the first time. The Rally also offers the rare opportunity for climbers of all skill levels to mingle with the pros.
"You'll see world-class athletes on the wall at the same time as beginners," explained Nerczuk as he gestured to professional climber Jimmy Webb, sitting a mere few feet away.
Webb, 29, hails from Chattanooga, Tenn. An accomplished boulderer, he is known for his ability to "flash" — complete a route start to finish on the first attempt — difficult problems. Webb has competed in the Portland Boulder Rally several times now, and when asked what brings him back year after year, he replied: "Just the community here. I like the people."
The gym vacated after the second climbing session ended at 5 p.m., and professional route-setters got to work placing the holds that would challenge the best of boulderers during the finals round. At 7 p.m., those with tickets filled every anterior inch of The Circuit, facing boulders awash with stage lighting.
The top six men and top six women were allowed only two minutes to study the four finalist routes, and the crowd looked on as they mimed sequences of moves from the ground and looked to be sharing "beta" — advice or information on how to compete a climb — with each other.
To the sounds of electronic dance music, the top woman and man of same rank attempted to "send" — or successfully ascend — their respective routes simultaneously. Spectators had sweaty palms within minutes, and the anticipation didn't let up for another two hours, as climbers exhibited spectacular feats of athleticism.With only four minutes to get on the wall and successfully send a route, athletes utilized diverse moves, from "bat-hangs" — just like it sounds, when one hangs upside-down by their toes — to leaping from one precarious hold to another, and sometimes climbing themselves into corners that required acts of near-desperation.
Big falls onto the padded flooring were followed by a collective whoosh of breath as spectators gasped, and then by loud shouts of encouragement as climbers jumped back on for more.
"She's my hero," said one woman in the crowd as 18-year-old finalist Maya Madere struggled to complete a route, finally powering through to the top with a surge of strength.
"You're always competing against yourself. It's about self-improvement," said Hannah Blake of the sport of climbing.The 26-year-old Tigard resident has been climbing for three years. With a gesture that encompassed not just the climbing gym, but the community and culture of climbers at large, she said, "This is my happy place."
The night ended on a high note when in the penultimate climb, Alex Johnson fluidly finished her route and, rather than topping out immediately, hung on tight to flash a grin and send a shaka to Jimmy Webb as he scaled the adjacent wall. The crowd went nearly hysterical as he succeeded and the two athletes embraced in a display of sportsmanship and camaraderie.
Official results for recreational, intermediate, advanced, open and masters categories will be available Friday, Oct. 13.
Bouldering will make its debut as an official sport in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, so be sure to keep a weather eye on the talented finalists of the Portland Boulder Rally.