BD athlete Alex Honnold reports on Poland's indoor climbing scene
Black Diamond athlete Alex Honnold traveled to Poland in November and sent us this great email that recounts his new-found appreciation for the simple yet effective Polish indoor climbing gyms.
[Unknown climber cranking in one of Poland's simple yet effective climbing gyms.]
Most climbing gyms in the US are built for public enjoyment, trying to be something of an adult playground to attract more people to the sport. I grew up in gyms like that. Fun, well lit, relatively clean—places that were trying to be wholesome businesses that could appeal to Boy Scout outings and birthday parties.
In mid-November I took an 11-day trip to Poland, ostensibly for 13th annual Explorers Festival I was presenting at in Lodz but also for some family tourism. I'm half Polish and my mom and sister decided to come over at the same time and visit some roots. We had a whirlwind tour through several different cities, and for me that meant visiting 4 different Polish gyms in an effort to stay somewhat fit.
The contrast to US gyms was stark. Where a US gym is meant for fun, Polish gyms reminded me more of small training centers. Systems boards, steep bouldering caves, campus boards, and a few weights all crammed into a dark, extremely dusty little nook. Not really a place to play, but certainly a place to get extremely strong. And it was obvious from watching all the regulars climbing that they take it fairly seriously. People stretch, warm up, climb hard, and then work out, all with a certain discipline that you don't see very often in the States. I saw young kids doing circuit workouts on the steep bouldering wall (doing the same 20-move problem every few minutes till they were exhausted).
Yet despite the somewhat intimidating seriousness of the places, people seemed super nice. Anyone entering the climbing areas would shake hands with everyone who was already there, even if they didn't know each other. So each time someone entered the bouldering area they would come around and shake hands with everyone. I never quite understood the idea but it gave the gym a very nice family feeling. Like a lot of things in Poland, I had no idea what was going on but kinda liked it.
But mostly, the thing that Polish gyms showed me was that the quality of the training facility is much less important than the quality of the person training. They didn't need great gyms, or new holds, or clean facilities. They were just super psyched and worked out super hard. Really, I guess it just reminded me of the passion I had for climbing when I was younger. The constant burning fire to go into the gym and try hard. That fire has been dimmed a little bit by the nonstop roadtripping and continuous access to outdoor climbing, but it's good to be reminded sometimes that it really is a gift to climb outside all the time.
I'm glad that the climbers in Poland were so generous about opening their doors and letting me train with them.