It’s just past 10 p.m. at Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation and the climbing wall is buzzing with activity. On one side, a freshman is hanging Spiderman-style from the overhanging wall face. Near the door, two graduate students are double-checking their safety harnesses. All along the walls, climbers are stretching and contorting themselves to reach the next hold.
This is practice time for Stanford’s newest club sport: Competitive Climbing. The team was officially approved last week and will begin competing this weekend at Sonoma State.
Stanford Competitive Climbing was founded by four underclassmen, three of whom have extensive climbing resumes. Freshmen Andy Lamb, Matthew Matera and Will Roderick and sophomore Lila Neahring worked to unite the previously scattered community of climbers on campus.
“One of the motivating factors for creating this team was a lack of climbing culture on campus, at least for undergraduates,” Lamb said. “One of the aims of the team is to create an environment where people have people to climb with, practice with and train with and to be motivated by each other.”
The team has a mix of approximately 25 climbers ranging from those who climb recreationally to those like Lamb, Neahring and Roderick, who have competed on the highest levels internationally.
“It’s cool to have everyone working together because the more experienced climbers can give the beginners different insights on different movements or body positions and the beginners can really learn from that,” said Matera, who has been climbing since he was in third grade. “It just provides a really good environment for people to get better and improve.”
Two of the most experienced members of the team, Lamb and Roderick, serve as the team’s coaches, developing workouts and giving tips to the other climbers. Both climbers, along with Neahring, are among the best in the world in their age groups.
“What Andy and I have experience in that not everyone else does is competition and training really hard for something,” Roderick said. “A lot of people [we met] wanted to get into that and become their best at climbing.”
Lamb, a native of Lexington, Mass., began climbing more than ten years ago at a birthday party.
“Initially, I really hated it — I was scared of heights,” Lamb said. “But three months after that, I randomly asked my dad to go back and the second time it really clicked and I got super into it.”
Besides several strong performances at US Nationals, Lamb placed 29th in his age group in sport climbing at the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Youth Championships in Singapore last summer.
“Sport climbing is based on difficulty,” Lamb said. “They’ll set a really hard route that is designed so that [very few] people will be able to finish it. Then it’s basically how high you can get — each hold is a point.”
Most recently, Lamb competed in the PanAmerican Championship over Thanksgiving break. The freshman earned second in bouldering — a shorter form of short climbing — and fourth in sport climbing.
“[Climbing] has taken me to some really cool places,” Lamb said. “I’ve been to Spain three times and all over the United States. It’s a very shaping experience. It’s formed my identity.”
Roderick began climbing more recently — he was introduced to the sport by a friend’s dad just five years ago — but he has also climbed all over the world. In one memorable attempt to get a sponsorship photo, the Berkeley native climbed up the side of a crumbling ancient castle in Scotland while on a family vacation.
“The security guard wasn’t too happy about that,” Roderick joked, “but the picture was cool.”
Although Roderick has competed at US Nationals in bouldering and sport climbing, his specialty is speed climbing. In 2011, Roderick placed 20th in speed climbing at the IFSC World Youth Championships in Austria.
“It’s really cool because with climbing you can easily see yourself improving,” Roderick said. “It’s really fun and casual, so we just started doing it more and more and eventually joined a team and started competing afterwards.”
Lamb and Roderick are both training for 2013 Nationals, which will be held at the end of February.
Although she is no longer competing on the national circuit, Neahring, during high school, was ranked in the top six among Americans her age in both bouldering and sport climbing. The sophomore from Oregon placed 38th in sport climbing at the 2011 World Youth Championships.
The Stanford team will be competing much closer to home as part of US Climbing’s Collegiate Climbing Series. The four founders worked with Stanford Outdoor Education and Club Sports to become an officially recognized campus organization.
“The other co-founders and I had the idea pretty early in the fall and it came to fruition in winter quarter,” Lamb said. “It’s definitely been a process. All of the presidents have been learning how the system works. It can take a while to get stuff done and it can be a little bit frustrating, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.”
The team may hire a coach once it becomes more established, but for now, Lamb and Roderick plan to continue leading practices. Climbing workouts are often designed like running workouts, with a warm-up and core exercises bracketing different types of interval exercises. Roderick said that the Stanford team’s workouts aren’t as intense as the ones the US team goes through, although he and Lamb lead similar exercises.
“We’ll either train laps or we’ll do certain exercises where you try to perfect your technique as you go up the wall, like making no sound,” Roderick said. “Or we do various strength-based or move-based exercises.”
On this Tuesday night, the team is doing a drill in which each climber has to hover above each hold for five seconds. According to Neahring, the last practice involved “route suicides,” in which the athletes climb one-third of the way up and down a designated route, then two-thirds and then all the way to the top of a route and down.
“We basically do things that make you really tired,” Neahring laughed.
One notable absence from the regimen is weight training with free weights or machines. Although climbers have to be strong enough to pull and hold themselves up, they also need to maintain flexibility.
“It’s generally easier to get hurt with weight training,” Roderick said. “Since so much relies on your tendons and your bones and everything staying together and not getting hurt, it’s just better to do body weight.”
Now that practices have officially started, all four founders say the enthusiasm is more than they expected.
“I had met some of [the other climbers] at the climbing gym before, but it’s great to have twice a week where you see them all the time,” Matera said. “For me being a freshman, it’s been a great way to meet some of the upperclassmen and people that have similar interests.”
“One of the requirements for club sports is having twelve people and at first we were concerned that we couldn’t get that many people dedicated enough to go to competitions,” Neahring said. “That hasn’t been a problem at all so far — we’re really excited about the number of people who are showing up and a lot of people have kept showing up.”
In fact, one of the biggest problems that the team faces is finding enough space for all the climbers in the Arrillaga gym. The group supplements on-campus workouts with trips to various gyms in the area, but it is looking forward to the new, larger climbing gym that is scheduled to open near Roble next September.
“So many different ranges of abilities come into [Arrillaga] that they don’t have room to represent each climbing grade that much and you end up doing the same routes each time if you’re trying to do in a certain range,” Neahring said. “When there’s more variety of routes there are a lot more training possibilities.”
The team’s first official competition is on Feb. 23. For now, the team will focus on the Collegiate Climbing Series and local Bay Area events, but the co-founders hope to bring team members to regionals and nationals in the future.
Though the organization now has competitions on the calendar, the group mentality isn’t going to change.
“It’s kind of funny to think that we are a competitive climbing team, because climbing isn’t super competitive as a sport,” Matera said. “So even though it’s competitive climbing, everyone is trying to benefit from it and learn from each other and elevate the sport as a whole.”
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky “at” stanford.edu.