In May 2018 the C4 climbing facility was built at Mbombela Stadium, offering local climbers a bouldering cave to train in. We chat to George Stainton from Sport Unplugged during a training camp for the Alphas Climbing Team, consisting of junior Proteas and up-and-coming SA athletes.
When it comes to outdoor climbing, the Lowveld surrounds have top-class options: Emgwenya (Waterval Boven), Crocodile River at the Lowveld National Botanical Garden, Bundu Lodge and Kaapsehoop. Indoor climbing options are few and far between, which makes C4 a welcome addition to Mbombela.
George and local climber Barry Brits came up with the idea to build the stadium’s facility, C4 Climbing Conditioning Core Coaching. It is more of a bouldering cave than a fully fledged climbing gym, but George has plans to expand the facility in the near future.
“There are three disciplines in climbing,” George explains. “Bouldering, where you don’t have any ropes, speed climbing and lead, where you need stamina and endurance. It is like hurdles, sprinting and long distance running.” His plan is to add speed and lead climbing walls at the stadium. He illustrates his vision with a video on his phone; a world champion climbing a 15-metre high wall under six seconds.
George is in charge of commercial rights for Sport Unplugged, he is the rights and sponsorship consultant of the Mpumalanga Rugby Union and was the CEO of Ellis Park Stadium for eight years. His wife, Jackie, is the Alphas Climbing Team coach. “There are different age groups, but she trains about 40 children in Johannesburg,” George explains. Due to school holidays, only six male climbers aged between 14 and 17 came on the training camp to the Lowveld early in December 2019.
Five of the six youngsters have national colours in climbing. Some have been climbing for five years, but most have only been at it competitively for roughly two. “They are absolutely climbing mad. They have excelled because they are dedicated. They are also light framed and they have that ideal power-to-weight ratio,” George adds. “Jackie has four- to five-year-olds climbing for fun. If you can get them to enjoy it from that age until they are 10, then they will mushroom.” There are roughly 25 kids from the Lowveld who regularly use the facility.
The C4 climbing gym has MoonBoards, which are panelled climbing walls set with a selection of numbered holds, consisting of crimps, pinches, slopers and pockets. “The angle and orientation is the same throughout the world and you have different colours,” George explains, while opening a MoonBoard app on his phone. There are different colour coordinated routes and various gradings or difficulty levels.
One of the athletes shows us how it’s done, climbing to the top of the wall and hanging only from their hands, feet swinging away from the board. “We call that to cut-loose,” another climber explains. “You have to start as well as finish with two hands on the hold,” George adds.
The benefits of climbing are manifold; not only for physical strength and body control, but mentally too. “After six months of climbing, every one of these children’s school results have improved. It is about thinking through the process and outside the box. You need concentration to follow the colours. When you are outdoors, you have to memorise the routes. It is also a mental strength, because you are more exposed.”
George believes one of the main benefits is that it offers kids something else to excel at, besides the mainstream sports at schools. “Not all children want to play rugby. Some might be shy, they don’t like the physical contact or they just don’t have that type of hand-eye coordination.”
Climbing helps for confidence building too, something he has noticed in the young team. It is also a great sport for the entire family to enjoy; you don’t have to be at the same level to climb together, unlike cycling or running.
George’s interest in the sport was sparked when his daughter started climbing at school and Jackie started coaching her. “She was one of the first climbers to go to the Youth Olympics in 2014. That was when climbing was first showcased at the Olympics.” He says sports like climbing, roller-skating, surfing and parkour are brought on board due to younger audiences and change in viewership.
They want some of the Alphas climbers to compete at the 2020 Africa Continental Cup at CityROCK in Cape Town this month. “Only 20 people over the age of 16 can compete, and the winner of that goes to the Olympics,” George explains, excited for what the future holds. If you are excited too, there is a R250 joining fee at C4 (which includes registration at the South African National Climbing Federation) and monthly membership costs only R100.
George Stainton on 082-775-0887
Text and photographer: MIA LOUW