So falling with a rope can be pretty brutal, but falling without one can be even worse. Luckily with the invention of portable crash mats or “bouldering pads” outdoor bouldering is safer than its ever been.
What Is A Spotter?
There are a few things you can do to help make outdoor bouldering safer, one of these things is having a spotter. A good spotter can make all the difference between sprained ankles and happy feet.
So what I mean when I say spotter is a friend or climbing partner that watches you when you climb and try to help control your trajectory when you fall. this is to make sure that you can make it safely to the mat preferably feet first.
The only problem is a bad spotter can sometimes be worse than no spotter. So if you want to look out for your friends it’s worth making sure you know the difference between good and bad spotting.
What makes a bad spotter
So there are a couple of different things that can make you a bad spotter.
The first and biggest thing is short attention spans. We have all been there, you have watched your friend climb 100 times and you’re getting sick of looking at their back, pretty much anything else at this point is more interesting.
This is where its most important to keep your concentration as your friend might slip at any moment and you need to be ready, a distracted spotter can be worse than no spotter at all.
The next biggest culprit for bad spotting is trying to catch the climber. This is a big no-no especially so if there is a size difference between you then there is no chance you are going to catch a climber that’s larger than you falling 5ft. Your job as the spotter is to make sure the climber makes it to the mat safely with a shove or a drag.
The last popular mistake that you tend to see is people being miles away from the mats and the climber. You need to be pretty dam close to ensure you can do something if the climber falls. Its no use being 3-4 foot away. now the opposite of this is also true so it’s a bit of a fine line, You need to work out that golden area where you are close enough to help direct a fall but far enough back to ensure the climber doesn’t just fall on top of you after a dynamic move.
What makes a good spotter
So now you know what not to do when spotting someone its time to figure out what you should do.
I think the first thing to mention is don’t lose sight of the goal. Vitals first, what I’m talking about is the climber’s neck and head should be your priority number #1 when trying to control a fall.
Above all else, you need to be making sure the climbers vitals are protected I can’t stress this enough.
To be a great spotter making good use of your floating pad is a must. A floating pad is a pad that you are going to be moving throughout the climb. If you have a large amount of pads its usually best to have a base layer then one floating pad sitting on top which you can move around to help cushion the fall.
When moving the floating pad try to use your feet to nudge it into position as if you bend over to adjust the pad and the climber falls then you might just end up as an extra crash mat.
So this is kinda obvious but still, people forget it. watch the climbers back, not the hands, not the feet, but the climbers back. The reasoning behind this is 90% of the time that’s the area that you are going to be shoving, nudging or just hooking under the armpits to help direct their feet and the climber toward the mat so its best to keep an eye on it and be prepared.
Talk to each other, Talk to each other, TALK TO EACH OTHER!.
Before your friend starts a climb make sure you know what route they are trying and the path of the route, this can help you identify falls before they happen.
How You Can Make The Spotters Job Easier
So there are a couple different ways you can make a spotters life easier when you are climbing.
Learn to fall guys. This one can be practiced in a climbing gym and entails things like not grabbing onto the rock or holds to try and catch yourself as you fall and making sure you don’t try and absorb the whole of the impact with your feet.
As I mentioned a good spotter has to communicate with the climber and know what route they are trying and the basic ins and outs of it. The same goes for the climber while climbing there should be clear communication. If you think the climb is getting too hard or you can’t hold on try and let the spotter know in advance, this will give them a little bit more time to prepare and make sure you hit the mat safely.
I am going to finish up with one last tip and that’s to always check your mat placement before and after a climb. If it’s your first attempt you are just double checking your placement is correct and there are not any sneaky gaps.
The reason you check it after a climb or fall is to make sure that none of the mats have moved or been nudged away by your impact or maybe knocked by the floating crash pad. This can happen and since it only takes a few seconds to recheck your pads its worth doing as it might prevent a future injury.