Belaying is 50% of climbing and mostly overlooked, but there are a bunch of techniques that you likely were not taught when getting your belay card. Soft catching and dynamic belaying are just 2 of the techniques that you can add to your kit to make you a better belayer.
What Is a Hard Catch?
A hard catch is where the belayer does not allow enough rope out for the lead climber, this means that once the climber takes a fall they will then swing back into the wall due to the lack of rope in the system or angular momentum. This is bad and can often result in bruised knees or elbows or in severe cases broken bones. It’s likely you have already experienced a hard catch.
What Is a Soft Catch?
A soft catch is where the belayer braces for the fall of the climber usually with a jump to help counter the angular moment to prevent the climber from slamming into the wall (hard catch).
While jumping is the most popular method it is quite hard to master the timing so an alternative method is put yourself into a small crouch and once the falling climber’s weight starts to hit the rope fully extend upwards and allow the motion of standing to give you the upward motion needed for the catch.
This is much easier to time and the weight of the climber will propel you upwards. I would practice both methods at a gym with a trusted partner and settle on the method you both prefer.
When performing catches outdoor make sure you are mindful of any potential ledges or parts of the wall you as the belayer might be thrown into when performing catches. It’s easy to catch a shin or knee when pulled by the momentum of the fall.
What is Dynamic Belaying?
Dynamic belaying just means your moving as you are belaying instead of staying static. The reason we dynamic belay is to provide more control of the rope system in place, moving further and closer to the wall allows you to control the amount of the rope in the system while having both hands on the dead-end rope.
The benefit of this is you can move closer to the wall when your partner clips and then take a step back after the clip to remove any excess rope. Along with allowing you to prepare for a soft catch.
Mani The Monkey offers a great video showing the soft catch and dynamic belaying in action.
So When Should I Perform a Soft Catch?
Soft catches can be used for pretty much every climbing fall, its important to make sure you are paying attention to your climber and ready to soft catch at a moment’s notice. Your climbing partner will be grateful for the softer falls.