Updated: Jul 13
The Singapore climbing industry has come a long way since 2011. Using faded polished handholds, Allen keys to tighten, tape to indicate boulder problems, and having random volunteers route setting, the Singapore climbing industry has progressed to having some of the best tools, processes, and talents that offer some of the best route setting in the region.
Tools – Soft Impact Drivers and Holds
From using Allen keys to drills, to impact drivers, setters in Singapore (and in fact, the world over) have progressed to using Soft Impact Drivers. Its oil-impulse cocking mechanism softens the sound made by traditional impact drivers, which have probably destroyed more than a few setters’ hearing.
But even that is nothing compared to the dramatic improvements and innovation with the shapes, style and materials that modern handholds are made from. Some of the notable innovators and shapes include – Flathold, Cheeta, Kilter and Euroholds.
Unless you are a veteran climber or route setter, you may not have noticed that the better-designed holds are designed to be “directional”. In that, they are best loaded in a particular direction. It is directional holds that help a setter build a vision and a pattern of movements that they intend for the climber to move.
It is the goal of setters to develop a problem that, while it can have different solutions (depending on height and skill-set), will always only have one answer.
Volumes – Fairness, Aesthetics, Enigma
Until the interview with Hilman for this article, it never occurred to our team that a volume can make a climb “fairer”. Think about it – because of the extensive surface area of volumes, it gives more options for climbers of different stature to decide where to step or hold.
Aesthetics is important. A well set but plain boulder will get less attention than an aesthetic boulder which may not climb that well. That is not to say aesthetics are everything, but image matters. For example, holds these days are designed to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Enigma - A volume will change the plane of the surface it is mounted on. A high profile one could make the move an easy sit-in, and a low profile one could create a smear-tension effect that might rip the fabric of your reality on what is friction.
All in all, volumes create unlimited possibilities. (At the point of writing, the Head Setter has chided the guy who ordered too little volumes for Boulder Planet. However, that is what we are working to resolve before Boulder Planet 2 opens. Shhhhh 🤫)
The Process – Consistency, Fore-Running, Experience
Go to any climbing gyms in the world, and there will never be a consensus on grading. And that IS the nature of this sport - embrace it!
Depending on your stature, strengths, mobility and sometimes mood, climbs will feel quite different for yourself at different periods (depending on how you feel, high-gravity days sucks). The subjectivity is amplified when you take into account the variances between people.
That is not an excuse, though, as the setters at Boulder Planet try their best to make boulders feel as consistent as they can.
The AFEAT system
Featuring a setting system pioneered by Hilman, the AFEAT system incorporates checks in:
Accuracy – If the boulder is supposed to be a Grade 5, the first draft should be within one grade of the desired difficulty.
Flow - How the moves flow into each other (a poor flow could be a hard start, and then all easy moves for the rest of the boulder).
Ergonomics – Set in a way that emphasises natural body position and movement. If you’ve ever tried an awkward move, you know what this means.
Aesthetics – Yes. Not only must it climb well, but the boulders must also look good.
Teamwork – How well do the different team members work together to create good boulders.
The AFEAT system is also what Boulder Planet will base on in training future setters.
Perhaps overlooked by most, fore-running is the most critical part of route setting, more than the actual physical work of putting up handholds. Fore-running is the process where the team gets together to try the boulders that each other set and make edits to improve the quality of the boulder.