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Workout mind and body in ‘puzzle’ gym

Sam Whitley tackles a ‘problem’ at The Jib
Sam Whitley tackles a ‘problem’ at The Jib. Eli Meixler

Workout mind and body in ‘puzzle’ gym

The Jib, Phnom Penh’s first “bouldering” gym, consists of a single cave-like room on the ground floor of a Norodom Boulevard apartment building. Thick mattresses cover the floor and the wooden walls – set at strange, acute angles – are covered with multi-coloured knobs and stuck-on tags.

Bouldering is to rock climbing what skateboarding is to surfing: an activity that started out as something enthusiasts did when “making do” with limited facilities that’s developed into a sport of its own.

Instead of scaling walls, bouldering climbers go across them. To increase the difficulty, they restrict themselves at any one time to using a particular series of hand- and foot-holds marked with a specific colour, known as a “problem”.

“Each one is like a puzzle,” said The Jib’s co-founder Jacole Douglas, who added that it could take weeks to find the right sequence of techniques to solve a particular puzzle.

Douglas, an NGO worker, built the gym with her partner Jenalee Kluttz, who works at Pannasastra University, after they met last year. Both were keen climbers back in the US and, lamenting the lack of adequate climbing facilities in Phnom Penh, decided to build their own. At the time, only Kids City had climbing walls, which Douglas said were not challenging enough for experienced climbers.

Douglas said that the biggest challenge to building The Jib was locating a building that was structurally suitable and in the possession of an open-minded owner.

“A lot of potential landlords didn’t know what bouldering was and thought people might fall to their deaths,” she recalled.

The Jib opened earlier this month and has so far proven popular with the city’s small but enthusiastic climbing community. Some evenings, up to nine hot and sweaty climbers share the walls – putting a fair bit of stress on the air-conditioning units in the enclosed space.

“Some people just boulder and some people use it to improve their rope climbing technical climbing skills,” said Douglas.

A single session costs $7 or $5 for Cambodians and students, with $60 10-day and $75 monthly passes also available. Climbers should bring their own climbing shoes as bare feet and normal shoes are not allowed, although slip-on shoes are available for the beginners.

On Monday, Sam Whitley, a 25-year-old English teacher from the US, was sweatily climbing his way around the room. Forearm tendons straining and leg muscles bunched, he moved stop-start, occasionally falling off onto the mats with a thump.

“I was stoked when I heard about the climbing gym,” Whitley said. “I was a little sceptical at first. A lot of people have said they were going to do climbing gyms before – but it’s made my dreams come true.”

Whitley, who has been climbing six years, said he preferred rope-climbing on outdoor rock walls but still enjoyed bouldering.

“When I’m climbing, I forget everything else,” he said. “I’m not worried about the past or the future, just what’s happening right now, what’s directly in front of me. It’s a good release from all the stuff that goes down.”

The Jib Bouldering Gym is located on Norodom Boulevard, just north of Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. Tel: 099 253 992.

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