A freelance carpenter and climbing enthusiast has responded to the closure of south London’s climbing gyms by building a climbing wall in his own garden.
Spike Morton, 23, from Southwark, has climbed for five years, and his desire to continue throughout lockdown reflects the remarkable rise of one of Britain’s fastest growing sports.
Data provided by the Association of British Climbing Walls show that, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, one million people went climbing each year, including 100,000 regulars with a yearly participation increase of 15-20%.
Morton said: “I built it mostly because I was bored, but also because of the endorphins I was missing from playing sport or doing heavy exercise. There’s only so much walking you can do.
“You can’t really substitute for an indoor gym that will have 300 routes to climb, but it prevented me from losing strength and skill.
“Prior to lockdown I would climb four or five times a week. In terms of things I missed it was probably pub, climbing, work, in that order.”
Morton believes that climbing’s spike in popularity can be put down to its inclusion in the 2021 Summer Olympics, and an increase in availability as more climbing gyms open in urban centres.
However, despite its meteoric rise, Morton believes climbing gyms may struggle to rebound from the damage caused by successive lockdowns.
He said: “It will be very hard to continue its growth after lockdown, I know a lot of gyms are struggling because it’s not like Gymshark or a Virgin Active where they’re chains, most climbing gyms are independent.
“Also most climbing gyms make most of their money from walk-ins, only one in ten people pay subscriptions, so I think they’re going to really struggle under a system with bookings and limited capacity.
“Any expansion of the sport will probably be stunted for quite a while.”
Morton used skills he acquired as a freelance carpenter to build the freestanding climbing wall in his garden, that backed onto his home.
Although, he was keen to stress that it’s easier and more cost-effective to support your local gym after lockdown than to build a wall of your own.
He said: “I don’t think I could have done it without my background in carpentry.
“It was difficult to build something that’s freestanding on the side of a building but also to build my own holds, I definitely needed specific tools and knowledge from my work.
“The wall cost me about £300 but a membership for a year at your local climbing gym will probably only cost around £150.”