A young man practices sports climbing at the vast, newly inaugurated Sputnik Climbing center in the Madrid neighborhood of Legazpi on 27 July 2023. EFE/ Kiko Huesca

Sport climbing now all the rage in Spanish cities

By Javier Picazo Feliu

Madrid, Jul 27 (EFE).- Improved fitness, stress reduction and the challenge of vertical problem-solving are some of the key benefits of climbing, a sport that is trending upward in big Spanish cities and has soared in popularity with the opening of new privately run facilities.

The evolution of this booming sport in the Iberian nation is evident in its 320 climbing venues nationwide, with cities in Catalonia and the Community of Madrid boasting more than 30 percent of the total (with fifty centers apiece), according to sports news magazine CMDSport.

Located mostly in large urban areas, these climbing venues offer the essence of rock climbing without the need to travel to the mountains.

These centers typically also are spaces where people can use other fitness equipment, take exercise classes and enjoy a range of recreational activities.

Contrary to what many may think, climbing is a discipline that does not require prior physical training. All that is needed is the desire to practice a sport and disconnect from one’s ordinary routine.

“Climbing is a very complete sport: it requires coordination, balance and there’s an element of ‘mindfulness’ because you have to be focused or else you’ll make a misstep,” Eva Yuste, director of the Sputnik Climbing center in the Madrid neighborhood of Legazpi, told EFE.

“Basically, what we have here is bouldering (a form of free climbing without ropes or harnesses that has been an Olympic discipline since 2020). Climbing problems that you have to solve by moving your body and moving your arms.”

Yuste said different grades of bouldering are available for a variety of levels, allowing people to gradually take on bigger challenges once they are ready.

This new center, which occupies a space of more than 3,200 square meters (34,400 square feet), is the fourth the company has opened since 2016.

Despite its vast area with a capacity for more than 450 people, Yuste said expectations are that it will fill up due to high demand.

Another factor that has spurred interest in the sport in Spain was the gold-medal-winning performance at the 2020 Tokyo Games by Spain’s Alberto Gines, who at the age of 18 became the first-ever Olympic champion in the men’s combined (lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering).

“Of course, the Olympic Games have made it more popular,” Yuste said, though adding it also is important that people realize “it’s something they can do and that it’s not necessary to have great strength to climb.”

She said climbing centers are an improvement on the typical gym experience because they allow people to learn a new sport and are spaces that attract large numbers of women.

In fact, of the more than 289,000 currently valid climbing and mountaineering licenses in Spain, nearly 104,000 are held by women, a more than 22 percent increase from two years ago, according to official figures.

A sport that is open to almost everyone, its practitioners include Guillermo Peregrin, who is legally blind.

“I always say the same thing, that at the end of the day we set our own limitations and not to let anyone tell us how high we can climb,” he told Efe.

“Climbing is a super autonomous sport. People say, how can a blind person climb? But in the end, it’s just you and the wall.”

After enjoying success in competitions both in Spain and internationally, Peregrin now has his sights set on next month’s Paraclimbing World Championships in Bern, Switzerland, and also dreams of competing in the Paralympic Games.

“That discipline doesn’t exist for now. We’re fighting (to have it included) in the 2028 Paralympics in Los Angeles. We need more visibility, (but) we’re on that path,” Peregrin said. EFE