Bouldering Essentials (2013) David Flanagan, Three Rock Books.
Bouldering Essentials is a lavish new publication from Irish bouldering guru David Flanagan. Like all good books, this has clearly been a labour of love for the author of Bouldering in Ireland, and the finished product is an eye catching introduction to all things bouldering. This book is a welcome newcomer to the scene because it fills an important niche. Distinct from both the legions of crag guidebooks and the few instructional aides, this is very much a new kind of book. Its main purpose is to act as a handy and comprehensive coaching guide for beginners and improvers, and it does this very well indeed.
Coaching and advice: the content
An eclectic range of topics are covered. The first few chapters start with ‘the essentials’ and are aimed at beginners – they outline “The Basics”, “Equipment” you might need and ways of “Staying Safe”. Then we move on to focus on “Movement”, which takes in different holds and positions, and the different approaches you might take on a variety of common rock features. I really liked this section, as it has some helpful photo diagrams showing the importance of centre of gravity and how to keep it in check. This kind of advice is gold dust for improvers looking to up their grade, and will help to temper the “I need to get stronger” mentality that seems so prevalent. After a chapter on “Dynamics” that I’d do well to take heed of, the second half of the book gets more advanced, covering the transition from “Indoors” to “Outdoors”, the cunning game known as “Strategy” and of course “Training”. Strategy is really important for beginners and improvers, and will help some get the extra edge they need. The substantial section on training has plenty that even more experienced climbers would benefit from. The final section gives a run-down of several of the world’s top “Destinations”, as if to say “this is where this great sport will take you”. If you weren’t psyched already, you will be after the visual tour of Bishop, Hueco, Castle Hill, Rocklands, Ticino, Squamish, Bishop, Albarracin and the Gritstone!
Motivational value: world class photos
They say a core part of the coach’s role in any sport is to inspire and motivate. Flanagan has clearly taken this on board, and the obvious effort spent on perfecting the visual appeal of Bouldering Essentials has paid off. The array of world class photos is one of the book’s great strengths. I was particularly impressed by the wide range of stunning action shots which encompass virtually all the world’s best boulder destinations – from Rocklands to the Peak District. Many of these are full page beauties, but there are also loads of great shots designed to illustrate the techniques described – like smearing and toe hooking for example. I really liked the way that these have obviously been critiqued for ‘psyche-value’ too, and the upshot is that I’ve failed to find a bad photo among the 192 pages.
Summary: Great for beginners and improvers, but worth a look for the more experienced too.
The tone of the book is well pitched. Rather than being instructional, it gets alongside the reader and acts as a companion. Everyone finds bouldering difficult and frustrating at first but reassuring sections like “the beginners mind” help remind us of the positive attitude required. It’s like the book version of your mate who climbs several grades harder than you – there to offer tips, help with tactics and show you the next level really is possible. The chances are your mate would like it too, as there are some more advanced tips too – including a section that describes lots of cross training that I found especially useful. When I started climbing it took a few years for me to learn to love bouldering. At first I didn’t see the point, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to choose bouldering over a nice trad route. I got into bouldering eventually, though, and nowadays it’s probably the style of climbing I do most of. If Bouldering Essentials had been around all those years ago, I’m sure I’d have ditched my rack of wires and brought a pad much sooner!