f51 climbing gym – Everyone’s invited!
F51 is Folkestone’s skate park, climbing and boxing complex. As well as the concrete bowls and floors of skateboarding, BMXing and a boxing gym, it is host to a 15m climbing wall and bouldering area. Manager Ben Sykes and Head Coach Chase Rudrum spoke to Folkelife about the gym’s aims and objectives.
“I was at uni with the first managers who set up the gym. I’ve been a Hampshire boy all my life but with a love for travel and adventure. When this wall opened in April 2021 I came along to help my friends out, did a couple of shifts here and there and had some fun whilst they were doing the managerial stuff. I only came to help but got hooked in by the climbing community that has built up here.”
sport and geography
“My favourite subjects at school were always Sports and Geography and if you push them together, you get Adventure Education, which is what I studied at Uni. I’ve always done scrambling, surfing, swimming; lots of water-based sports having grown up in Southampton, by the sea. At Uni we had a climbing wall and before that I’d only really climbed trees, so I gave it a go and haven’t looked back. I absolutely love it!
“Back then I didn’t know you could make a job of it, but that wasn’t really important. I knew I always wanted to be active, and if you can get involved in the social side of these sports then it makes it all the better. And that’s what’s special about Folkestone. You get all sorts of people here, all demographics, who just pull you under their wing and if you’re a first timer, get you going. We’ve got families, partners, friends, and friends of friends who’ve never climbed before… everyone is bringing along new people and encouraging people to climb together. It’s the sort of sport you can do together even if you are working at different levels. That’s what blows this sport out of the water.”
Head Coach Chase Rudrum has been part of the F51 climbing team since the start. The complex is managed by The Sports Trust, Folkestone’s sports charity that aims to bring active living to all walks of life. “Rock climbing has been a sport for around 100 years, but really started to get popular 30 years ago. If rock climbing is just getting on track as a mainstream sport we can make sure now that it’s as inclusive as possible. We can make it all genders, all people welcome, and that would make our sport even better than it is already.”
Come and try it
Ben: “The Sports Trust is about inclusive working, making sport accessible to all. It’s also about getting the next generation involved. We’re building clubs here that give younger climbers access to training. If we have good climbers, can we make them great ones? There’s space here to work on improving technique and gaining qualifications. All of this helps our staff to improve too. If we can improve personally with our climbing, then every user of the gym benefits too.
“At the moment you can boulder in one area. This means you can climb up a couple of metres, but not very high, so you don’t need a harness and rope. You can do this by yourself so you don’t need a buddy to help you. This is my favourite type of climbing; it’s ‘free climbing’ which means you don’t have to be strapped in. If you fall, you don’t fall far and you land on our safety mats which are there to cushion your fall. You can practice all the different climbing techniques when bouldering – different holds, how you use your legs and your arms for strength and balance. It also gives you the opportunity to practice riskier moves in a safe setting.”
head for heights
Ben: “If you turn around from the bouldering area you’ll find our 15m climbing walls. These have different routes on; some you can do by yourself with the auto-belay. This means you can strap in to a belay machine and it will control your route down when you’ve reached the top. Some routes are timed so you can test yourself and see if you can beat our CEO. He’s quite competitive. He’s got the top spot on our timed routes and for some reason doesn’t want the routes to be changed. We think it’s muscle memory as to why he holds that pole position. He’s practiced it so much that he doesn’t need to think too much about his route now.
“There are other routes of different difficulties where you need a buddy to belay you. This is a skill we can teach you to do here. Anyone who climbs these routes will be tested by our staff to see they’re safe before we let them loose on the wall. It would be great to get our Lead Climb routes sorted. This is where one climber lays the route as they climb, so clipping in the rope as they go. It’s a challenging element of climbing and one that if you can practice in this space before on a cliff-face makes you a better climber.”
Ben: “Kong Climbing have helped us build the routes in this gym. They’re one of the best climbing wall specialists in the country and have been around for over 20 years. They give us training and help in planning the routes. They’d support us if we were to run competitions here, which is something I’d love to do. We can also freshen up what we’ve got here by trying out new holds they have. We can borrow things for a few weeks and see if they’re what people want to use, before we buy.
“I’m looking forward to doing more with schools here in the gym. It would be so great to say we’d had a little part in helping someone become a future Olympic athlete! But more than that, anyone starting to learn to climb learns so much. It’s a real confidence builder. If you can leave the ground and reach the top of the bouldering area under your own steam, and get down safely, it really does empower you to try different routes, go higher and become more confident.”
Chase: “We’re aiming to go into schools in early 2024 and show how our sport can build on the climbing apparatus they have in their playgrounds. We’re really keen to work with younger climbers and take them to the next level.”
Ben: “But you don’t have to be at school to start climbing. As I say, there are so many different people here, of all ages and backgrounds. There will be someone ready to give you an encouraging word or two to lift you off the ground. I’ll be here too!”