Rock climbing has exploded in Sydney. Just five years ago there was only a handful of local rock-climbing gyms and the sport was mainly popular among the outdoor-adventure-sporting community. Now there are gyms for both top-rope (climbing high walls strapped into a secure harness) and bouldering (clambering on lower walls with no harnesses or ropes, but large padded matts underneath for safe falls) opening all over Sydney, catering to outdoor climbers, those who have never climbed a wall in their life and everyone in between. Post-lockdown, Sydney has two new state-of-the-art bouldering gyms to add to the scene: Blochaus Marrickville and 9 Degrees in Waterloo.
9 Degrees, Waterloo
Since opening its first bouldering gym in Alexandria in 2015, 9 Degrees has led the way in bringing more inclusive, slick and design-led gyms to Sydney’s rock-climbing scene. The Waterloo gym, its biggest and most ambitious yet, follows the same philosophy. Official climbing grades range from V0 (the easiest) to V17 (advanced; few people in the world can do these). But to make things easier for new climbers, all 9 Degrees gyms have three levels within their V0 grade.
“We are super beginner-friendly. We have free chalk, free hire shoes for your first visit, free tape – the barriers for a new person wanting to try are really low,” 9 Degrees Waterloo manager Jack Masel tells Broadsheet.
The Waterloo gym features more than 100 different routes (colour-coded climbing paths) and, like 9 Degrees’s other gyms, the staff are committed to changing 20 to 25 of those routes each week. “A 9 Degrees membership gets you access to all four gyms [in Waterloo, Alexandria, Parramatta and Lane Cove],” Masel says, “so if you wanted to chase the new sets, you could have between 80 and 100 new boulders [routes] every week.”
The Waterloo gym sets itself apart from the other 9 Degrees gyms with a store (run in partnership with retailer Climbing Anchors); state-of-the-art mats (extra comfy, extra clean); and a massive, adjustable kilter board – a training wall with a grid of climbing holds connected to an international database of climbing routes. Climbers simply enter the route they want to try, and the board automatically adjusts its angle and lights up the holds on the route.
All 9 Degrees gyms serve Sample Coffee.
9 Degrees Waterloo
21 Danks Street, Waterloo
Mon to Wed, Fri 10am–10pm
Sat & Sun 8am–9pm
Blochaus Marrickville is the first Sydney gym from the Canberra-based company. All Sydney bouldering gyms, including Blochaus, offer a variety of climbing styles and difficulties, but the new Marrickville gym is oriented towards climbs that require less upper-body and grip strength.
Depending when you visit, there’ll be 130 to 150 routes available. Each week, two sectors of the gym, covering around 24 routes, are reset – meaning every six weeks the whole gym has a completely fresh set of routes.
“We put as much effort into low to moderate climbs as we do in higher-end climbs,” Elle van Uden, Blochaus Marrickville’s route setter, tells Broadsheet. She says the number of slab-climbing walls (which are angled inwards so the climber leans into the wall) and larger holds means they can create lower-grade climbs that don’t require a lot of upper-body strength.
Like 9 Degrees, Blochaus welcomes climbers of all skill levels, and beyond that wants to encourage people from all backgrounds and communities to participate. “We want a space that’s friendly for everyone. There’s a real emphasis on the social element – it’s not just a sport, it’s a place to hang out and find community,” says Kim Phan, Blochaus’s community officer. “It’s just a nice, wholesome time.”
Blochaus has partnered with LGBTQ+ social climbing groups to create a safe and welcoming environment, and Phan tells us it’s working on inclusion projects for women and BIPOC climbers, too. Blochaus also has an adjustable kilter board for training, as well as a gym with traditional weights and wooden training boards. Plus, there’s a ping-pong table, a store, a lounge and an espresso machine with beans from Canberra roaster Redbrick Coffee.
49 Fitzroy Street, Marrickville
Mon, Wed & Fri 6am–10pm
Tue & Thu 10am–10pm
Sat & Sun 9am–9pm