You can tell a lot about a book by its cover. I think that’s how the saying goes… Maybe not, but you can tell a lot about this book by its cover. It’s titled simply: Bouldering: Movement, Tactics, and Problem Solving. The picture on the cover is a bizarre butt shot of a boulderer seemingly smashed into the underside of a roof. He’s stemming with his feet but his back is smooshed into the ceiling and he’s face down, palms out. I’ve seen a lot of rock climbing and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a move like this one. It’s not a traditional climbing photo. In fact, some might say it’s a bad photo since the guy’s butt is more visible than his face.
Butt (sic) it’s a great cover shot. It immediately has you wondering why author Peter Beal would choose it. My guess is that when faced with trying to define bouldering, movement, tactics, and problem solving in a single image, Peter went for a cover shot that defined adaptation.
One of the interesting points that emerges early in the book comes from Beal’s broad perspective on bouldering and its history. In the history of roped climbing, pioneers climbed the cracks first and eventually moved onto the blank faces in between. Similarly, in bouldering, early boulderers climbed lines of holds. The newer generation of the past decade has moved away from ‘holds’ and begun to explore ways to adapt their bodies to climb the shape of the rock itself. Few would argue that the most visionary and influential American boulderer of the last decade, and a leader in this movement, was Dave Graham who writes the foreword.
Dave shares many of the author’s views and in-depth understanding of the simple act of bouldering. He writes, “Really special bouldering areas are those that offer more than just climbing. The geology, the setting, the movement, and much more make these places important.” He continues later saying, “Bouldering is a complete synchronization of physical and mental existence,” and summarizes with, “There are V15’s everywhere, and they start by mixing nature and your imagination.”
The concept of bouldering as being more than just exercise but instead a balance between the physical and mental being, and our adaptation to what the rock presents, permeates every chapter of this book making it far more than just an instruction manual. The challenge for any author tackling this kind of topic is being able to present massive amounts of potentially stale information in a way that seamlessly incorporates why it is important and why we should keep reading. Beal was able to weave together the hard facts, tactics, and movement of bouldering with the reasons that we want to boulder in the first place. It’s the thoughtful writing style that allows one to continue turning the pages of this comprehensive tome on bouldering, and comprehensive it is.
It doesn’t seem that much was left out this book. The book opens with the aforementioned foreword by Graham and a commentary by legendary boulderer John Gill which leads into the thorough history of the sport. Further chapters cover the gear needed, movement, tactics for solving aptly named ‘problems,’ training and injury prevention, competition climbing, and finally a chapter on bouldering for children and how to introduce them to the sport. There is even a short prologue on major bouldering destinations worldwide, how to get there, where to stay, and when to go.
My favorite aspect of the book are the many essays written by influential and important boulderers throughout. Aside from Graham and Gill, there are introspective pieces by Fred Nicole, Marc Le Menestrel, Ben Moon, Daniel Woods, Ty Landman, Alex Johnson, and Jamie Emerson. There is also an abundance of great climbing photography showcasing everything from John Gill bouldering in 1964 to V15 first ascents in 2010. Unfortunately, the photos are all in black and white. Glossy color photos would have literally ‘added color’ to the book but, in the same breath, the lower print cost allows this book to retail for a very reasonable $21.95. For someone new to the sport this is a must have book but even those with 20 years of experience under their belt are sure to find some valuable and entertaining tidbits.
You may also recognize Beal as the narrator of the recent film “A Fine Line” which can be purchased here at HDclimbingvideos.com.