The sport of bouldering is climbing to new heights in New Brunswick.
The province will be represented by a team of young athletes at the national level for the first time, with a group of 10 climbers set to compete at the Youth National Boulder Championships in Laval, Que. from May 19 to 21.
"I think it's so exciting and it's a great opportunity," said Allora Klinker, 15, who's competing as part of the team representing the Fredericton Bouldering Co-operative.
"And even if you don't do well, then it's still something to learn from."
Bouldering is a discipline of sport climbing where athletes scale a rock face or wall without the use of a harness or ropes.
The maximum height climbed typically doesn't exceed 30 feet, and climbers are protected by a crash pad on the ground.
Klinker is one of seven climbers going as a team from the Fredericton Bouldering Co-op, along with Emily Connor, Lauchie Macdonald, Lucy Cardoso, Annie McCaskill, Cole Magee and Jack LeBlanc.
Dawson Green of Fredericton, Will Bachynsky of Quispamsis, and Jonah Caldwell of Saint John are going independently.
"I just think it's going to be, like, a good experience for all of us... going from local competition to like a big competition," Cardoso said.
All of the athletes secured spots at the national event during provincial qualifiers held in Fredericton in early April.
Being able to do so was partly the result of growing popularity of the sport in the province, said Sophia Konermann, one of the coaches for the Fredericton Bouldering Co-op team.
Prior to this year, if a youth athlete wanted to compete nationally, they had to travel to Halifax to participate in the qualifiers there.
With increased demand and support from Climbing Escalade Canada, however, New Brunswick was able to host its own youth qualifying event for the first time.
"The community's growing, which is very exciting for us because the more people know about this and the more people want to participate in this... the more gyms are going to be built, and the more opportunities people are going to have to experience the sport," she said.
Lack of sport organization a challenge
While its popularity is growing, New Brunswick still doesn't have its own provincial sport organization for climbing, meaning the costs to train and compete fall largely on individual athletes, she said.
"In addition to what they already pay for being on the team, they have to pay for their travels, they have to pay for accommodation, all of that. So they're running a couple of fundraisers at the moment," Konermann said.
Natalie Scholten is New Brunswick's representative for Climbing Escalade Canada, and has been working since last year to develop a provincial sport organization for climbing.
She said New Brunswick's representation in Laval this month will show how prominent the sport is becoming in the province.
That has also happened internationally with sport climbing making its Olympic debut in Tokyo last year.
Furthermore, Scholten said the opening of the province's fourth climbing gym in Saint John will go even further to promote climbing — specifically the discipline of lead climbing. That involves a team of climbers, with the lead attaching safety ropes as they climb.
"The sport of climbing is growing more rapidly than ever and in order to support this growth we need to introduce more young athletes to the sport," Scholten said, in an email.
"Being able to fill 9 of our 12 allocated spots in bouldering nationals shows me that the interest is there from the youth in [New Brunswick], but that there is still work to do in those divisions that are sitting empty and in lead [climbing].
"We hope that having an official [provincial sport organization] and pathway to national and international competition will be a promoting factor for parents looking to involve their kids in sport and that the opening of the new lead climbing gym in Saint John will help boost interest and ability in this discipline."