MOON BOARD RULES
A SHORT HISTORY OF BOARD CLIMBING
Bored: "a fit of ennui or sulks; a tiresome or uncongenial feeling"
Board; "a piece of timber sawn thin, usually rectangular and of greater length than breadth"
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
Bored: wintertime in S7 during the 1980's...
Training indoors is, nowadays, an integral part of many, if not most, climbers' routines. From simply climbing routes in an attempt to replicate the outdoor experience through to the ferocious bouldering/Campusing/fingerboarding exploits of the totally obsessed the use of artificial walls is as much a part of the climbing scene as Stanage, Cloggy or Malham. Of course, it was not always so and the birth of the board took a little time though, once the idea was established, it blossomed very quickly both in height (lead walls) and steepness/horizontal extent (bouldering walls). My main interest is in the pure board world that has evolved out of the "cellar dwellers" of Sheffield and a solitary university in southern Germany; to me that world represents the devotion to the move which defines the Peak district in particular and Britain more generally for, in all my travels, I have never (outside Fontainebleau and the Frankenjura) found other places so historically obsessed with difficulty for its own sake.
In the late 1980's a generation of young climbers headed by Ben Moon and Jerry Moffatt were increasingly perplexed and frustrated by the inadequacy of the training tools at their disposal and whilst climbing almost constantly is great fun it does not, in itself, guarantee that you will maximise your strength potential. From this frustration the idea of building small training walls was born which were, at their birth, merely plywood boards with pieces of wood screwed onto them (bolt on holds being virtually non existent at that time). Ben was one of the first people to create such a structure in the cellar of his house. This was so low that the roof had to be boarded out and very quickly became the focus of attention. The news soon spread and the cult of cellar boards began, in Sheffield initially but soon all over the country. Many sported the aforementioned roofs and the footless "monkey climbing" that they spawned became the defining feature of this first generation of boards-the age of "the thug" had dawned (culminating in 2010 in the 40 foot bouldering roof at the University of Surrey).
Conditions in the cellars were, to say the least, somewhat unpleasant-damp, musty and rather cold by nature the addition of chalk dust created a hazy atmosphere of a semi-toxic nature which had to be breathed to be believed... For all that cellaring became extremely popular, inter-household competitions took place and people spent hours underground working on the latest project; finger and arm strength improved and the impact on "real" climbing (something that many cellar climbers had nearly forgotten about) began to be noticeable.
Just as this first wave of development slackened off a new flurry of board building began. Jerry Moffatt's basement boasted two overhanging boards and one large roof plus windows and clean air, Chris Gore had the largest roof in Sheffield while Andy Pollitt's garage allowed one to pose in lycra in front of the admiring local ladies.
My own experience of how much I improved in this period (8a to 8c) is typical of many in Sheffield and elsewhere. It seems safe to say that routes such as Agincourt, Maginot Line, Liquid Amber and Hubble existed when they did due to cellar climbing and the associated training that developed alongside it; for a brief period (and the last!) British climbers were ahead of the curve and it showed in hard first ascents and repeats around the world.
Meantime, from Bavaria, Jerry Moffatt brought news of a totally different training device that had been developed by Wolfgang Gullich and which was to revolutionise the way we thought about training. This board, built at a university gym, was called, as everyone knows, the Campus Board and was loosely based on the gymnasts peg board. As soon a Ben heard of this he appreciated its significance and built one in his back garden. It was a hit immediately with climbers from all over Sheffield visiting to pay homage. Initially it was the big lock offs and dynamic lunges that took all the attention but over time more systematic methods of training were developed (plyometrics, lock off training etc..).
Meantime, the first generation of commercial climbing walls began to take note of the underground scene. Although often overly obsessed with the idea of creating outdoor climbing indoors (in which they ultimately failed) they began to do some building in ply and to put up some type of campus board in an out of the way corner. Soon the demand for bouldering and campusing became more widespread-walls like The Foundry were blitzed with visitors from all over the country desperate for some half decent training facilities-it was at this point that training for all and any became a reality.
At this point a group of dedicated souls took British board climbing to a new level with the creation of The School Room. Initially three large boards of various angles and a campus board (the original Moon campus board) it was a micro bubble inside the Sheffield climbing bubble. Shamelessly elitist it was the stomping ground of some of the world's strongest climbers (Moon, Moffatt, Malcolm Smith, Stuart Cameron etc..) who all left their mark. It became so famous that many claimed the problems there as real ticks and, with the holds being permanently fixed, it became possible to compare oneself against the best at several years distance.
There remain several significant developments since then: Systems and Moon Boards. System boards (and the introduction of foot rails onto campus boards) offer the climber the opportunity to do power endurance training indoors and on ones own, unleashing a whole new wave of training methods and perspectives out to the wider climbing world.
The Moon Board is different again-a fixed angle board (which you can build yourself) using a standard set of holds to build problems designed for the user by top echelon climbers and sold to them via the internet. All the holds have a separate number and use a compass point system to allow the climber to select the correct hold and then annotate it in the right direction. Putting aside the commercial element the concept of the Moon board is interesting for several reasons; via the internet and the forum provided by Moon Climbing climbers around the world can compare notes on grades, discuss the problems, exchange ideas on training etc. Furthermore, any climber with access to a Moon Board can compare himself to any other anywhere in the world whenever they like; the prospect of online competitions either by recording or in real-time becomes possible. Moon Board competitions thus offer the opportunity for anyone to compete with sponsored heroes, bypassing national teams and the time and expense of travelling to competitions-a truly twenty first century format!
All this is a far cry from the cellars of the 1980's but it is clear that boards in all their manifestations have had (and are still having) a huge impact on climbing at home and abroad. The ability to train effectively and the consequent change in mentality of climbers has introduced a more sport focused element to climbing which has helped push grades forward in a way undreamed of just a few years ago.