Route-setting is of pivotal importance for plastic climbing and bouldering, it is one of the areas in bouldering that developed immensely over the last years and is always under scrutiny from various points of view.
There are arguments over grades, aesthetics, if there are dis- advantages for a certain size / span, how far plastic should stroll from „real“ climbing (whatever that is) – the list goes on and on. These are the areas where appropriate route setting is crucial for our intentions: Talent-scouting When we search for kids of particular aptitude for bouldering we confront them with specially designed problems that require a certain aspect of that aptitude. Focus, attention span, positioning can be as well a subject of our observation as physical talent. Training for competitions and to become a better climber overall. Most coaches work closely with setters, the people who set the playing field for competition. A coach must have basic setting skills too to devise challenges for his climbers. In my work with the German bouldering team for example objectives might be concentration, dealing with very hard, puzzling or frustrating boulders and not wasting attempts. Competitions Route setting makes or breaks bouldering contests. As of 2014 the standard of bouldering setters on an international level seems to be much higher than that of their lead counter parts – we had no tie in the last 5 years of the boulder world cup! To produce a result is the primary goal of the setter at a contest, originality and aesthetics come second. Regular bouldering grades don’t do the challenge of climbing a certain problem in a contest situation justice. Master setter Percy Bishton in fact calls his style „low grade – high risk“, in Vail 2012 a committing slab as the first qualifier problem was all that was needed to kick previous winners Jonas Baumann (2009, third place 2011) and Daniel Woods (2010) out of the contest. On an international level physical problems generally can’t be solved with just power and the mental challenge to be required to find a solution to the problem in just four to five minutes give the setters enough options to play with. The sequence in which the competitors have to climb the four or five problems is also important, a delicate slab following a strenuous compression problem requires the athletes to switch their activation level. Competitions in 2014 are very different than, say in 2001 and this is mostly due to the evolved setting. The biggest development has been in the requirement of dynamic moves and maintaining momentum. Volumes that you can hold everywhere eliminated height/span/ reach differences up to a point. Today’s bouldering comps are very intense physically but also require a lot of focus. Bad feet combined with powerful grips, body tension precision and spacial awareness through the use of volumes on rather low angle walls is what is expected from the setters.
First and foremost, plastic bouldering should be safe! Leave one finger pockets and all incut holds with sharp edges to real rock! You should be able to climb on these holds for prolonged periods of time without shredding your hands and putting unnecessary strain on your tendons. Ideally you just want to hold onto them! Variety is also very important, the more varied holds and mandatory force to hold them is, the safer and more enjoyable moving on them is! Resin was the primary material used to make climbing holds because it provides a nice texture with a workable strength to weight ratio at a reasonable cost. However, newer hold materials, especially the various urethane blends that most hold companies now use, are more flexible than resin and therefore do better on slightly uneven surfaces.