18 February 2022

Boulder Together: Celebrating Diversity in Climbing Spaces

We’re excited to partner with Affinity Initiative & BlocHaus to present Boulder Together – an event designed to celebrate diversity in climbing spaces and amplify the talented climbers-of-colour and routesetters-of-colour in our community.

Routesetters at BlocHaus

After another round of postponed events late last year, Boulder Together is back on the calendar and the community is ready for it. Built up by The Affinity Initiative, the event seeks to amplify the talents of climbers-of-colour and routesetters-of-colour.

The event will start with a Climbers-of-Colour Showcase, where twelve climbers will demonstrate their skills on comp problems, set by a team or routesetters-of-colour. A PumpFest will be open for everyone to climb, and be part of the competition.


Ahead of the event, we’re sharing some of the experiences of the routesetters-of-colour who are helping to make it happen. Hear what they had to say, with questions from Jo Lee (she/her), founder of Women Uprising and The Affinity Initiative.

ASAMA | @asama.qureshi

Asama Qureshi

Who are you, and what is your cultural background?

My name is Asama Qureshi (he/him) and the founder of Crux Bouldering. I was born in Pakistan, and spent most of my life living in the States and Australia.

How did you get into route setting?

I got into route setting when The Crux opened, and it’s been a total joy ever since. I like to set long, fun climbs. I think about what feels most adventurous and playful to me on the section I’m setting on, and I hope to give that feeling to anyone who climbs on my problem.

What do you love about route setting?

It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to set climbs and watch people work on them, sometimes for weeks, and see them progressing. You get to see people get frustrated, despondent, determined and then joyous on the wall, and it’s incredible to get to be a part of that experience.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a POC route setter?

As a POC and a route setter, I’d like to help diversify the climbing community by engaging with different cultural groups and to help foster the sport in those communities.

Setters are pretty passionate about their job, and I’d like to see all setters have more opportunities to set and more chances to work on their craft, and get to become even better.

What is that one takeaway from setting that you want any aspiring setters to know?

One thing I’d like all new setters to remember is that it’s hard work, especially at the start, and you will get frustrated when your moves don’t work how you want them to. Don’t let it get you down though, it’s all part of the learning process.

FLO |  @flowclimbs

Florence Seow

Who are you, and what is your cultural background?

My name is Florence Seow and my pronouns are she/her. I was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents, moved to Australia when I was young, then I lived in Japan for 7 years before coming to Melbourne.

How did you get into route setting?

I was making up boulders at a gym, and the head setter, after doing a couple of them, invited me to try setting.

Where do you get your route setting inspiration from?

I enjoy creating movement that doesn't look obvious from the ground, and feels impossible until the moment you swallow your fear or self-doubt and do it, somehow. I also draw inspiration from how outdoor boulders make me feel. For example, when you're blindly (and desperately) feeling for something above your head or under your feet, or when you're staring at a hold above you and thinking that it's impossibly far away.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a POC route setter?

As a woman-of-colour in setting I've faced three major challenges. The first is unconscious bias about my climbing strength and setting ability which has led to less professional opportunities. The second is internalised racism, which manifests in a tendency to be self-effacing and a lack of confidence in voicing and backing my opinions and creative vision. These traits lead to being perceived as less capable, which in turn reduces the number of doors that are opened. Finally, I often experience a deafness to what I say. Usually what I've said is only heard when someone else says the same thing, or another person points out what I've said.

How would you like to see the future of setting grow?

I'd like to see setting spaces become kinder places for people who haven't traditionally dominated the sport and industry. Creating a compassionate environment will foster spaces that allow different people to thrive and will hopefully lead to diverse representation in all facets of our sport, from social climbing to elite competition.

JO HENG | @jo_heng12

Jo Heng

Who are you, and what is your cultural background?

My name is Jo Heng (she/her). I was born in Malaysia and have a Chinese-Malaysian father and Eurasian mother.

How did you get into route setting?

The art of route-setting intrigued me from when I first began bouldering over ten years ago but I only got into route-setting when I returned to Australia and started working at a bouldering gym in 2017.

Where do you get your route setting inspiration from?

My inspiration for my routes usually comes from my time spent bouldering outdoors or by watching climbing content on social media.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a POC route setter?

It wasn’t always easy being female in such a male-dominated field but diversity in setting teams is becoming more important these days so things are definitely changing for the better. I’m now part of a very supportive team at Boulderlab and having a team that believes in you has been a real game-changer for my route-setting.

How would you like to see the future of setting grow?

In the future, I would love to see more females in setting teams for World Cups and International events. I think it has taken a bit longer to see more diverse setting teams at the big events but I’m hoping that will change soon.

What is that one takeaway from setting that you want any aspiring setters to know?

My advice for aspiring setters is to spend a lot of time analysing movement and to have some self-belief in your abilities.

KIM | @averagecabbage.jpg

Kim

Who are you, and what is your cultural background?

I’m Kim & my pronouns are they/them. I was born in Australia to Vietnamese parents & grew up in Cambodia & Tanzania before moving back to Australia.

How did you get into route setting?

I began route setting at BlocHaus Marrickville. I was inspired by the wonderful work of ClimbingQTs, and The Affinity Initiative, my supportive peers at BlocHaus & many other individuals representing marginalised identities in our industry & proving to me that there’s space for everyone in this field.

Where do you get your route setting inspiration from?

My biggest inspiration is @flowclimbs! When I had just started in the industry, Flo was the first woman-of-colour in setting I met & a total badass. She’s been a wonderful mentor & friend to me & though I know she’d hate this spotlight she really highlighted that there was room in setting for someone like me. I’m so proud to be working alongside her & so many other setters & climbing industry superstars on an event like Boulder Together.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a POC route setter?

My biggest challenge as a person of intersecting identities in setting is overcoming self-doubt and imposter syndrome when setting itself can be such a creatively, emotionally & physically demanding task. In a space that has for so long been dominated by conventionally strong, cis, white men it is a challenge to build the confidence to back yourself, have faith in your abilities & advocate for yourself & others.

How would you like to see the future of setting grow?

I would love to see setting teams & climbing gyms recognise diversity in setting as a value intrinsic to serving their community. Prioritising community means structural change & interrogating our industry’s existing biases. Creating climbing experiences, social environments, opportunities for growth & professional development for a vast array of people requires a vast array of teammates.

What is that one takeaway from setting that you want any aspiring setters to know?

The weird, whacky setting industry is only growing & we can be in the position to help shape it. As our community & industry grow there’s no time like now to be advocating for allyship, empathy & fair working conditions at every level.

BRIAN | @21bluu

Brian Luu

Who are you, and what is your cultural background?

My name is Brian Luu and my pronouns are he/him. I was born and raised in Sydney and my background is a cultural mix between Vietnamese, Chinese and Australian.

How did you get into route setting?

I got into route setting about half a year after I started working at BlocHaus on the stripping team. After only climbing for a couple years, route setting revealed itself as an opportunity to become a better climber and explore body movement. The contrast between trying to create fluid body movements and the grunt of fixing heavy objects onto a wall with power tools seemed really fulfilling to me physically and mentally.

Where do you get your route setting inspiration from?

I get my inspiration from the unexpected when I’m climbing in the gym or outdoors. That feeling of discovering a new way to manoeuvre on a wall/pebble is really exciting to me and as a route setter I want to create those experiences for others.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a POC route setter?

I am so grateful to have found a community and become part of a team where I am trusted and valued. However, I have had my struggles with internalised racism in route setting. As much as I try to not give it power, not seeing many POC or setters that look like me has had me occasionally question my place, my voice and my abilities.

How would you like to see the future of setting grow?

I would love to see the route setting landscape as a community of people from all walks of life!

What is that one takeaway from setting that you want any aspiring setters to know?

Setting is quite an emotional venture. Be willing to set your ego aside, be vulnerable, and put in the hard work. There will be a lot of band-aid ripping moments when things don’t go according to plan. But the joy on the faces of those who experience what you spend all those hours crafting is so worth it. Also, get good sleep and stay hydrated!

KOH | @koh.b_

Koh Bouckaert

Who are you, and what is your cultural background?

My name is Koh Bouckaert and my pronouns are he/him. I was born in Perth but have lived most of my life in Canberra. My mother is Japanese and my father is Belgian.

How did you get into route setting?

My first experience with the setters was when I joined the stripping team, however I first started dabbling with setting problems on our spray wall with the Stokt app and found that I loved discovering cool moves on a preset wall. When an opening in the setting team presented itself I expressed my interest and was keen to try and create really fun, intriguing climbs.

Where do you get your route setting inspiration from?

For harder grade climbs, I get inspiration from routesetting vlogs, trying to recreate and link together exciting or unique moves. For easier grades, I focus on a feeling; either how a newer climber would feel at the end of the route or how they would feel on the wall figuring out a good puzzle.

I always strive to make each climb I set as unique as possible. The route I’ve been most proud of was a black I set on the overhang when I was quite new to setting. It was the first route where I came in a day in advance to plan out the moves I wanted and it was one of the most popular climbs in the gym.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a POC route setter?

Although I’m of average height, I have a negative ape index and as a result my reach is shorter than most of my male peers. While I can’t necessarily blame my genetics on being a POC, I do feel a responsibility to represent and consider shorter people when climbing, since a lot of Asian people are typically shorter. I often feel like I’m the one bringing up the issue of reach or height during setting (even though it might not typically apply to me) and those factors are constantly at the forefront of my mind when setting my own climbs.

How would you like to see the future of setting grow?

One of the first things I learned when I started setting was that a physically diverse team (different heights, body sizes, strengths, spans, flexibility levels) is important to creating good climbs that are as fair to everybody as possible, however I would love to see cultural diversity grow as well, simply for representations sake. I would hope that it would inspire any climbers-of-colour who are interested in setting to take that step towards becoming a setter.

Outside of diversity growth, I would love to see more workshops, seminars and other forms of teaching spread throughout the world so that new and inexperienced setters like myself can gather as much knowledge about setting banger climbs as possible; from the fundamentals of what makes a move work/how to force specific beta to making a climb as aesthetic as possible while still remaining functional.

What is that one takeaway from setting that you want any aspiring setters to know?

If you’re keen on becoming better at setting quickly, gather as much info as you can to make yourself a better setter. I always watch the set at the end of the day to see what climbers do and try to understand how they think, and I take notes on what I see, or what I think will make the climb better/how to make a certain move work, and I try and learn at least one new thing after every set from this.

If you understand the fundamentals (wall angles, volume/hold placement, etc) and how a climber is going to think when they jump on a problem, then it will make setting easier and I believe you’ll be able to set in any gym with any holds with ease.

PATRICK | @patrickkien

Patrick Kien

Who are you, and what is your cultural background?

My name is Patrick Kien and my pronouns are he/him. I was born and raised on Ngunnawal & Ngambri land (Canberra), and my background is of Khmer Krom origin, an ethnic minority of Khmer people in southern Vietnam.

How did you get into route setting?

I got into routesetting about a year or two into my climbing career, definitely after climbing and falling in love with the artistic elements of movement that other routesetters were creating. It became interesting to understand more and more of how each body can move differently through the routes we have set.

Where do you get your route setting inspiration from?

I get most of my inspiration from my friends and everyone I watch climb. I want people to feel proud of the accomplishments of completing my/others’ routes through the experimentation of movement and problem-solving. I enjoy the idea of demonstrating to others that their bodies are more capable than what they think when they set their minds to it. To me, nothing is more inspirational than seeing someone achieve something they have worked hard for.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced as a POC route setter?

It’s always hard because there’s always the internalised sense that I don’t belong in certain communities. Although it is far from true, I spend a lot of time working on feeling confident with who I am and being proud of it. Being blessed with a wonderful mother that is around 150cm and a father that is around 160cm has created its own set of challenges for my inherited short stature and negative ape index. This at times can prove challenging to ensure that as setters, we are being inclusive to everyone.

How would you like to see the future of setting grow?

I’m lucky to be able to set in such an ethnically diverse country with people of all different shapes and sizes being able to share a mutual goal. I would like to see the future of setting grow simply by continuing the journey of representation and inclusion so that everyone continues to have a great time.

What is that one takeaway from setting that you want any aspiring setters to know?

It’s hard on you emotionally and physically, but the benefit is well worth it if you come with a great perspective on routesetting. Keeping an open mind and allowing yourself to understand that we’re all learners just looking to grow is important.

Featured Routesetter Florence Seow
Photo: Featured Routesetter Florence Seow

We would like to thank Jo Lee, founder of Women Uprising & The Affinity Initiative, as well as the routesetters featured here for sharing their experiences, as we all work to increase visibility of diverse groups in climbing spaces.

Experience the work of these routesetters for yourself at Boulder Together, taking place at BlocHaus Melbourne on February 26th. Find tickets on Eventbrite

To learn more about the work of The Affinity initiative, follow along at @affinity_initiative

 

Read Next

Southern Lakes Heliski Women’s Weekend: Mountain Development Scholarship
08 August 2022

Southern Lakes Heliski Women’s Weekend: Mountain Development Scholarship

We’ve teamed up with Southern Lakes Heliski and POC to encourage, equip and connect like-minded women to pursue new ski and snowboard adventures, over two incredible days in Wanaka.

Allie Pepper Summits Annapurna I
03 August 2022

Allie Pepper Summits Annapurna I

On April 28th, 2022, Allie Pepper and Dawa Tenzing Sherpa, summited Annapurna I. In doing so, Allie became the third Australian to summit what many consider to be the most dangerous of the world’s 8000m peaks. After hearing stories of Allie’s expedition, there is no questioning the courage, sheer determination and luck required to overcome the dangers of this summit.

The Wisdom of No Escape: Port Davey and South Coast Tracks Expedition
22 April 2022

The Wisdom of No Escape: Port Davey and South Coast Tracks Expedition

2021 Adventure Grant recipient Milly Young set out to run the full length of the Port Davey and South Coast Tracks in remote southwest Tasmania. Milly recalls the gruelling journey of over 180 kilometres. Videographer Alex Caplin captured the highs and lows of her successful mission.