After attending last years ROCfest we kind of had an idea of what we could expect, so while we were not disappointed it turns out that this annual bouldering competition is still evolving. For this year demand was high and having sold out with 270 competitors, plus another 100 or so spectators, it was always going to be a packed Rock Over Climbing in Manchester. With a prize fund of around £3000 and a general move to create more of a show it's no wonder that they had to turn away around 200 enquiries in the final week running up to the event.
This year we were there with a display of our new individual mutant bouldering mat range, chalkbags and a couple of teaser prototypes for some new soon to be released products. We also dragged a small team out of Alpkit HQ. Ashleigh putting her phone on DND from customer service, Ben switching off his machines in the factory and Kenny, simply enjoying his first year in the Vets category.
So doors opened at 9 am, giving the team plenty of time to register the large number of competitors before qualifiers started at 11. Towards the end of 2013 the effort put into refurbishing this old hat factory meant that, while there were some additional areas of climbing, there was also more space to accommodate the large number of competitors and their belongings. This certainly kept the the main climbing areas and café much cleaner, open and clear of bags.
11 am and the battle began. Due to its location the comp drew in the obvious contingent of strong climbers from Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield. However there were a good number travelling from further afield, including Alpkiteer Paul Swail who had brought a group of about 10 kids across from Northern Ireland to compete. With this many competitors it was always going to be cosy, but with patience, an awareness of everyone climbing around you and plenty of encouraging banter the time flew along
After qualifying the line up had been announced and after putting in a great performance Ben had frustratingly missed out on a place in the finals by just 7 points. While people took a break and had some lunch, the competition vibe began to change. This year owner of Rock Over Climbing Tom Stewart had brought in West End producer Geoff Brain to step up the show a notch. Interviewed in the Manchester Evening News following the event, Tom comments on how Geoff had seen last years event and thought it "...complete shambles but the energy was amazing."
So during the interval things kicked off with a slackline display/competition spanned across from the competition wall, courtesy of Tri Slackling, before the main event of the finals began. It was not all about the senior opens this year and quite rightly the juniors got the full on World Cup style treatment as well. If you need quiet to concentrate on the problems then this competition was not for you. Loud music, loud crowd of near 400 people and loud compere, but it undoubtedly gave the young stars an amazing experience to take away. Tom quoted Shauna Coxsey as saying ROCfest has the biggest atmosphere and loudest crowd, so he wasn't going to loose this accolade. He was once again anything but low key in his compering of proceedings as he gave everything to whip the crowd into encouraging each and every competitor.
After the juniors it was the turn of the seniors and while there were a couple of big names missing, it ended up being a masterclass in competition climbing from Shauna Coxsey as she made each problem look incredibly straightforward and took an easy win. Whilst none of the men managed the final problem, Dave Barrans had breezed up the first three to claim the win and confirm that he's definitely on top if his game.
We certainly feel it's important to support the younger kids coming through just as much as those already at the top, so it was great to provide some boulder mats as prizes for the two younger categories. In the 7-9 category Caitlin Forrest and Josh Ibbertson took away a Phud bouldering mat for top spot and in the 10-12's Missy Turner and Ethan Howarth both picked up one of our Mujo pads each. In a further twist on proceedings, it turned out that Kenny had managed to gain a spot on the podium for finishing 3rd in the Vets, which we think he was pretty pleased with.
So how could we sum up ROCfest? Well it certainly has an atmosphere that you don't get in many competitions and summarising it in a few words that have been heard going around could be: fun, crazy, energetic, friendly, insane. I wonder where else you would get Jon Partridge wearing Shauna Coxseys tights in a final? Some felt that it was just too busy, to the point of potentially dangerous, so could they cap the numbers slightly lower? Others felt that at times the music was just too loud, or that the day dragged on a little too much. I don't know whether this just needs the timings tweaked slightly. At the end of the day you can't break Toms passion for wanting to put on a show and getting everyone fired up about climbing and celebrating what those at the top of their sport are achieving. We look forward to seeing what next year will bring!
Check out more photos from the day on our Facebook page.