Adriel Choo of Singapore was winner in 2013 and 2014 of the Master’s Round at the annual Girivihar Climbing Competition in Mumbai. The 25 year-old has been a member of Singapore’s national team. His best performance so far has been securing gold and bronze at the ASEAN Climbing Circuit and the 26th SEA Games in 2011, respectively. At world level competitions his best standing to date has been 11th place at the 2012 IFSC World Championships in Paris.
Adriel agreed to be interviewed for this blog.
When did you start climbing? What sustained your interest?
I started climbing in 2006 during my junior college days. I was first attracted to the “wow” factors of climbing, seeing professionals jumping around and doing unbelievable things on the walls and I wanted to be just like them. After a few years I began to see that this sport is a journey of discovery, understanding the whole dynamics of my body’s movement and how it reacts to different moves and positions. This led to my quest to become a new and improved climber every day.
How long did it take you to make it to the national squad? How often do you travel overseas to compete?
I first represented the state at the Asian Youth Championship held in Singapore in 2007. However, my participation there was nothing more than mere exposure to the regional scene. I truly began representing Singapore as a national athlete when I was training for the 26th SEA Games and the Asian Climbing Circuit in 2011. I mainly do bouldering and speed climbing where my interests and abilities are. I do not compete overseas regularly due to lack of financial support. But I try to join at least one major competition a year to see how far I can push myself in the international scene.
These are some of the overseas competitions I have been to in recent years:
- IFSC Climbing World Cup 2013 (China and Korea)
- IFSC Climbing World Championship 2012 (Paris)
- 26th SEA Games 2011 (Indonesia)
- ASEAN Climbing Circuit 2011 (Malaysia)
- Indonesia Open X-Sport Championship (IOXC) 2011 (Indonesia)
Do you have a regular coach?
I do not have a regular coach. Everything is self-managed from head to toe. I do my own research for training knowledge and measure my progression against stronger others.
If an aspiring competition climber asks you what are the key aspects to focus on in training, what would you say?
Understand your body’s movements and identify your strengths and weaknesses. I believe in climbing with your strengths and working on your weaknesses to support your strengths. For example, I am particularly weak in my crimp-strength. I know I am barely strong enough to sustain considerable time on crimps unlike other climbers and so I always try to get over it fast and focus more of my energy on completing the rest of the boulder problem with my strengths in dynamic and coordinated movements.
How important is it for a competition climber to keep participating in competitions at home and overseas? Does the relevant training include getting familiar with competitions through frequent exposure to the format and learning to be comfortable with it?
That is definitely so. Many athletes get stage fright whenever they are up on the wall because they are afraid of failing in front of everyone watching the competition. However, we must recognize that failure is part of the whole competition package and you can only get better if you learn from your mistakes and not go into every competition worrying about the same things. Take for example speed climbing. It is a fixed format and athletes training on it would have done it thousands of times and can even do it with their eyes closed. However when you shift them from training ground to a world cup scene, everything changes. The audience is larger; the weather is different, how you feel when climbing is different, your warm up regimes might need to be tweaked – the list goes on. This applies to bouldering and lead climbing too. More exposure will keep the athlete comfortable with new but similar environments and it will work to the athlete’s advantage.
You mentioned how failure is part of the competition package and how climbers must learn from their mistakes. Sitting in the audience, one sees climbers getting frustrated when problems can’t be solved. How do you personally cope with fear of failure and frustration?
Being unable to solve a boulder problem can indeed be frustrating. How you handle that frustration is something different and needs practice. You can channel that ferocity into your strength; you see this whenever somebody screams at the crux of a boulder problem. Yet he is focussed and alert in all aspects and not consumed by the frustration. This needs practice.
What is your normal day like in Singapore? Do you climb every day? Is there a training pattern you follow?
I am still studying and so my training days can get pretty erratic. Generally, I will have 3-4 sessions a week, 1-2 hours of focused training per session. I go to the climbing gym knowing what I need to accomplish for the day. Time is really short sometimes and you need to be disciplined enough to do only what you need to do. Before competition season I focus on getting physically fit and supplement it with injury prevention exercises so that my plans to train are not hampered by injury. During competition season I translate my physical fitness to climbing fitness by accumulating greater volume of climbing, making only good attempts on every boulder problem and learning from my mistakes.
Unlike many countries that have been traditionally home to climbing through rocks and mountains in their backyard, Singapore is very small in size. It has a population of roughly 5.3 million people (source: Wikipedia) and is highly urbanized. Can you tell us something about the Singapore climbing scene – how is it structured; what is the scale of infrastructure available? How is the national team chosen in Singapore?
We have around five climbing gyms in Singapore and a very, very small natural rock area at a place called the Dairy Farm. Because we lack natural rock to climb, most of the training people do are on plastic. Onsight Climbing Gym is the biggest climbing gym in Singapore to date, with full size competition walls for lead, speed and boulder. We have about ten boulder competitions and less than five high wall competitions (both lead and speed) on a national level, annually. We used to have a league based on points system similar to the one used at the world cups but that is no longer present. Regarding the national team, we do not have a fixed team right now due to complexities. Nonetheless, everyone is focusing on their own training and development.
Was the league based on points system helpful to grow climbing and competition climbing? Why was it discontinued?
I believe the league in Singapore was used to help the community identify consistently well performing athletes and perhaps act as a platform to push forth a case to the federation or other organizations to send athletes overseas for competitions. However although it might spur on budding climbers to push standards and match up with the top athletes, I believe the system tends to benefit the competitive community more than the general climbing community. The general climbing community is more leisure-driven and perhaps another system that involves group benefits might be better.
When it comes to climbing natural rock or attempting long routes on natural rock, where do you go to? Hampi in India is known as a bouldering location internationally. Is that a place you would like to visit sometime?
I have been only to the Grampians in Victoria, Australia. Rock trips overseas don’t come often because they are expensive but I hope to go to other places to attempt some top tier boulders if I can. I have heard of Hampi and would like to visit it one day of course! Hopefully it will happen sooner.
Can you give us your estimation of the Asian climbing scene – which countries are the power houses in climbing today going by the results reported at the various Asian competitions?
There are a few outstanding athletes from the South East Asian climbing scene, namely from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.
What keeps you going in climbing – the fun, the competition or something else?
I love climbing competitions and I always look forward to joining one! The fun comes when each attempt really matters. Completing a boulder problem in just one attempt is truly satisfying!
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. Thanks to Sharad Chandra for allowing the use of a photo taken by him.)