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How to Give a Spot

Good Spotting Makes for Safe Bouldering

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Jessica Van Doren is spotted by Ian Green on a problem near Grand Junction, Colorado.

Ian shows good spotting technique with his hands ready at Jessica's waist.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Ground falls are a regular part of bouldering. If you boulder, you’re going to fall. Most boulder problems are short so when you fall, you can get injured. Boulderers do as much as possible to mitigate sprained ankles or broken legs by using a top-rope, crash pads, or a spotter. Spotting, a safety technique, is when a climber on the ground helps break the boulderer’s fall and steers him to a safe landing zone.

Spotting Makes Bouldering Safe

An experienced spotter and crash pad are the two most important things to bring bouldering. When you boulder, do it in pairs so one of you can climb and the other can spot. Your goal as a spotter is to soften the fall, helping the climber protect his head and back from injury. Before spotting, note any ground problems like branches, roots, or rocks. Place a crash pad beneath the anticipated fall area so the climber has a safe landing.

The Spotting Ready Position

Before your partner begins climbing his problem, assume the spotting ready position with legs apart and knees bent. Put your arms up bent slightly at the elbows, with your palms out and fingers pointed upward. As the climber moves up, stretch out your arms toward his hips or torso. Focus on the hips, if he falls this is where you will control him. Don’t worry about arms and legs, they’ll distract you.

How to Spot

If the climber falls feet first, steer him toward the landing zone, usually a crash pad, and let his legs take the shock. If he falls from an overhang, grab toward his armpits and above his center of gravity to rotate his feet down so he lands on them. Watch his head and back so they don’t hit anything. Cup your hands when spotting. Don’t stick your thumbs out because they’re easy to sprain.

Spotting is Serious

Spotting is a serious duty. When your buddy is ten feet up and starts to sketch out, pay attention. Be ready for a fall. If you’re bouldering, make sure your spotter is ready before climbing. Ask, “You got me?” Then send your problem with confidence that the spotter is watching under you.

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