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Richmond Kids Climbing for Top

A belay? Ask even the youngest climber at Peak Experiences, and they’ll explain: A belay is the device the rope passes through to the safety person down below. It keeps falls safe and allows for easy descent after a climb.

No need to get out the ladder.

The kids at Peak Experiences take the sport seriously. Out of about 100 members at the gym, eight have been invited to the nationals. Peak owner Scott Powell says it’s unusual for so many kids from one gym to make it that far. He credits the gym’s climbing team, which produced all eight of his competitors. (The $110 per month team membership gets you two coached practices per week and trips to regional competitions and events.)

Expectations are high. Those who do well could be invited to join the 2003 U.S. Youth Climbing Team, which moves on to compete at the world contest in Bulgaria.

Powell says climbing often appeals to children disinterested in team sports. “It allows a kid to really challenge themselves without the pressure and competitive nature of a team,” he says. Climbing is competitive, but “there’s just a certain element of a competitive team that just doesn’t appeal to some kids.”

Children’s indoor climbing equipment — shoes, harness and belay — starts at about $120. Basic membership at Peak is $36 per month. It’s becoming a popular if largely low-key sport, especially for children.

“Two things that make kids good climbers,” Powell says, “is their flexibility and their desire to climb.” And for the slow developers, early growth spurts are not necessarily an advantage. The smaller the child, the easier they can scrunch up into the odd positions required to climb. “Sometimes,” Powell offers, “it’s disadvantageous to be tall and lanky.” — Wayne Melton

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