It’s Saturday morning. 11:30 a.m.  Just before the Bloc Party 2015 bouldering competition begins in Sunnyvale.  Competitors survey the problems they’ll face. Some are stoic, intense, and pensive, while others are giddy with excitement.

“Just Bat Hang everything,” Andre Tran says, laughing, as he watches Planet Granite Director of Setting Bret Johnston put the finishing touches on a problem. “Bat Hang, catch, and Bat Hang again.”

Tran is scoping out Problem #45, the ultimate challenge of the competition, a series of widely spaced alabaster fins and bumps that would look right at home as armor on the back of a stegosaurus.


Planet Granite Director of Setting Bret Johnston puts finishing touches on Problem #45.

As emcee Travis Booher warms up the crowd with some banter, climbers set goals for the day.

Great Expectations

“This is my first Bloc Party,” says Rachel Shelley-Abrahamson.  “I like the focus on individual movement in bouldering. To me it’s like mediation in motion. I come, chill, leave everything behind when I get on the wall.”

Abrahamson, who studies medicine, is nursing injuries and looks forward to a day of fun and meeting other boulderers.

“My goal is to beat these guys, of course!”  says Peter Nakamoto, pointing to his friends and shaking out his hands, which he says are twitching with excitement.

“I know I’m not going to beat Peter, so I want to beat Praneet. And get a shirt.” says Adrian Tzoned.

“I just want to get to the top.  Go big or go home!” Praneet Wadge says.

Rachel Shelley-Abrahamson, left, and left to right, Adrian Tzonev, Praneet Wadge and Peter Nakamoto prepare.

Rachel Shelley-Abrahamson, left, and left to right, Adrian Tzonev, Praneet Wadge and Peter Nakamoto, prepare.

Dustin Wong, who traveled from San Francisco for the comp, has a different philosophy: “You gotta plan your day out. Mine’s very strategic.  It’s not about the climbing. It’s about the food.”

Booher counts off the competition and eager climbers congregate around the Wave and the Belly areas in the open-air rear bouldering area, and all throughout the front of the gym.

Custom Shoes, Coconut Coffee

Eli Feasley has a secret weapon in her hands: her SFT Climbing custom shoes. They’re custom cut to her feet and are adjustable, with straps that regulate how aggressive the curve of the sole is.

She’s visiting sponsor SFT’s table at Bloc Party, where founder Laura Shumaker explains the adjustable shoes are a patent-pending product still in beta.

“I’m a boulderer and a mechanical engineer,” Shumaker says, explaining the genesis of SFT.

Eli Feasley and her SFT Climbing custom shoes.

Eli Feasley and her SFT Climbing custom shoes.

The shoes are more affordable than other custom jobs. They ship in about a week and a half because they’re sourced locally from a laser cutter in Sebastopol before assembly in Sunnyvale.

As a drop-the-bass style remix of the Chili Peppers’ “Californication” fills the gym, Allyson Stronach of Bay Area Climbers Coalition describes how quickly sea water erodes expansion bolts and pitches Bloc Party competitor Colin Schaefer on joining in the group’s bolt replacement work.

In the outdoor patio by the slack-line, Jessica Chan, boulderer and designer for Beach Coffee serves climbers sample shots of the coconut-water-cold-brewed delicacy alongside Josh Horsley, the founder of the company, who, as it happens, also set problems for the comp.

Gunning For 45

PG member Andy Lamb swigs some Beach Coffee with friends and meanders towards the rear section where boulderers are confronting the crux of the competition, problems #44 and the alabaster dinosaur, #45.

“Nate’s the first person to get 44, I believe!” Booher’s voice tells the swollen crowd of boulderers who launch themselves repeatedly into the fray.

Tim Kang grapples with the desperately uncomfortable white humps completely devoid of ridges, crimps, jugs, you name it.

From top left clockwise, Sam McQueen, Samuel Espiritu, and Andy Lamb take on #45.

From top left clockwise, Sam McQueen, Samuel Espiritu, and Andy Lamb take on #45.

“Come on Tim! Get it Tim!” the crowd murmurs before Kang retreats for the moment.

Andy Lamb is next.  A chorus of hushed “Come on dude”’s usher him up the humps and spines until Lamb smoothly dispatches the last few moves to a cheer.

A big one down!  Lamb has a backlog of other work to do.  The crowd turns its eyes back to 44 and 45 as the river of challengers resumes its flow.

Before long it’s time for prizes.  First, free stuff!  A swelling crowd happily cries out, ripples, and heaves to snatch free swag from the air, rising to meet chalk bags and water bottles launched by the PG team.

The vibe is halfway between a school of sharks feeding on chum and hysterical crowds greeting the Beatles on the tarmac when they arrived in America in ‘64.

Then at last, after much sweat, blood, and chalk, the stars of Sunnyvale Bloc Party 2015’s are named:

Full Results

Open Women: Elise Buser

Advanced Women: Amanda Anderson

Recreational Women: Jennifer Le

Open Men: Andrew Lamb

Advanced Men: Pat Rodriggs

Recreational Men: Hugo John Miller

Thanks to all the competitors who came out.  Next chance to compete at Bloc Party 2015 will be in Belmont on September 26.

The Bloc Party continues October 24 in San Francisco.  That evening, the top five finishers overall from Bloc Parties will compete in an Onsight Final for cash prizes! Prior high scorers must compete in San Francisco’s Bloc Party to be eligible for the Onsight Final.

A special thanks to the generous group of sponsors who donated prizes for Saturday’s competition:

Photo and Videos at the PG Sunnyvale Facebook

ECEliot Caroom, Planet Granite’s Content Marketing Manager, is an East Coast native and a veteran novice climber for the past decade, with stomping grounds of New York City gyms, boulders in Central Park, and the Gunks. He’s pumped to explore the climbing bounty of California, and to be spreading the good word about Planet Granite. Feel free to drop him a line.