How to Give a Good Spot When You're Bouldering

Good Spotting Makes for Safe Bouldering

Friends climbing boulder, Buttermilk Boulders, Bishop, California, USA
Peter Amend / Getty Images

Ground falls are a regular part of bouldering. If you climb on the boulders, you’re going to regularly fall off, especially if you push yourself to do hard problems. Even though most boulder problems are short, usually between 8 and 15 feet high, you can get injured if you do fall. Do not make the mistake of thinking that bouldering is safer than roped climbing because it is not.

Avoid Leg Injuries by Using a Spotter

Boulderers do as much as possible to avoid sprained ankles or broken legs by using a toprope to protect from above, crash pads to land, or a spotter. Spotting, a bouldering safety technique, is when a climber on the ground helps break the boulderer’s fall and steers him to a safe landing zone, usually a crash pad. A spotter is not expected to catch a falling climber with their arms. The spotter's duties are only to keep him upright and to guide him on to the bouldering pads.

Spotting Makes Bouldering Safe
An experienced spotter and crash pad are the two most important things to bring bouldering. When you boulder, go 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 spine from injury. Before spotting, note any ground dangers 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. Raise 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 and direct him to safety. Don’t worry about his arms and legs, they’ll distract you. Also, do not point out holds or chatter at anyone else on the ground. Keep your attention on the boulderer. 

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 downward 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 are easy to sprain. Keep your hands firmly on the climber's waist until he has landed and regained his balance.

Spotting Slab, Vertical, and Overhanging Problems

On slab and vertical problems, the climber usually falls erect or at a slight angle so it is fairly easy and straightforward to keep them upright on the landing. On overhanging problems, the climber often falls with their body at a steep angle and out of control. Without your help and control as a spotter, they may land on their side and risk serious injury by hitting their head. It is best to grab the climber's torso rather than the waist and try to rotate them so they land erect. Also pay attention to the boulderer on problems that require moves like dynos or dynamic moves, heel hooks, foot cams, and knee bars. If the climber falls in those positions he may fall awkwardly, especially if his foot catches. 

Spotting High Ball Boulder Problems

On high ball problems, it is best to have a least two spotters and multiple crash pads. The spotters should talk beforehand and plan where they will stand and how they will protect the climber if he falls. Remember that falls off high ball problems may result in serious injuries.

Spotting Is Serious

Spotting is a serious duty. When your buddy is 10 feet up and starts to sketch out, pay attention. Be ready for a fall. If you are 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 and ready to keep you upright and safe if you do fall off the boulder problem.