We all know the hardest thing about staying in Dubai over the summer involves keeping the kids active and exercised. Of course, you can book them into sporty summer camps galore to deal with that excess energy, but how about introducing them to a new kind of sport altogether?
‘Indoor climbing is extremely popular here – and we see lots of children every week for regular lessons,’ says Mark Lambert, fitness coordinator at the Pharaoh’s Club, Wafi City. The centre was the first to open an indoor climbing wall (a 13-metre high monster with an impressive over-hang, GULP!) in Dubai 12 years ago, and prides itself on having an immaculate safety record.
While I can’t help balking at the thought of climbing to the top of the wall (I get vertigo just standing on a chair) Mark assures me that starting a climbing course is, in fact, one of the very best ways to conquer a fear of heights. ‘I know it looks scary at first – and some of our climbers did find it very challenging initially,’ he says. ‘In fact one gentleman we trained actually began to shake just walking into the climbing zone during his first few lessons – but he persevered and totally got over his phobia. He now climbs alongside our resident local celebrity, Suzanna Al Houby, who was the first lady to climb Everest from the Middle East.’
But what about children? Do they even have height phobias? I can’t help thinking of my four-year-old at this point, who, like most little boys his age, is completely oblivious of any kind of danger when it comes to climbing. The fact that he could have the opportunity to scale walls at his leisure, with safety equipment involved, is suddenly very tempting.
‘It depends on the child of course, but rarely,’ laughs climbing instructor Surya Kala Subba, ‘Especially if they start young. I’ve got little ones as young as four taking lessons. Generally, fear is not something we worry about. It’s more the lack of it that can be a problem.’
So what’s good about climbing, and what do kids get out of it both physically and mentally?
‘It’s probably one of the very best all-over body workouts you can do,’ explains Mark. ‘Firstly, you have to use every main muscle group to climb, in equal measures – and you are working against gravity – and your own body weight. So it improves muscular strength and burns a lot of calories. Each lesson is an hour long – and I’ve never worked out exactly how much energy that takes – though it’s certainly a lot.’
But it’s not just the physical aspect of the sport that can benefit kids, says Surya, who has been climbing for 15 years, and has the lithe physique to prove it. ‘Climbing is very mentally challenging too. You have to think about every move you make, and learning to do it properly is essential. Climbing is very good for improving concentration and focus. Anybody can be agile and fit, but people who get over-confident in their climbing ability actually put themselves more at risk than those who take their time and are more careful.’
Perhaps I won’t enroll the four-year-old after all. More cautious big brother sounds like he’d be a better candidate. But onto practical things; is it an expensive hobby? ‘Not really in the scheme of things,’ says Mark. ‘When you consider we work in small groups, with a maximum of six children of equal age and ability for safety’s sake, the packages are pretty reasonable. However, I would recommend youngsters climb three times a week initially, so that they retain their skills from lesson to lesson.’
Where to climb
Pharoah’s Club, Wafi City: Learn the professional art of mountain climbing at this 13-metre-high facility, which teaches children the five stages of climbing.
Dhs62 (per one-hour lesson), Dhs500 for a 10-lesson package (for non members); Dhs50 (per one-hour lesson), Dhs400 for a 10-lesson package (for members). The loan of all climbing equipment is included in the price. Call ahead for the lesson timetable. firstname.lastname@example.org (04 324 0000).
Playnation, Mirdif City Centre: If you want a climbing taster, why not try the eight-metre climbing wall at Playnation? Children as young as three (or over 1.2 metres tall) can try their hand at the skill, and a qualified instructor is there to supervise the activity at all times. If they have a head for heights, the Skytrail (a sort of climbing rope-ladder adventure, eight metres above the ground) is another option to investigate, once the wall has been conquered.
Dhs50 (for 30 minutes per child on the climbing wall), Dhs100 if they want to try the Skytrail afterwards). Drop in any time. The wall is open daily, from 10am-10pm weekdays, Thurs-Sat 10am-midnight. www.theplaynation.com (800-FUN).
Dorrell Climbing, Dubai World Trade Centre: If your nippers have a head for heights, why not check out the whopping 15-metre-high climbing wall at the Dubai World Trade Centre? It’s the tallest wall in the Middle East. Kids aged five and up (they must be over one metre in height) can learn from the professional team of instructors.
Dhs75 (for an introductory session), Dhs550 for eight lessons. Open daily, 2pm-10pm (ladies day on Sunday). www.climbingdubai.com (04 306 5062).