English student goes up the wall

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 April, 1998, 12:00am

Elaine Mak Ngah-lam, 19, is a student at the University of Hong Kong, reading English Literature and English Linguistics. When not studying, she is often to be found observing a large artificial rock at the university, wondering how to master it. A keen 'sport climber', she lives in Happy Valley with her family.

What's on your mind? Exams are a big thing, but it's really sport climbing. I did it a little when I was younger and then when I came to university I started doing it again. I just really love the sport and I've entered a few competitions, just for fun.

What exactly is sport climbing? It's like rock climbing but on an artificial wall. It's a good way to start climbing as you don't have to worry whether a rock will hold or not. In competitions there are usually three types. There's difficulty, where in a certain time you must complete the course and you can change the rocks around so it can be difficult or basic. Then there's bouldering, when you're climbing without a rope, and speed, which is a slightly easier route and you just have to beat a time.

Why spend your time climbing a wall? I was introduced to the sport by a friend. After the first few lessons I had muscle cramps and thought, 'I don't want to get up on a Saturday to do this'. But I got a lot of support from friends and then I felt the satisfaction of completing a route I wanted to do.

Do you ever climb real rocks? I go to Shek O and Kowloon Peak and Tung Lung Island. Somehow I feel it's safer on an artificial wall, but climbing at Tung Lung has been fun. There are more routes I can climb there.

Is it a solitary sport? No. You have to build up a good relationship with your belayer [a fellow climber attached by a rope for safety]. I have built up such a good relationship with my belayer that we have become boyfriend and girlfriend! The relationship is built on trust. The problems of climbing with a guy is that he can be so much better than you in terms of physical strength. Some people say you will become better climbing with someone of the same sex, but it hasn't bothered me. I like it this way.

Do you ever think about dropping him? Sometimes we argue before a climb and the thought flashes through my mind, but no, I would never drop him.