Top teen bouldering ace Kelson Lam’s advice to rock climbing beginners: Climb smarter, not harder

The 12-year-old student at Canadian International School of Hong Kong says finding the right climbing style for your body type is the key to success

Kelly Ho |

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Kelson Lam is currently ranked number one in the ISSFHK Climbing League.

When Kelson Lam Ka-kiu was standing on the podium at the Hong Kong Interschool Bouldering Competition earlier this month, it was quite obvious that he was the youngest among the top three in the Under 15 Boys’ category.

Though the 12-year-old has a smaller frame than the other contestants in the age group, it did not stop him from making it to the top to win third place at the tournament. In fact, Kelson is no stranger to going head to head against older climbers.

The Canadian International School of Hong Kong student currently ranks number one in the Under 14 Boys’ category in the Climbing League organised by the International Schools Sports Federation Hong Kong (ISSFHK). Kelson’s climbing skills and confidence to take on those older than him came from the bittersweet time when he started training with a group of older climbers on the Hong Kong training team in 2016.

Kelson, who had been doing lead climbing (which involves climbing a tall wall with rope) for some time, was introduced to bouldering when he joined the Hong Kong team. He was able to pick up the sport quickly, and bouldering soon became his favourite type of rock climbing.

Kelson Lam Ka-kiu began with lead climbing and picked up bouldering when he joined the Hong Kong training team in 2016.
Photo: Kelly Ho/SCMP

But his confidence was shattered when he was put into a training group in which he was the youngest. At that time, Kelson thought he would never be able to catch up with the other stronger, taller and more experienced climbers.

However he said he knew there was nothing he could do other than train harder and do his best.

Apart from giving his all during his training, the budding climber also learned to climb smarter. Instead of being held back by his height, Kelson said he has found the perfect climbing style for his body type.

“I use more static movements because I don’t have enough strength to do more dynamic moves,” he said. “But slower movements also require more control and balance.”

Now, Kelson finds it easier to manoeuvre his body on the 5-metre climbing wall. He explained that every route, regardless of how hard it is, must have a solution. It is only a matter of how long he’ll take to figure it out, and he won’t stop until he succeeds.

“I can’t stand leaving a route unfinished. I know there must be away to finish the route and I must always find it,” he said.

Having competed multiple times on the mainland, Singapore and Thailand, Kelson said his main goal for this year is to enhance his experience by joining more competitions, ideally overseas tournaments. The Grade Six student said watching foreign climbers and talking to them about the ways they tackle the wall gives him a fresh perspective on the sport.

One of the competitions Kelson is looking forward to is the Asian K Sport Climbing Championship 2019, which will be held in August in Beijing.

He said many Chinese contestants are more experienced, because a lot of them started climbing at a very young age. But he believes he still has a shot at making it into the final round like he did last October at an all-China youth climbing contest.

Looking ahead, Kelson hopes his climbing career will take off soon, and that he’ll become a young and successful climber like Ashima Shiraishi of the United States, who was crowned champion in both the lead climbing and bouldering events at the Climbing World Championships three years in a row, from 2015 to 2019. She is also the reigning US Open champion in bouldering.

“Ashima is only 18 but she has accomplished so much already,” he said. “She is such a good role model and I really want to see myself as a professional climber like her in five years time.”

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

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