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The Big Flash 2016 #TBF16

Tuesday, 18 October 2016 20:12

This weekend saw me once again get involved with the annual Big Flash Climbing Festival at Highball Climbing Centre in Norwich. It's a great atmosphere, pulls in big crowds and seems to be going from strength to strength every year.

My association with Highball goes back quite some time now, originally I was there just as any other climber, but after gaining my qualifications I also helped out as an instructor. Although I don't instruct any more (though my partner Leah actually still works there!) I always help out for the Big Flash weekend. Even though I don't often have a specific role over the weekend, the atmosphere is infectious and I enjoy getting stuck in. The first year, the cafe was running out of cups pretty quickly all weekend, we found it was quicker to wash them by hand by this point rather than use the dishwasher, so I spent most of the three days running around collecting, washing, and drying cups. Thankfully lessons were learned, Highball now have disposable (and biodegradable #green) cups for the Big Flash weekend and I haven't had to come home with hands like prunes since!

The weekend is run for charity, this year the funds raised being split between Climbers Against Cancer and the East Anglian Air Ambulance. The Friday afternoon/evening is home to the NuKids competition, a chance for those climbing in the lower grades to compete, safe in the knowledge that those classed as too good will be "top gunned" i.e. disqualified. Through the evening I was helping out in the cafe (some coffee beta was provided on Thursday by Mr Guy Sir) but also managed to get out onto the mats to get some timelapse shots of some of the climbs with the GoPro. Timelapse isn't as easy as I would like with the GoPro, it doesn't automatically create them, you have to export all the photos and then edit them together into a video. I used GoPro Quik to do this at first, but it's not perfect so I will be looking for a different solution for the next timelapse creations.

Saturday followed much the same, helping out around the centre, making sure we had the timing screen working (a seemingly never ending problem, you'd have thought we'd have it sorted by now, but every year there seems to be a different niggle in the system) and getting a few more timelapses, including this beauty of Yann, Jason, Guy and Jake stripping the holds after the Qualifiers.

By Sunday it was time for the Semi-Finals, 20 men and 20 women all climbing for a place in the grand final. A quick flying trip to Maplin to solve our timing screen technical woes (I say quick, Mplin didn't open at 10 as expected, 30 minutes to wander round the pet store next door then). We had a small scaffold tower set-up with a prime view of the wall and it was from here we would run the timing, commentary and scoring systems. The competitors in the semi-final get 5 minutes to complete each problem, we run the timer through my iPad so it can be displayed on the big screens that all the competitors and crowd can see. On this small platform Mike (the centre owner) also stood with a microphone in hand ready to commentate on the live action. He had asked if I would help out with the commentating, an idea I hadn't been that keen on originally. However, once up on the stage I overcame the stage fright and so got the second mic and joined in. Many people were fairly surprised by this, I've been described as a man of few words, so to hear me on the PA was a bit of a shock to some. Though the feedback was good, so can't have done too bad a job?

Between the semi's and the final I took the chance to wander round and chat to some of the competitors, hoping to gather some bits of information that I might be able to use in the evenings commentary. I actually quite enjoyed this opportunity, I haven't often had time to chat to some of the visiting climbers, but I think most of them recognised me from commentating earlier and so I had a good chat with a lot of them. It really helps you feel part of the event. Many of the spectators took the opportunity to have a climb themselves and the hog roast was, as always, well received.

The finals rolled round, the lights were dropped and the show got underway. Once again I was commentating and timekeeping along with Mike. The finals are a chance to see some truly impressive climbing of a World Cup calibre. For the small city of Norwich, in the middle of the flatlands, this really is something spectacular, particularly considering Norwich wasn't even on the climbing map just a few years back. Truly this is testimonial to the hard work being put in by the Highball team. The finals consists of four problems each for the men and the women, with the crowd really getting behind the competitors. Special mention definitely goes to Tommy Matthews, who really got the crowd going on problem M4. In fact he was smiling all weekend and a pleasure to chat to, I look forward to seeing his progress this year. Unfortunately for him, the win this year went to Dave Barrans, after a string of 2nd places in previous years he went at the problems all guns blazing and provided an amazing spectacle. In the ladies competition the drama was equally as high with another win for reigning ladies champion Alexia Basch.

After my initial concerns, I actually really enjoyed commentating as it gave me a chance to really feel part of the competition (let's be honest my climbing ability is so poor it's the only way I will get to be part of the competition). Hopefully Mike will let me do it again next year. A thoroughly enjoyable weekend with a top team, until next year #tbf17.

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