Head Coach Thomas Phipps has been climbing more than long enough to know what he does and doesn’t like about the sport – and the list of things he’d like to get rid of is fortunately very short indeed, and mostly pertains to speed climbing.
Away from that not very controversial subject, Thomas is a laid back, good natured chap who caught the climbing bug whilst at university in Banger. Surrounded by some of the best rock that Great Britain has to offer, it’s not surprise that he spent much of his degree outside exploring the delights of the slate quarries and atmospheric mountain crags.
“It’s the problem solving that appeals,” he says when asked just why he has chosen to dedicate his career to climbing. “That and the sense of accomplishment you get when you find the right beta, it all clicks, and you work your way through a crux.”
With a Masters in Applied Behaviour Analysis and an Undergraduate Degree in Psychology, Thomas watches more than he talks, and often seems deep in thought. He’s found that observing body language on the mats is every bit as important as watching for technique weaknesses on the wall, and with so much of climbing in the head, is putting his studies to good use when teaching on the mats.
He’s in good company – Hazel Findlay is one of a number of top climbers working in the mindfulness sector, analysing just how much our head games hold us all back, and what can be done to achieve a flow state whilst on the wall. It’s a hot topic, and one that anyone who climbs will understand as crucial to success.
Combined with a background in working at SEN schools, it’s easy to see why little seems to faze Thomas. He’s had a lucky run so far, with no major injuries to keep him off the wall, and only success stories from his forays outside.
One of his favourite things about the sport is the community – the hodgepodge of people that can have nothing in common at face value, save an insatiable desire to better themselves on the rock. “I love climbing with people who are better than me, as you can always learn something,” he says, with a total lack of ego. “Outdoors, I’ve always found everyone friendly and welcoming, happy to give out tips and advice. It’s a really inclusive sport.”
Working at Chimera has given him the bouldering bug, and a first trip to Font beckons. It might not be the airy exposure of North Wales, but Font has its own charms and Thomas is keen to get some mileage on the fabled circuits. He counts footwork as the most underrated part of a climber’s arsenal – heel hooks and toe hooks are his favourite thing to teach.
“You can use the rubber on the heel cup to show you where to place your heel exactly on a hold,” he enthuses, bringing an eye to detail that’s essential when trying to break into the higher grades. That, combined with his love for technical slabs, certainly bodes well for some good results in Font.
With a solid background in calisthenics and plenty of motivation to maintain his bodyweight training – another thing he says is underrated in this era of lifting heavy weights – it's clear that Thomas is a strong addition to the Chimera Crew.
But if he wants to impart one thing and one thing only, he harks back to the reason so many of us climb – the freedom to explore the outdoors and wind our way to some of the most beautiful places this country has to offer. “Always, always leave no trace,” he says. “It only stays beautiful if we all respect our surroundings.”