Long island is not exactly the first place mountain climbers call home. But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. When those seeking new heights want to feel the sun on their
faces, they head to the craggy coastline of the North Shore for a day of bouldering, rock climbing’s unencumbered little brother.
About 20 years ago the island’s hotspot of massive stones, know as “erratics,” were discovered by climbers. According to Mark Leventhal, vice president of Planview’s Island Rock climbing gym, Chris Ortiz and friends found the boulders in East Marion just off the sound and established the early bouldering scene. Sometimes referred to as the island rocks, these beach-bound boulders are the most well-known, with monikers like Fatman, Little Boy and Secret Beach and routes named Big and Spacey, Fisherman’s Friend and Talk is Cheap.
Bouldering heights are generally 12-15 feet, which can be daunting without restraints, though a foldable foam crash pad specifically engineered to help cushion falls is often employed, along with grippy climbing shoes and chalk.
Leventhal is an old-school climber, rock climbing for 18 years and bouldering for nearly as long. “Most people get into rock climbing first because it’s more secure, so you get more comfortable on the rocks and climbing,” he said. Some boulders can reach over 20 feet high, but that’s an extreme height and would be considered a “highball” bouldering situation, though one of those is yet to be discovered here—or at least spoken of.
Bouldering movements are condensed, so climbers are stretching great distances to reach the next grip. The routes up the rock are called “problems” and require precise, exacting poses to be performed as opposed to the more expansive vertical pursuits of rock climbing. “The moves are more powerful and dynamic than rock climbing, where you’re roped in,” said Leventhal. Because the sport doesn’t require technical gear, it’s enticing for established climbers, who are comfortable with intense climbing maneuvers, but not for rookies still learning the ropes (pun intended).
Bouldering engenders a communal mentality, which Leventhal said is part of the appeal. “It’s more a group sport…people can go together, try a few problems, instead of climbing where you may have just two people on ropes. you get to hangout with friends.” In fact, even the accepted rating system for bouldering’s difficulty seems to be set by consensus. “It is somewhat subjective, but generally benchmarks are set by more advanced climbers who know what a [specific problem’s rating] should be,” said Leventhal.
Much like a local surf spot, the boulders here maintain an aura of exclusivity. but for native climbers in the know, they offer a unique experience that’s pure Long Island: it’s on the beach with views of the water and untouched vistas.
Catch hand-to-stone thrills mid-island, like in Wading River’s Wildwood State Park and Stony Brook-area “exit 62 boulders” on the beach.