KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scaling large boulders for recreation has gotten more than a toehold in Hawaii.
The freeform climbing craze has grabbed people eager for an outdoor climb over rock forms.
"Bouldering is climbing without ropes at heights that are reasonable," said Justin Ridgely, a longtime disciple and teacher of the sport.
"Movement tends to be more gymnastic, more dynamic, more balanced. It's more of a pure form of rock climbing," he said.
The exercise is a mind-body experience. Climbers plot a course on rocks, looking for holes and cracks they can use to hoist themselves up and over rocks without falling.
Even for well-conditioned athletes, it's exhausting.
Kaikena Naone played water polo for Pepperdine University. But that didn't prepare him for his first crack at bouldering.
"Once I tried I got shut down really quickly and really hard," he said. "From then I was hooked."
Lots of people are getting hooked on bouldering. Many of them train at Ridgely's Volcanic Rock Gym in Kapaa Quarry in Kailua. A variety of indoor climbing walls build hand, arm and total body strength needed for outdoor climbs.
In the field, padded mattresses cushion falls and spotters guide climbers to softer landings but bouldering enthusiasts know their bodies will take a beating.
"It's rocks. They're hard. Some of them are sharp. You're going to get scratched up. You're going to be bumping elbows and all that. It's rock climbing!" Ridgely said.
He has found many of the more than 80 bouldering "zones" on Oahu.
Sports photographer Ryan Moss has taken pictures of them and posted them on websites.
"I get hit up at least ten times a day over social media, 'Hey where's this photo or this spot? it definitely has grown over the years and definitely within the last two years," he said.
Naone said committed bouldering athletes are also good stewards of the rocks they climb, leaving little trace that they've been there.
Ridgely constantly checks social media for photos from hikers, in hopes of finding the next climb.
"I'm always looking for rocks in the background. They might be there for a waterfall but I see a boulder that I could go and climb," he said.
Bouldering is bound to get even more popular. Rock climbing will be an Olympic event in 2020.