After a long night drive through the sleepy towns of Asir, we found ourselves in Tanoumah, a city in the southwest of Saudi Arabia, 120 Km north of Abha, nestled in the Sarawat mountain range. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Abdulrahman (Abdu) Al-Abdu, an Asiri local climbing enthusiast and the owner of the newly established Gamba Climbing platform. In typical Abdu fashion, he greeted us with his enthusiasm and signature can-do attitude preparing us for our climb. As we arrived at the base of our climbing route, Abdu enthusiastically talked us through the process of outdoor sports climbing, teaching us about the tools required, the different knots, and climbing techniques. We were all excited to take on the challenge, with a hint of fear of tackling this vertical maze. However, by the end of the weekend, that fear was replaced with an appreciation and excitement for even more outdoor climbing, and intrigue over Abdu’s passion for it, and a fascination with the budding Saudi climbing community. To investigate this, the editorial team sat with Abdu for a SandRose exclusive.
First Experience Climbing
Back in 2013, while studying in Toronto, Abdu started climbing by chance when his friend invited him to an indoor climbing gym. He has been hooked ever since. Time and time again, he kept coming back and progressing through the climbing levels. While many can be dissuaded by how daunting climbing may be when attempting it for the first time or negotiating a new route, Abdu embraced the mental and physical challenge of working through climbing problems he didn’t initially believe he could solve, defying his expectations.
Abdu: What I liked about it was that I couldn’t attempt the climbing route at first. It was impossible! That’s what made it challenging and rewarding. No one walked me through it. It was only through observing and attempting a route I realized and developed the technique to defy my limits.”
Why Rock Climbing?
Many people answer the call to climb for different reasons. For some, it’s the adrenaline rush, while others may be driven by the mental challenge or the desire to improve their fitness. For Abdu, it was the nuances of testing, developing, and executing a sequence of physical techniques and the success of completing a move in the most efficient way possible. Abdu also attributes his love for climbing to enjoying the state of “flow”.
Abdu: You get in the zone where nothing else exists. You are simply flowing through it. You can feel challenged, but you’re still flowing through it. If you get in that head-space, then you are a climber, and you’re doing it.
Climbing as a Lifestyle
Before his first visit to the climbing gym back in Canada back in 2013, Abdu worked out actively and consistently at the gym. He attributes his ability to rapidly take up and progress through climbing to his strict workout regimen. However, when pursuing his graduate studies in Australia, climbing began to take precedence above all. Seven years after that fateful visit, his fitness regime solely became individually dominated by climbing.
After graduating from university, Abdu returned to the Kingdom to work with a reputable international consulting firm in the heart of Riyadh. Despite landing a highly coveted job, climbing was always on Abdu’s mind.
Abdu: Climbing gave my life a focus. I structured my travels around it. Climbing to me changed from a hobby to a lifestyle. It took priority over everything. For instance, while working a corporate job, I told my manager that I would only give you 50% because the other half is climbing.
The Landscape of Climbing in the Kingdom
Upon returning from Canada in 2013, Abdu tells us there weren’t many well-established climbing areas in the Kingdom. However, a chance introduction in 2015 led to a visit to Wadi Hanfia, where a few climbers went at the time. He visited a small indoor climbing gym in a school and a few outdoor climbing spots south of the Kingdom during that same period. Unfortunately, none had the established or certified routes that he had seen in his travels. Determined to find climbing spots within the Kingdom, he drove to Tanoumah; to his surprise, he found three well-established yet worn-out fixtures installed by climbers who have been frequenting this hidden gem for decades. This all changed in 2018 when the General Sports Authority started federations to introduce and support several sports, one of which was the Saudi Climbing and Hiking Federation (SCHF). Since then, SCHF has championed numerous projects to develop climbing spots across the Kingdom. The projects led to the mass development of many routes, designated climbing areas, in addition to climbing competitions and national memberships. With all of the developments introduced by SCHF, Abdu saw a gap in the market for climbing instructors to build the climbing community. Determined, he quit his job, got his instructor certification in the US, and joined SCHF, determined to build a base of climbers within the Kingdom. Abdu eventually became the climbing affairs manager within SCHF. While SCHF gave him the access and the opportunity to pursue his passion, he found himself in a similar predicament once again, an administrative job. He found himself yearning to be in the field and with unfettered access to climbing. It was then that he decided to go into business for himself and start his own climbing school.
Going Solo: Gamba Climbing
In July 2021, Abdu started his own climbing business to teach people how to climb outdoors. Inspired by the comradery he observed in his climbing travels, Abdu chose the name “Gamba”, short for the Japanese word “ganbaru” meaning “do your best” or “to work with perseverance”, a name which fits the encouraging and friendly attitude he radiates in every class he teaches. The transition to leading and teaching climbing courses proved to be a natural fit for Abdu and in line with his mission to build the climbing community in the Kingdom. Since launching Gamba, he has led diverse groups of learners across all age groups.
Abdu: Helping people push themselves to do something they never thought they’d be able to do – it’s a satisfying feeling. I had a person climbing who couldn’t finish the route with some words of encouragement. The student finished it and shed some tears of joy. The barrier most of the time is mental, or they need to improve their technique. So it is very satisfying to help someone through that.
Life Lessons from Climbing
When attempting my first outdoor climb, I couldn’t help but reflect on the life lessons to learn from climbing, whether persistence, problem-solving, or patience. In our interview, Abdu also reflected on the life lessons he has learned from climbing.
Abdu: Fear is very tangible. Most people are stuck because they fear losing money or getting abandoned or failing; fears stop them. In climbing, people are often trapped by the fear of getting injured. In climbing, fear is tangible; they’re afraid of heights or falling. Once you figure out the source of the fear, you can kill it instantly. Some people are fearful of falling. Therefore, they will practice that in a safe environment experiencing the fall with a secured rope, ultimately realizing they are safe. To compare that to life, you need to face your fears by pinning down the root of them and confronting them head-on. Take that approach to life, pinpoint the problem and be honest about it; only then can you overcome it.
Tips for New Climbers.
When asked about the future of climbing, Abdu expressed his excitement about the potential to teach across the Kingdom and to continue developing the still-nascent climbing community. Currently, the Ministry of Tourism has constructed climbing walls in Medina. There are also established routes in Hariq, Riyadh, Shafa, Taif, and most recently in Neom. Looking at the Eastern Province, the first indoor climbing gym in Saudi Arabia, DYNO, has already transformed the climbing scene in the Kingdom. DYNO has already hosted the second national lead climbing competition, offering a new platform to an ambitious and explorative new generation of climbers in the Kingdom.
Abdu: The most challenging thing in climbing is starting. The moment you make that commitment, it gets easier.
How to get started:
- Visit your local indoor climbing gym and learn the proper skills and techniques that you can take anywhere. In the Eastern Province, you may visit DYNO indoor climbing gym.
- Try outdoor climbing. Travel to Riyadh or and other climbing spots in the Kingdom and explore local outdoor climbing class offerings, or internationally. Ask yourself “where can I go climbing?”
- Get familiar with the equipment and invest in some of your own (shoes, harnesses, ropes.. etc.)
- Join a climbing group or learn with a partner. Climbing is a group sport, and development is easier when you can assist or be assisted by others.
- Enjoy the process. Climbing is an invitation to be present. Be mindful, respect and embrace the fear and push through it. Enjoy the flow and relish in the accomplishment.
We would like to thank Will S Lawrence, Frais Alsharif, and Dyno Climbing Center for allowing us to use their photos
Learn more visit: www.gambaclimbing.co
Follow Abdu on instagram at abdul.rahman.a
Follow Faris on instgram at Faris_alsharief
Follow Dyno on instgram at dynoksa