Q&A with Singapore Climber Jay Koh

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Singapore Climber Jay Koh

Sport climbing in Singapore is not exactly a sport that attracts big sponsors. Especially when we Singaporeans are not exactly known for our sporting prowess. However, sport climbing has been gaining traction in Singapore and particularly among kids, as more schools have sport climbing as a co-curricular activity.

Kinetics Climbing Gym owner Jay Koh has been a pioneer of Singapore climbing since early 2000. Those who had been climbing for over a decade will know Jay for his achievements in competition climbing. A silver medalist at the 2011 SEA Games at Palembang, Indonesia. Lead Champion for the Malaysian leg of the South East Asia Climbing Federation Circuit. In Singapore, he had finished on the podium 40 times, with 20 championships under his name in both lead and boulder disciplines. He was a 4 time National Lead Climbing Champion and a Northface SG sponsored athlete.

While not many climbers in the world can claim the honour of climbing 8a let alone onsight one. Jay had bagged a list of impressive ascents and is the only Singaporean to have climbed outdoor sport routes of up to the grade of 8C/+ and onsight up to 8a. Click here to check out Jay’s climbing achievements. With such an impressive tick list, Jay is arguably one of Singapore’s top climbers.

5C Climbers had the opportunity to have a Q&A with Jay to find out more about him.

Question 1

5C – What sport were you doing before you started climbing?

Jay – I’ve tried quite a lot of sports but the ones that really got me going were badminton, roller-blading, and trail biking.

Question 2

5C – Who is the toughest competitor you’ve competed against?

Jay – I was my toughest competitor (as well as my harshest critic!)

Question 3

5C – How has age affected your climbing?

Jay – I am 38 this year and my rate of recovery has slowed down significantly. It’s also much harder to stay in tip-top shape all the time. Personally, I don’t think I have become much stronger or more powerful over the years (something which I foresaw in my mid-20s) which led me to put a lot of work into developing the non-physical aspects of my climbing then. For sure I’m definitely a better climber now than when I was 25.  I take lesser tries to send 8a+ to 8b+ now than when I was much younger.

Question 4

5C – Is it true that as a climber ages he or she will start to move away from bouldering and more into sport climbing?

Jay – It depends on what the climber wants to achieve. I don’t think this applies to me though. Sport climbing can give you a good aerobic workout assuming you are contented with climbing the easier stuff. But to truly continue pushing yourself, one has to boulder a little as the harder climbs sometimes have cruxes that require that extra strength (or power). Many of the hardest sport climbs in the world are basically boulders stacked on top of one another eg. V7 into a V10 etc. The crux of Biographie involves a V11 boulder problem after climbing over 20 meters of 8c+.

Personally, I enjoy doing both even though I am primarily a roped climber but boulders to stay in shape. Having said that, being able to boulder hard (or well) is only part of the equation to becoming a good sport climber. This is because sport climbing is much more complex as it requires one to strategize and move well on the wall, climb efficiently, and manage one’s energy source to get to the anchors. I am digressing from the question here but you get my point.

Question 5

5C – What is the hardest route you have climbed and where?

Jay – Greed 8c/+ in Krabi. I was very close on “Mecca”, 8b+ at Raven Tor, and “Punks in the Gym” will be my 2nd hardest climb if I do send it. Although it’s the world’s first 8b+ by Wolfgang Gullich, it’s hard as nails and might qualify as an 8c at many crags.

Bouldering wise I’ve done Armmagamma. Even though it’s graded V13, I took far lesser tries and effort on it than The Mandala (V11/12) or Haroun and the Sea of Stories (V12), and even Stained Glass (V10)!

With so many hard climbs in the world and so little time to climb all of them, I now try to pick lines that are either classics or have a significant history behind it.

Question 6

5C – Overhanging/powerful or vertical/technical routes do you prefer?

Jay – I like them all as long as the movement is enjoyable, be it bouldering or lead climbing.

Question 7

5C – List out the natural climbing areas you had been to. Which is your favourite and why?

Jay – Too many. But Margalef (in Spain) is great for its easily accessible and you can find short bouldery climbs or long pumpy ones of different styles. I would really like to visit Flatanger and Red River Gorge.

Rope climbing:
– France: Ceuse, Gorge du Tarn, Gorge du Loup
– USA: American Fork
– Spain: Rodellar, Margalef
– Italy: Arco
– South Africa: Waterval Boven
– Australia: Arapiles, Blue Mountains
– Laos: Thakhek
– China: Yangshuo
– Germany: Frankenjura
– Malaysia: Bukit Keteri in Perlis, Batu Caves, Kuching
– Thailand: Krabi (more than 20 times!)

– France: Fontainebleau
– USA: Bishop, Hueco Tanks, Red Rocks
– Australia: Grampians
– Switzerland: Magic wood, Cresciano, Cironico
– South Africa: Rocklands

Singapore Climber Jay Koh

Question 8

5C – Are climbing gyms making climbers strong but timid?

Jay – I assume you are asking me why, with climbing gyms now readily available which has led to many strong climbers, but why haven’t they been able to make the transition to climbing outdoors. The answer is simple, outdoor climbing is much more complex. Handholds and footholds are not indicated by colors and one has to read, analyze, and figure out the best solution for himself. The best way to do a move for someone might not be the best method for you.

Climbing outdoors also requires good footwork and really trusting your feet. This is something that is often neglected when one climbs indoors as footholds are usually huge. I’ve seen many people who can climb V6/7 easily indoors but gets their asses kicked on 7As outside when the crux is usually nothing more than a V3/4. The complexity increases several notches when we talk about lead climbing. Having a good game plan is crucial. For example, deciding when and where to make the clip so that it is the most efficient. One can climb a 7a route like it is a 7a or climbs it like a 7b. Learning to move your body efficiently is also key to performing outdoors.

Question 9

5C – Can women climb better than men?

Jay – Yes most definitely.

Question 10

5C – Should men and women climb the same competition route?

Jay – It really depends on what’s the style of the route. Women are usually less powerful due to genetics. If the competition route is very powerful, this will put women at a huge disadvantage. Will you make men and women compete together in a century sprint?

Question 11

5C – How has the rock climbing culture changed in Singapore since you started climbing?

Jay – If you referring to people going outdoors to climb then the answer is yes. There are so many more people who are venturing outdoors to climb since I started climbing in 1997.

Question 12

5C – Can climbing be a full-time career in Singapore?

Jay – No, if you are just relying on local competition winnings and sponsorships to make ends meet. Even most of the top climbers in the world have part-time jobs.

Question 13

5C – Which climber (dead or alive) will you like to meet in person?

Jay – Wolfgang Gullich and Francois Legrand

Question 14

5C – What will you ask him or her?

Jay – To Wolfgang: What was your motivation to climb (so hard) during your time? To Francois Legrand: Teach me Sensei!

Question 15

5C – If you are to totally stop climbing what sport will you do?

Jay – Something that can get me outdoors!

Question 16

5C – Do you have any major climbing project in the pipeline?

Jay – I had been doing a lot of outdoor bouldering in the last few years and would like to go back to lead climbing again. I set my sights on wanting to try Estadio Critico (in Siurana) about a year ago but I’m having a small setback right now (golfer’s elbow). Let’s see how it goes!

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