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Three new medal sports are debuting at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. One of Colorado’s favorite pastimes—climbing!—got in, along with surfing and skateboarding. Compared to running, swimming, or javelin throwing, the new additions are arguably young sports. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get in on the action.
Here are some top recommendations to start your journey and reach the pinnacle of athletic dominance … or at least have some summer fun.
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Olympic climbing will be indoors, not outside on rocks, with climbers competing in three types of gym climbing:
- Bouldering: short, super-tricky routes close to the ground.
- Lead climbing: tall, tough routes where climbers are roped up.
- Speed climbing: relatively easy routes climbed in five to eight seconds.
The best combined score across the three disciplines wins gold.
By one count, there are 82 gyms in Colorado you can climb in—one of the highest per-capita rates in the country. Two of the four American climbers are from Colorado: Colin Duffy of Broomfield and Brooke Raboutou of Boulder. The Raboutou family runs Boulder’s ABC Kids Climbing, one of the world’s only gyms built just for kids. It pays to start ’em young. (Wheaties sponsorship anyone?) Brooke climbed a V10 at age 9, which is something like skiing a double-black while still in diapers. Today, she stars in TV commercials for the new Ford Bronco.
Most gyms in Colorado are equipped to let you get going with bouldering and lead climbing, with classes to get you started on the basics of how to rope up and belay on, and clinics and coaching to aid your progress towards Olympic gold.
Speed climbing is more limited, requiring a specialized auto-belay device. Earth Treks Englewood has one of the biggest speed climbing walls in Colorado. “We have everything you need to become a gold medalist,” says Alec Romo Nichols, an instructor at Earth Treks. (Both Duffy and Raboutou have trained there.) East Denver’s Ubergrippen currently has a speed wall at its east Denver location and will add two more when it opens a new gym in Castle Rock this fall.
Skateboarding was once the fringiest, grimiest sport—the athletic equivalent of panhandling. This summer, though, Tokyo will award gold medals in two different course types: “Park” is sort of a warped swimming pool drained of water, while “street” has stairs and rails—a sort of idealized cityscape from all those CKY skate videos you loved in the ’90s.
America’s Olympic skateboarders hail from California, Florida, Arizona and, of course, Hawaii. But Coloradans can recreate that year-round vibe inside at places like Curbside Indoor Skatepark, which opened in 2018 in Sheridan. Curbside owner Michael Penhale grew up in Vail, where he saw how seriously folks trained for skiing and snowboarding medals. He sought to match that same discipline in skateboarding with a facility. “We’d love to see some Olympic hopefuls come out of Denver,” Penhale says.
Additionally, Squarehouse skate parks in Boulder and Denver offer indoor classes and camps.
If sunshine is your thing, Denver offers plenty of free outdoor spaces to dabble with both park and street. The gigantic 42,000-square-foot Arvada Skatepark is often ranked in the top 10 in the world. The Denver Skatepark near Commons Park is smaller and more manageable but still top-notch. And the Golden Skatepark is one of the newest and flowiest in the area, with all the basic features to learn on.
Want to hit the waves in Paris 2024? Then head west on I-70 and drive until you hit the Pacific Ocean. The second best option—and friendliest surf break in Colorado—might be river surfing.
Man-made ramps dropped into riverbeds create artificial waves that (somewhat) mimic ocean breaks. Classic ones are in Salida on the Arkansas River, and in Montrose on the Uncompahgre. The biggest river surfing is in Glenwood Springs, where spring runoff churns up shoulder-high waves. But the closest thing resembling an ocean wave is River Run Park on the South Platte, says Jacob Vos, director of the Colorado River Surfing Association and founder of local river-surfing guide Endless Waves.
River waves are not as powerful as ocean waves, and you won’t necessarily learn how to paddle out or catch a swell. “River surfing, the wave is always breaking,” Vos says. (Always breaking, that is, as long as the rivers are high enough, which tends to be from late May to Fourth of July.) “I’ve had 10-minute rides before, which is impossible on even the longest ocean waves.”
Hone your skills at river surfing, he says, and you’ll have nailed about 30 percent of Olympic-level skills. River surfing not your bag? Dip your toes in by wake surfing (i.e., surfing behind a boat specially weighted to create a wave). Such boats are available to rent from Wake Sports Co., or you can try to stand up on the boogie boards at The Wave, an artificial wave at Water World in Federal Heights.
So we dare you to do the impossible. Prove everyone wrong by becoming Colorado’s first Olympic surfer. 5280 will sponsor you! (Full disclaimer: 5280 is in no way legally obligated to sponsor a surfer for Paris 2024 onwards until the end of times. Don’t be ridiculous. But, seriously, good luck.)