Climbing Awards (CWA/SPA)

orange square For people starting out in climbing and wanting to supervise and teach others how to enjoy the sport, the obvious choice has always been the Single Pitch Award, or SPA. It is the go to award for most activity centres when showing groups of children how to climb and abseil on an outdoor crag. More recently it has been joined by the Climbing Wall Award (CWA) which also allows you to move up from enjoying the sport as an individual, to a teaching role. As the name suggests, the CWA is designed for people who are working at indoor climbing walls and there are plenty of those springing up around the country. Disused, warehouses and even old churches, are being used to house enormous climbing centres.

We spoke to a couple of people who have experience of gaining both of these awards. We asked them about how the decided to take the qualification, and about how useful it has been since they achieved it. First up, the climbing wall award.

climbing wall award logo

Climbing Wall Award (CWA)

How did you get interested in climbing and what sort of climbing had you done before you took the CWA?

Dimitris: It all started at the age of 15, during those happy and careless high school years. I was never attracted into football or basketball, or if you may like, towards the most common "compatible" sports that most people would try first, so when a friend suggested we go hiking at the local peaks and later on give a go on abseiling, it all sounded very interesting. A few days after, in one of those amazing synchronicity events that happen so often in our lives, I watched for the first time on the TV the late Patrick Edlinger, and was amazed by the grace and perfect flow he had on natural rock. I instantly joined my local climbing club and was hooked forever. 18 years after, with a fairly respectful tick list and realizing that network engineering wasn't my idea of combining work and fun, I decided to "translate" all that hard-earned experience into something I always wanted to do. Teach climbing. Nevertheless the CWA does not require such a big climbing experience, in regards to the SPA. Still amazing fun though, especially when working with the little ones.

Why did you decide you wanted to do the CWA?

Dimitris: The CWA is apparently the way forward if you want to instruct in one of the countless indoor climbing walls scattered along the UK. It emphasizes the aspects of the indoor climbing environment by applying coaching strategies, safety procedures and awareness for the sport, all into making the whole experience enjoyable and allowing one to gradually progress by expanding his/her own comfort zone. The UK has an astonishing tradition regarding the ethos and training for climbing, as you probably know, so a CWA is surely responsible and uses the best practices available in regards to safety. The MTA (Mountain Training Association) definitely knows its ways.

How much training did you do and what was the assessment like?

Dimitris: The training required, climb wise, is relatively easy. Even though you need a CWLA to teach leading, you are expected to confidently lead the grade of at least 6a/+. You need to come up with a structured plan too, regarding group management and be confident in pulling it through. The assessment was conducted in a friendly manner and on an ongoing discussion between assessor and trainee, rather than an exam; nevertheless you are expected to deal with emergency issues and stuck climbers, for example.

Do you have any tips for other people who might be thinking about taking this award?

Dimitris: The best way to safeguard your assessment towards CWA, as with any qualification provided by MTA, is to come up prepared with a plan or scenario if you like, as if you would instruct that day in any commercial climbing wall. Know your schedule, bearing in mind things like safety (which of course comes first), group management, and efficient time distribution. You should cover aspects of warming up, injury avoidance, training tips, climbing games, and make the whole session interesting and enjoyable. It is definitely worth taking it if you consider working in an indoor climbing environment. CDP (Continuing Personal Development) workshops are available through the BMC, or Neil Gresham's famous Masterclasses are also a notable way of taking training and coaching for climbing a notch higher also.

Since getting the award, have you used it to supervise many people?

Dimitris: Usually there is an analogy of six people (in the case of youngsters) per instructor, or two or four adults in intro sessions, something that varies sometimes with the policy of the climbing wall. The general rule is safety. You might find yourself going through a warm up session with ten or more youngsters in a bouldering cave; nevertheless when it comes to bottom ropping you shouldn't exceed the number of people you can safely supervise. In case of an incident, you must act swiftly without compromising the safety of the rest of the group.

What is the best thing about holding the CWA?

Dimitris: The best thing about holding the CWA is working with children; always funny and cheerful; there are days you find yourself looking forward to working with them. The qualification itself gives you the confidence that you are working as a professional and people do recognize that.

How easy or difficult is it to find work at an indoor climbing centre?

Dimitris: I wouldn't say it is very difficult; it does need some research though. Thankfully there are sites like Best Adventure Jobs. If you are willing to relocate in any part of the UK, in order to land your dream job, I believe it is worth putting some effort in it. I was very lucky to be welcomed by the professionals at two of the country's biggest and most famous climbing centres, the Edge International Climbing Centre and the Foundry Climbing Centre. They both embraced me and welcomed me, giving me the chance to gain important work experience. I thank them for that. Even though it was on a part-time basis, I still haven't given up on my dream and am willing to relocate in case I find a full time position in a climbing wall somewhere in the country. Believing is seeing!

We understand you are about to take the assessment part of the SPA - what made you decide to get this qualification too?

Dimitris: The SPA was the best possible way to "transform" my 18-year climbing experience into a NGB qualification that would allow me to instruct outdoors, and having that qualification backing that experience up in the same time. Here comes the tricky part: I come from a place that is mostly packed with multi pitch traditional limestone or conglomerate, regardless of the sport climbing. You would still find though a bolt or a peg in in-between belays even at the most traditional mountain routes, however big or scary they are. In the UK due to ethics (Stanage or Millstone for example), you have to set up bombproof top traditional anchors in less than fifteen minutes and the placements in gritstone, due to the nature of the rock, are tricky. You cannot compromise them, especially when you are hanging people of them, and it needs practice to be fast. I have a one-day assessment next time due to referral (I was still looking to find the gullies to go up to the top, when others where already setting up - it was my first time in the UK!). You can give the assessment anytime in the next three years from the time you finish your training. SPA trained is still considered important; it needs the assessment of course to be complete.

How different are the two awards?

Dimitris: The CWA is designed for the indoor climbing environment; the SPA is designed for instructing and managing groups outside on single pitch crags. You still cannot teach leading though. The SPA also emphasizes on matters like access issues, preserving and maintaining the paths and crags, environmental impact, a bit of history on British climbing (always an interesting subject) and last but not least, you guessed it right, SAFETY! They are both NGB recognized awards, and allow someone to work in these fields practically anywhere in the UK.

And finally, what is your favourite place to climb?

Dimitris: That's a difficult one; if you asked me years ago I could name a few. It seems I fell in love with Stanage right away.

Dimitris Papageorgiou has taught climbing at the Edge and Foundry climbing centres.

single pitch award logo

Single Pitch Award (SPA)

How did you get interested in climbing and what sort of climbing had you done before you took the SPA?

Dave: I got interested in rock climbing when I was in the army and was lucky enough to go on adventurous training in Brecon when I first remember hanging onto a rock, panicking, thinking I was going to fall. Once I had got a bit more composed found I rather enjoyed that scary feeling. From there I volunteered for a lot more adventurous training and TRAD climbing was what I enjoyed more and more.

Why did you decide you wanted to do the SPA?

Dave: I decided to do the SPA as I was a keen climber and a scout leader, and to take the kids out needed qualifications. Also I went to dynamic rock in Swansea and watched the kids bouldering contest there, where there were some amazing young climbers. As there was no such climbing in Pembrokeshire, I guess I took it on board to do something about this.

What was the training and assessment like?

Dave: For someone with a sound knowledge of TRAD climbing the training was easy more of a re-cap but you do also learn some helpful pointers with regard groups and top rope set ups etc. The assesment was also enjoyable and with the right assesor you will also get some great knowledge imparted onto you which is always a great help.

Do you have any tips for other people who might be thinking about taking this award?

Dave: I would say it is a great award to get, though you are restricted with it just being single pitch, so you have to develop games and coaching. The single pitch is no longer just an up and down the rope one session wonder, it should be a good sound structured experience which is fun for the client. You are the client's first experience on the rock and it's a great sport, so if you are passionate, go for it! If it's just for your CV, try and do something else you will put your full effort into, for yourself and the clients.

Since getting the award, have you used it to your advantage while instructing people?

Dave: Since getting the award I have set up a youth climbing indoor league in Pembrokeshire which doesn't really make profit but is working well for the kids. I gain most pleasure and fun outdoors during the summer these are the most rewarding times sometimes with families who in this day and age are all internet mad, so it's nice to see the kids encouraging mum to get to the top and vice versa.

Did it inspire you to aim for other climbing or mountaineering awards?

Dave: I really enjoy the mountains so will be doing my summer then winter ML I see no point in doing the MIA myself as this only extends you to multi pitch which most climbers get into as a natural progression.

Finally, can you tell us where is your favourite climbing spot?

Dave: I love Pembrokeshire for climbing but St Davids is my favourite or at least at the moment.

Dave Parker runs teaching rock climbing and abseiling in Pembrokeshire. Call: 01646 698703.

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