The goal of spotting is not to “catch” a falling climber, but rather it is the art of guiding a falling boulderer safely onto a crash pad. Use this article as a basic guide to become a successful spotter and “spottee.”
Using crash pads
Keep crash pads underneath of the climber, which will sometimes involve moving them as the climber gets higher. Plan this out ahead of time so you aren’t tripping over backpacks, chalk bags, or anything near the base of the climb. Ensure that the pads are even so they don’t slide, and avoid space between pads to reduce the chance of a dreaded ankle injury.
Communication while spotting
Spotting should be treated just like belaying. Climbers need to double check with their spotters before they leave the ground. Climbers: don’t just assume that your spotter is watching; get some verbal feedback from them. This can feel redundant, but redundancy is less painful than broken ankles.
Spotters: voice your concerns about the climb, and discuss the sequence with the climber so you can better predict where falls will happen.
Again, spotting should be treated like belaying. Pay close attention at all times. Focus on protecting them and not being a backseat climber (nobody wants to be sprayed down with beta…). Stand closely behind your climber and watch their back.
Bear in mind that your goal is to steer your climber onto a pad, not to catch them. Keep your elbows slightly bent, and aim your hands at their waist. Make sure you’re in a stance that will allow you to keep your balance in the event of a fall. Be confident, and be ready to move quickly.
When your climber does fall, your goal is to keep them upright, and on a pad. Do this by pushing their center of gravity towards the pad. No need to shove—one firm motion is all that is required.
A note on thumbs: some spotters leave their thumbs tucked in (touching the side of the palm), and many spotters leave their thumbs outstretched. There are ups and downs to both. If you leave your thumbs outstretched, you are more likely to get hurt by snagging them or having them hyper-extended. But if you leave them tucked in, it can be harder to catch and redirect your climber. Make a decision based on what you are most comfortable doing.
There you have it! In the end, safety is the responsibility of both the climber and the spotter. Be safe, bring a buddy, and climb on!