04 February 2019
By Linda Pearce
Ethan Naylor’s first attempt at sport climbing was something of a revelation. As the 13-year-old recalls it now: “It was kind of like ‘this is exactly what I feel like doing, this is what makes me, me’.’’
A handful of years after that initial awakening, Naylor remains passionate about an activity he says challenges him both physically and mentally. It’s one he admits scares him at times, but more often excites and motivates the committed Grade Seven student to train up to six days a week and start some mornings, even on school days, with a sunrise mountain climb in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
“He’s a kid that knows exactly what he wants to do, and does it,’’ says his mother, Kelly, thankful for the fact that that her eldest child’s sporting love is one now actively shared by herself, husband Todd and 10-year-old son Oliver.
“When Ethan got into climbing I remember we walked into the gym and signed him up for a membership straight way, bought his harness and shoes, and the gym owner went ‘are you sure you don’t want to just try it for a term?’ We were ‘no, he’ll like it! He’s done it twice, this is that he wants to do’. And he's never looked back.”
Gazing further forward, sport climbing’s addition - along with baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding and surfing - to the program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is a thrilling development that will help to carry it into the mainstream. As Ethan watches, he will also be plotting his path to a competition combining the three indoor disciplines of bouldering (in which the climbs are known as “problems”), lead and speed. He will be dreaming. Of course he will.
“Tokyo is gonna be amazing,’’ Ethan enthuses, his own hopes cast ahead to Paris, 2024, with a podium finish at nationals a shorter-term goal. “It’s gonna open up a whole new world, and respect, for climbers, and I hope it keeps going.’’
An indigenous Australian, and one of the Anaiwan people from his NSW birthplace of Armidale, Ethan has been given permission by a local Queensland Gubbi Gubbi elder to perform Welcome to Country. He is also an eloquent spokesman for the appeal of sport climbing, although the ground-level reality is that costs, too, are high.
There is regular travel between the family home in Buderim and a second training gym in Brisbane; new shoes (cost $200-$280) every three months, chalk and other climbing gear; the gym memberships; entry fees/general expenses for competitions.
This year, the big one was in Sydney, in May: the national championships. Illness prevented Ethan from participating in the final day of competition, but he still managed a top-15 finish in the Youth C division. In order for their son to be a part of it, the Naylors needed to meet fuel, accommodation and other costs.
Hence their gratitude that, for the second successive year, Ethan made a successful application to Sport Australia’s Local Sporting Champions grants program, which provides financial assistance of between $500 and $750 for competitors aged 12-18 years, coaches and officials to attend state/national/international championships.
“It’s been really cool for me as it gives us extra support for our trip,’’ says the diminutive Ethan, whose father Todd adds: “Every bit helps.”
As, indeed, does each chance to participate in elite competition, for the exposure to world-class routes on high walls, experience in dealing with nerves and developing technically and tactically, the opportunities to meet like-minded souls, build confidence, and gather knowledge that can be shared back at the local gym.
As to why sport climbing is Ethan’s thing? “It’s a puzzle,” his parents say, almost in unison. “Ethan’s really talented academically as well, and he excels at maths and problem-solving. Climbing is a puzzle. You need to work it out.”
Ethan Naylor continues to do so, and in every respect, is enjoying his ascent.