JEDDAH: After years of climbing in the US and Europe, Yasmin Gahtani, who represents herself as the first Saudi certified climbing wall instructor (CWI), is on a mission to bring the sport home.
Empowered by climbing since she started four years ago, 38-year-old Gahtani wants to spread the culture of this sport among women in the Kingdom.
“It is almost non-existent, especially for women,” Gahtani said. “It’s a sport that would be perfect for Saudi Arabia; would be perfect for women. It really empowers you. It makes you stronger … and makes you understand how much you’re capable of doing on your own wall.”
Since she got into climbing, her vacations started to revolve around climbing and mountaineering.
Gahtani shares snippets of her climbing experience on her Instagram account. She tried both indoor and outdoor rock climbing as well as mountaineering. But rock and wall climbing were closer to her heart.
Her followers started getting curious about climbing and showing interest in trying this sport. That is when she became aware of her need to become certified as she believes it is “a big responsibility.”
Chicago is where she went to pursue and gain her CWI certification through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) in January. The certificate allows her to pass on what she learned and teach others to climb. “This is what I want to do. I want to teach women to climb,” she said.
Gahtani, who is a member of the Saudi Climbing Association, never went to the gym before she embarked on her climbing experience. She said the sport has encouraged her to strengthen her body to be able to give it more. Climbing made her understand who she wanted to be.
“I changed throughout my years in climbing,” she said. “I definitely was someone else, way different from what I am now.”
Gahtani has partnered with Waad Academy in Jeddah where she will start coaching women. When she was studying for her certification, Gahtani learned more about the importance of safety procedures and why each is required and important.
“I learned how to rescue people who get stuck on the wall especially on long routes,” she said, adding that “climbing can be completely safe if you do it right.”
Having a diverse base of climbing enthusiasts is what she aims for.
Rock climbing is for everyone as long as the safety measures are followed — including veiled women, people from different age groups as well as those with special needs.
“The veil on your head has nothing to do with not being able to climb. There are so many women around the world who cover their head and are still able to climb. But outdoors you have to wear a (safety) helmet.”
She is planning on getting certified to train people with special needs in the future.
Gahtani believes there is much thirst for fun sports in Saudi Arabia. Those goes in line with what she called a “health movement” that is spreading in the Kingdom. “There’s a whole health movement. Everyone wants to be healthier and stronger.”
Places to climb outdoors are still limited and not yet prepared for sports climbing. “Since there are more climbers now who are getting into this sport, we will be able to be funded. We need funding to be able to bolt walls in Saudi Arabia.”
Her goal in the next two years is to have more outdoor spaces to climb “because we do have the mountains but we don’t have the facilities to climb as a sport.”
Gahtani is also an independent baby photographer and has a homemade stationery line. “I have a home-based business and I’ve just added this (climbing training) to it. It was a passion and a hobby that I wanted to turn into a profession.”
She advises young people to turn whatever they are passionate about into their jobs. “As long as you have the passion for it, it will work and you can be very successful.”