“It’s not about physical strength at all. Rock climbing is about discipline, skill, and mental focus — technique is key.”
The same could be said about life — and Marc Ramlal is the living proof.
It’s rare that a ‘jack of all trades’ can also be a ‘master of many’, but Marc defies the odds.
With martial arts, hiking, spear-fishing, archery, kayaking, diving, paragliding, and rock climbing under his belt — alongside ‘softer’ skills of business, music, law, charity work, social activism, graphic design, and much more; it is plain to see that his aim with everything he tackles is to conquer it, head-on.
“When I was 19, while I was bedridden with a serious illness, I began to try out something new: drawing,” says Marc, who is now the owner and director of Custom Grafix. “From that point on, I decided to take on a new challenge at least once every year — and I’ve kept at it ever since.”
His journey has led him to hone a wide range of skills to add to his repertoire, and has taken him to places both regional and abroad that many of us may not even venture to imagine — as he settles down to speak with WellnessConnect, he’s just returned from a pre-World Cup international paragliding competition in Colombia.
One of his greatest passions, though, is rock-climbing.
Marc is the Manager of Trini Rock Climbers, and the founder and President of the Trinidad and Tobago Rock Climbing Association. He also manages the Rock Climbing Facility at Central Athletic Club in Chaguanas, central Trinidad; and is the regional dealer for Spectrum Sports International, which means that any rock wall throughout the Caribbean region purchased through the company will be Marc’s to build and configure.
From Hiking to Rock Climbing
Having a keen interest in hiking and outdoor activities from a young age, rock climbing was a natural step for Marc.
“I used to run Camp Wilderness Hiking Club, which itself emerged out of friends and family members getting together for a hike, and it just grew from there,” he explains.
After hiking for awhile, Marc soon realised there was something missing — some things he couldn’t do, or places he couldn’t reach — and decided to bridge this gap by learning rock climbing.
“I approached the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment [of the Defence Force] and started training with them, and I learnt to climb and rappel (descend off of a height),” he says. “But even that knowledge was limited to their needs, which was rescue for military purposes. I wanted more.”
Marc decided to pursue rock climbing abroad, and found a course in New York, United States that was affiliated with the American Mountain Guides Association. He later followed it up with an instructor’s course — i.e. teaching rock climbing instructors to instruct others.
To date, he has certified 6 local instructors; and has trained hundreds, maybe thousands, to do both indoor and outdoor rock climbing.
Conquering the Wall
Practice on an indoor wall helps the person to get a feel of the equipment, and to learn the techniques of navigating the ‘rocks’ (anchors placed into the wall) with all four limbs.
The wall at Central Athletic Club, which Marc assembled and currently manages, is made of four sections: on either end, one with a positive angle and another with a negative angle; and in between these lie two sections that are vertical and exactly the same, so that two persons can ‘compete’ if they wish.
“People always think it’s about being a strong jock to be able to do pull-ups, but you don’t need a tremendous amount of upper body strength at all,” Marc says.
“It’s all about being able to logically see the best route, and plan each movement to manoeuvre your body to the next anchor.”
Notably, he finds that among newcomers, women are often more successful than men.
“When I say jump, the ladies will mostly jump… some men will say: ‘Oh, jump now?’ ” he says, laughing. “Giving up that control, having that faith with your feet off the floor — that can be a challenge. I’ve found that women can be quite fearless when it comes to that.”
Similarly, he notes that children are eager to leap onto the wall, and are often successful at reaching the top more quickly than adults.
Rock-climbing in the School Community
He has started a programme where, once a week, he sets up a mobile rock wall at Presentation College in San Fernando, and invites children from that school and neighbouring schools to train there with him for free. He also supplies the wall for the school’s fundraiser events.
“My sons go to the school, and it’s something I really don’t mind doing, as it keeps me in touch with teachers and students and the community in general,” Marc explains. “I have been so blessed in life with the work I do, and more than anything with my family, and I am happy to give back.”
He also enjoys transferring his knowledge to young minds willing to learn.
“Children really show us what the sport is all about… going through school, you may not be the fastest or the smartest or the biggest or the tallest, but rock climbing is the one sport that levels the playing field,” Marc says.
“It is a test of what you’re made of. People surprise you — the jocks get stuck halfway and the smallest, most awkward-looking person can be the champion. Rock-climbing gives the kids that little measure of self-confidence, and shows them what they are capable of if they put their minds to it.”
He also notes that rock climbing requires a high level of discipline — something beneficial for children and adults alike to appreciate.
Rock climbing: the next big sport?
Marc has recently registered the Trinidad and Tobago Rock Climbing Association, through which he advocates for the sport.
“Having that experience abroad was amazing — climbing in Las Vegas, Utah, New York, all over… there are entire towns around the world based on these kind of outdoor activities,” he notes. “Even the indoor routes abroad are 100-200 feet without stopping. We don’t have that here — yet, but we need to get behind it. This can easily be our country’s next big sport.”
He is planning to assemble a team of children later this year to go abroad for rock climbing competitions. He also hopes to leverage support through the government to invest in the sport, and provide facilities for children to train.
“I would love to do a really huge wall in South Trinidad,” he admits. “There is already one being developed in Chaguaramas (north west Trinidad) and the one at Central Athletic — apart from my own mobile wall at the school, there isn’t anywhere else nearby.”
He welcomes contact from others with a vested interest in the sport, and hopes that strength in numbers would make the difference.
“Whoever is already doing it, has a passion for it, wants to see it grow — we could all get together and do something,” Marc adds. “My mission is a big one… I can’t do it alone.”
What You Need to Know
1. For the mobile rock wall, Marc notes that about 75% of his clientele is corporate. The rock wall is a great addition to any company wellness event, fundraiser, sports day, and the like. For the rental of the mobile rock wall:
- The average cost is TT$5000 for a five-hour period.
- Costs will vary based on the location of the event and number of people who would be attending.
- Pre-event site visits are mandatory to ensure everything goes smoothly on the day.
2. For private bookings for an outdoor climb, Marc prefers to keep these small to around 7 or less persons, unless he is going with another instructor. This is to ensure that he is able to have oversight over all persons, and also to avoid long waiting periods during which the climbers may have to wait on a rock ledge to descend in single file.
3. Some costs of rock climbing training with Marc and his team:
- Rock climbing 1o1 basic course: TT$200
- Rock climbing 102 (1 day course): TT$400
- 2 day rappelling course (climbing down waterfalls and pools): TT$700
4. Costs of a rock-climbing session at Central Athletic Club in Chaguanas:
- TT$60 (special Carnival 2014 rate now on: TT$40)
- For groups of 5 persons or more, TT$45 per person