Esther Foster is joining the Women's Climbing Symposium Board of Directors, and we thought this would be an opportune moment to check-in with Esther and allow you, the fabulous WCS community, a chance to get to know her better.
Having spent almost 20 years rock climbing and mountaineering throughout the UK and internationally, Esther has pursued a career coaching, guiding and instructing in both climbing and mountaineering, becoming one of the few women MCI's (Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor) within the UK and a member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI). Esther also delivers Rock Climbing Instructor courses, runs BMC Women's 'Intro to Trad' days and Women's Trad coaching weekends, coaches at Women's Trad Fest, and provides indoor and outdoor coaching (1:1 or groups).
Esther comes to this role with extensive experience, both personally and professionally, and it is with a great deal of excitement that we welcome Esther Foster to the team!
Hi Esther! For those who haven't had the pleasure of getting to know you at any of our previous WCS events, can you please tell us a little about how, and why, you wanted to be involved in the Women's Climbing Symposium?
I wanted to be involved in WCS the instant I heard about it and came down to volunteer at the London event in 2013. It sounded like such an inspiring and exciting event, and there really wasn't anything like it around at that point. There's always been this amazing atmosphere, whether you go as a participant or as part of the team... it's like this kind of warm, excited inner feeling you get when you're there, and there's a reason so many coaches and participants come back year on year. I've coached at WCS since 2017 and always felt really proud to be part of such an inspiring team of women coaches, all with their own unique styles and strengths. I've always wanted to take a peak at all the other coaching sessions actually so maybe now I'm a director I might be able to do that on the day!
Our aim at WCS is to positively impact people's climbing with activities that connect, develop and inspire... which of these is most important to you, or speaks most to you personally, and why?
Oooh that's a hard question! These three things are all super important to me and probably underpin a lot of what I do without realising. I think that WCS has a really unique opportunity to connect people, whether thats the coaches, speakers, participants or volunteers; it's a pretty special event where you're all in one place with so many amazing people! Connecting and collaborating with others is so important, and makes us stronger and better people. I remember Shauna mentioning this when she described her life as an athlete... those connections and people around her were crucial, and seeing it as a team effort was important despite her being out on the mats on her own when competing.
Why is it that women's climbing is such a passion for you? There are so many aspects of the sport and the community, what specifically are your passions within women's climbing and what drives that interest for you?
I guess as a woman climber myself, I feel particularly motivated when I see other women flourishing in the sport, and I love being a part of that. It’s been amazing realising how much of a positive impact I can have on other climbers, and with women in particular.
I think it's really important that climbing has a positive, healthy, and well-rounded impact on peoples lives. There are so many expectations on what women should (or shouldn’t) look like, and a lot of (sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle) assumptions of how we should behave, what we can achieve, and what we should believe about ourselves. Climbing is a great way of challenging those things, and so I see my role with women’s climbing as part of a bigger picture of encouraging and enabling happy, healthy lives for everyone, of every gender.
I run lots of women specific courses as well as lots of mixed courses, and I've often found myself seeking out other women to personally climb with as well as men. There's something really special about groups of women coming together in climbing. It can be hard to put your finger on, and sometimes people that haven't experienced it will struggle to see what the big deal is, but from my experience women really flourish, really gain motivation and confidence, really develop, and really be themselves in these arenas...it's amazing to see, and they then take all those good things back to mixed spaces too.
Over the last 9 years of being involved in WCS, how have you seen the women's climbing community, and the wider climbing community for that matter, change? What have been your experiences of this?
That’s a really interesting question. I’ve been climbing for almost 20 years….so a lot has changed, partly because climbing is a relatively young sport, and partly because society in general has changed. Right now it feels like there are so many more opportunities for people to get in to climbing, so many more groups, courses, communities, festivals etc, so much more collaboration, so much more good coaching and instruction, and also a lot more honest conversations in the climbing media and community that are tackling topics that we never discussed even 5 - 10 years ago (such as body image and assumptions about weight, diversity and representation, gender issues, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, menstrual cycles, etc etc)
WCS has played a key role in that in the UK, and was one of the first events of its kind which brought together so many women, often from all over the world, and created a space where everyone was able to learn, connect and leave feeling inspired.
Moving forwards, where do you hope that WCS and the women's climbing community will grow? What would you like to see happen more for women's climbing?
I think that women in particular, over the last 5 - 10 years, have really stepped forward and made a lot of brilliant things happen in the climbing community. My hope is that we continue to grow in a positive way, and are able to be great role models for women and girls, and also for other genders too. One of the biggest challenges, but also opportunities, is improving diversity in our sport. It’s moving in the right direction, but will take time and work to really make happen. I’d also love to see more men stepping forward, learning from communities and events like WCS, and creating supportive spaces which can positively impact men too.
Coming on board as the newest WCS Director, what do you hope to bring to the Women's Climbing Symposium team, events, and community?
I've absolutely loved delivering the coaching sessions at WCS but this new role will allow me to contribute to the bigger picture at WCS and help it continue to improve and develop. Shauna, Rebecca and I all have different strengths, backgrounds and experiences, and so we'll be able to compliment each other and bring different insights.
I'm pretty excited to see how I can contribute to WCS as a Director. I'm involved in lots of grassroots initiatives in the community and spend time coaching and teaching climbers year round (people of all standards, disciplines, ages, and backgrounds) so hopefully I’ll be able to bring insights that will help us to keep improving over the years.
And lastly, having spent the last 20 years rock climbing and mountaineering throughout the UK and internationally you must have had some great days out on the rock! What's been your favourite climb and why?
There are so many! Although I am loving bouldering lots at the moment, routes always seem to create memories that stick with me. Trad in particular often involves a rollercoaster of different emotions and feels like a proper adventure, so lots of those days will be etched in my memory forever. One of my most recent highlights though was onsighting the Kessel Run (7c) in Chulilla this year. I'm pretty sure it's one of the few times I can say I tried my absolute hardest; my whole body was shaking, elbows were sticking out, I made lots of panicky noises and managed to hold on by the skin of my teeth. I was in shock for the rest of the trip and it was my proudest moment even though it wasn't my hardest grade. Times when you gave it your all are definitely the most satisfying!
Thank you so much Esther!
This August Esther is also running two 'Breaking Barriers!' trad coaching weekends for women. Working through the key areas that hold us back in leading trad routes you'll cover topics such as: trusting gear placements, managing expectations and fear, lead tactics, and reducing tension, while also exploring wider technical, tactical and psychological areas to raise your trad game. Full information here: estherfoster.co.uk/coaching
Photos: Esther coaching at WCS19 / Esther climbing Bloodhound (E2 5b) at Gouther Crag in the Lake District / Esther bouldering on Undercooke (7a) at St Bees in Cumbria / Esther coaching at WCS21