The University of British Columbia campus, a small city in its own right, accreted onto the edge of the city of Vancouver. By day, all I can see is people rushing between classes. If you go outside during classes, when most students are engrossed in paying attention to their lecturer, or (as would be more my case) in the people and things around them, the campus is relatively dead, but still there are people about. Come now to school at night, say after nine or ten, and it is very much a different story.
Isolated groups radiate from and concentrate on the bus loop and the Student Union Building, and libraries are variably packed or deserted, depending on exams, but most other areas are void of life. All that is left are dimly lit shadowy corners and arêtes, and endless faces and slabs of concrete and glass. To break the monotony of this landscape throw in the occasional drainpipe and stairwell, and that could sum up the night life on the majority of the campus.
Now meet Arvin Kavinchuk, a former engineering student with a craving for bad Chinese food from the Village food court, and a bag of white chalk which he likes to sprinkle about the place. Picture a tallish gaunt lad, dressed in black sweatshirt and ragged skateboard shoes, with alternatively dreadlocked or close cropped hair, depending on the dread destroying power of the surf in Hawaii at the time. For Arvin and friend Kenny Frazz, a short, stocky, and much less interesting character, the preferred method of transport on campus is a few old skateboards for easy stashing in bushes while they get out and about on campus on a nice dry night. More often than not it’s a little cool out, but this seems only to heighten their energy, and encourages them to move with more determination and concentrate harder on their after hours campus tours.
First stop on the tour is more often than not the Administration Building, composed of the classic UBC grey concrete, which must be produced en masse and shipped to boring grey places worldwide. This material by far dominates the UBC landscape, with the only thing able to penetrate this depressing barrier being the overwhelming flow of pink and white blossoms in spring, which for a short time mask the monotone of campus which is the color grey. But for these two at least, the grey concrete of this building turns into a playground. Granted there are no slides, swings, or teeter-totters but there is a crude and hard form of the familiar monkey bars, seemingly built for the some purpose by a twisted and senile designer who has finally had it with the standard, and dares to express those deep down desires for years repressed. It is upon this demented monkey bar that Arvin and Kenny release their energy and at last begin to play.
First up Kenny pulls his feet off the ground while pulling mostly down on a ledge that seems to totally be facing the other way. Since Frazz is a little slow, he doesn’t notice this apparent flaw of physics, and so uses his brutish strength to propel himself dynamically upward further, launching feet and one hand into air, and finally he grasps the good edge of the top of the wall. Kenny seems none too graceful, but doesn’t seem to mind. Next up, Arvin takes the spotlight. It is obvious that Arvin possesses strength as well, though he seems more to use the faint corners and edges of the arête he is climbing in total harmony with his hands and feet, rather than just bullheaded strength. He completes the problem as if it were nothing, and shyly lets Frazz at it. There is a word these climbers use which very well describes Kenny on the arête well, the word being flail. Kenny steps up, climbs the first part with some difficulty, and proceeds to fall off numerous times before scraping off a line of skin going from his spleen to his shoulder. This only seems to fuel him further, and finally, after another brutish dynamic move (where Kavinchuk moved statically) Kenny finally does the problem, but only just. He then proceeds to say how “hairball” the problem is (as these short climbs are called) then recants the statement, and finally settles on the conclusion that it was “balls to the wall” instead. Where this pea-brained individual came up with the terms remains a mystery, but Arvin just laughs in politeness and they carry on to the next spot on the tour.
The Student Recreation Building was built a few years ago, and though it had recreation in mind, it is doubtful whether or not it was designed to be scaled in such a way as it was by the two lads in this article. The East facing side of the building was built in such a way that it is slabby, or at least less than vertical, and this, coupled with the fact that there are pipes running vertically most of the length of the building, allows the duo to scale the building in a matter of a minute or less. Upon climbing back down, Arvin proceeds to explain how they could have and probably should have used a rope like real rock climbers, but that the difficulty was not great, and as long as you stayed calm, you would not fall. Just then an airborne Kenny Frazz lands nearby on the ground with a thud, he had been climbing down more slowly than Kavinchuk, and when still five or eight metres up, managed to “get sketched” and somehow lose his grip. Amazed that Kenny had just fallen off the easiest route at UBC, coupled with the fact that he was now fine and trying to tie his shoelace, (to prevent further incident, informed Kenny), Arvin suggested shorter routes. A wise move considering the limited capacity for rational thought in Frazz. A quick skate around the building and they were at the next problem. Arvin was quick to inform that this was one of the finest on campus, and proceeded to pull his sweatshirt down over his elbows and climb up onto a cement beam under a walkway. Then he traversed out, both hands on the lip of a higher edge, while one heel trailed in the path of his hands, and the other swung wildly in midair. Then both feet were swinging, they swung through a bush (all part of the problem) and finally Arvin pulled up and onto a higher beam, measuring maybe 40cm square on top, with an overhang just above, and ended up facing outwards.
“Now’s the hard part”, says he, as he gracefully (as much as one can be graceful in the situation), manages to turn himself around so that he is riding au cheval again, this time facing in to the wall in a careful balance with muscles tense. To finish, Kavinchuk deftly places his knee and toe between the block he is on and the bottom of the overhang, relaxes a bit, and manages to raise his upper body enough to top out on the wall. Amazing to watch. Kenny, by this time through thrashing up the bottom side of a hanging stairway to the top, is ready and jumps at it next. He does it in the same fashion as Arvin, though the bush doesn’t look quite the same afterward.
Growing sick of the current tour venue, the boys head to the Oceanography wing of the Biology Building to some problems Frazz discovered while lost trying to find the Bookstore the week before final exams. He justifies another failed math course by these two problems, and it is evident that they are of high quality. The first is a cement pillar up to a ceiling, with a lip just in reach of the top of the pillar. Once at the lip, a “mantle” move is required to summit onto the concrete platform. Since one has to hang by both arms at the lip of the platform, the problem of getting on top is a difficult one. Kavinchuk manages to do the move by first putting a leg over, then rolling onto the platform. Frazz prefers the direct method, and does a pseudo-heimlich manouver, barely avoiding vomiting, to gain the same position. To the right of the pillar is an unlikely looking line that ends the same way as the pillar problem, but starts a few meters away on a wall with vertically aligned parallel grooves. The grooves are climbed up to an edge, then the edge is traversed over to the corner of the building. Once here things get tricky. An overhanging façade reveals a crack, which can be grabbed and pinched in an “undercling” move, and once this crack is gained, it can be traversed, with only feet smearing on a blank concrete wall. Arvin understands that there are forces working in opposition to his advantage and does the problem. Frazz doesn’t understand what the hell Kavinchuk is talking about, and does the problem.
Excited over the last set of problems, the boys head over to the new Forestry Building. They are looking for new problems, and they aren’t disappointed. They fool around down low, around the outside of the building, doing numerous variations, climbing various cracks and window panes and edges. Eventually they make their way in to the central courtyard, in a location where there are stacks of plywood and boards ready for testing in the facilities within the building. Arvin spots a ladder heading up onto a low two story roof and the boys climb up, probably feeling similar to early explorers on high mountain peaks in remote parts of the world. Atop the roof, they climb up and over a partially disassembled fan (the reason for the ladder), and on to a larger roof. Their eyes grow wide when they see three or four metre high wooden beams under the overhang of the next roof up. Arvin is dubious whether or not they can be climbed, but Kenny jumps right at it, not thinking about the now cold and late night, and not thinking about the frost on the sheet metal edge which must be surmounted to gain the roof. Kenny may be strong, but nobody said he was a real thinker. In any case, up he goes, Arvin standing below to act as a crash pad in the event that Kenny peels off and plummets to the hard flat roof below. He does just that upon grabbing the frosty metal edge and nearly crushes Arvin’s foot. A swearing Kavinchuk below, Frazz goes for a second attempt as much to escape the Wrath of Arvin as to complete the final roof. By some unlikely miracle of science or the supernatural, Kenny seems to have learned something from his previous attempt, and instead of wildly fling at the lip and letting his feet swing off the instant his hand grasps the edge of the higher, the highest, roof, something inside him sparks, and he controls himself for a small part of a second. Perhaps he can taste the summit. Perhaps he is inspired by his level-headed friend, and perhaps he is scared shitless and doesn’t want to fall off again. Whatever the case, Frazz sticks the move, gets his other hand on, gently swings his feet, and pulls up onto the roof. Arvin, swollen foot and all, not surprisingly feels he can do the problem after seeing it could be done, and with Kenny ready to grab his shirt from above him should he slip, he pulls over onto the Summit Roof to join his friend. Somewhere along the way, the Wrath of Arvin dissipated into the air, and after sliding around on the frosty metal roof for kicks, the two characters hung by their hands over the edge, dropped the two metres between feet and roof below, and headed back down to solid ground. Another successful night on campus for Kavinchuk and Frazz. As Kim Mitchell would say “might as well go for a soda, nobody hurts, and nobody cries”. As Arvin and Kenny say, “might as well go buildering”.
*real names may not have been used to protect the identity of the individuals.