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For Nichol Tomas, success came after a year of slab work. That, and traveling to train with other national team members in other countries. A year later, his youth world ranking jumped from 18th place to first.
Nichol, 16, grew up in Bangkok, Thailand’s most populous city. Known for its golden stupas and floating markets, the bustling mecca is a popular attraction for everyday tourists. Travel about 10 hours south, however, and troves of climbers appear above the white sand, on the limestone cliffs of Laem Phra Nang.
Although Thailand has an international reputation among climbers, the sport is not exactly popular among the locals. Regardless, Nichol found it at age 7 when his father, Kraisak Tomas, a climber himself, introduced him to the craft. A home wall was built, friends were invited over, a micro community thrived.
Nichol’s dad went on to open one of Thailand’s four major climbing facilities: Climb Central Bangkok. The operation became a family affair; Nichol’s sister took up the sport as well and helped out around the gym, and Nichol started setting. Fast forward to 2019, and Nichol became Thailand’s first climbing medalist, with gold at the Youth Bouldering World Championships in Arco, Italy.
How did you get into competing?
When I was 8, my dad asked if I wanted to go to this comp in Singapore. And of course I said yes, because, like, I got to skip school. So we went to Singapore, and I ended up getting first. That was my first spark to competing and stuff.
That’s impressive. How were you so good?
I climbed a lot when I was young. I was having fun, and you know, when you’re a kid and you like something, you just go for it and do it every day.
Tell us about the climbing community in Thailand.
The community is like 500 people or less. If you are looking for strong people, I guess you can count like 50, only? Yeah. Like 50 people who can climb V6 and up, and the rest are climbing for fun.
How do you train?
My dad is my coach, and I normally climb in my home gym, like with just two or three friends. No one can set hard stuff for me, so I just set for myself.
The [training] plan pretty much starts three months before the comp, because for me, that is probably my limit for consistent motivation to train. I switch from power to power endurance to, finally, technical skills. Before the comp, the most important thing is the mind. When I was at the World Championships, I felt very confident, even when I felt weak.
Is there a style that you tend to set?
Actually, I like big moves, and I like to sandbag [laughs]. And moves that are like, bah bah bah. Setting like upper-body things—big moves, dynos and compression. Those are my style.
What are your weaknesses?
Probably any route that requires flexibility. I have a big problem doing high steps—my body will just lose its stability. Another one is my ability to read some kinds of routes, especially deciding for a static way or a dynamic way. Last thing is moving with super bad feet or in tight [scrunchy] positions.
In 2018 at the Youth World Championships in Moscow, you placed 18th in Bouldering. What helped you leap to first place in 2019?
One huge lesson that I got from Moscow was like, I couldn’t climb slab at all. I was super bad and I spent too much energy on my first route in semis. It was pinchy and I got confused. And for the rest of the comp I was pumped, and I couldn’t climb to my full potential.
[Over the next year] I was working on setting tons of slab and doing cardio. Mostly comp simulation and like a lot of strength training. I also traveled a lot, went to Japan and Singapore. I think I was also lacking competition experience. I needed more comp-style routes, and I couldn’t really learn that much from my own setting.
After you won in 2019, you were in tears. What was going through your head?
I started reflecting on how far I’ve come. The feeling is super good. Oh my god, actually, the night before I dreamt that I actually won the comp. It was just my dream. And holy shit, I was on the podium.
How did you celebrate?
Uh, first off, I just called the team and said, “Gelato. I want ice cream!” Yeah, because before the comp I couldn’t eat much—like no spaghetti, no gelato. I was only eating like salads and gross, disgusting things. So, of course, I was like, “Brah, I’m done, man. I’m super proud and I need rewards.” [Laughs]
You’re in school?
Yeah. I like physics, chemistry and math. … I want to be [both] an athlete and someone that gets good grades. … I think it’s very important.
I am a very curious person, I always have questions in my head, and I will never stop looking for an answer that would satisfy me. The one misconception I hate is that athletes are supposed to be dumb. I want to change those perceptions [by being] an athlete and someone who knows lots of things and gets good grades.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to go into mechanical engineering. That’s something I like learning. I can also help my parents with the climbing gym—with setting and stuff. And then creating, making the community stronger in Thailand.
What are your climbing-related goals?
I want to go to the 2024 Olympics. I think I have a very high chance. Yeah, I have tons of time to prepare, but that’s also everyone, so that’s also scary. But I think it’ll be very inspiring for me to go and show my passion to everyone. And, actually, I also plan for the Youth Olympics in 2022.
Any inspiring words?
To me, competition is about doing your best and showing what you really have. It is about giving others inspiration. Till the end of the comp, even on your last route, don’t stop believing. Just do your best.
If you want to improve in this sport, you gotta overcome all your weaknesses. The nature of this sport is already about diversity. You want to be able to climb in every style.