Spider-Man Fans Climbing the Walls

When Spider-Man swings onto screens on Friday, moviegoers will be dazzled by the comic book wall crawler's gravity-defying acrobatics.

And when the audiences leap out of the movie theaters raring to do some high-wire hijinks of their own like star Tobey Maguire, rock-climbing schools will be ready.

"Anyone can be Spider-Man," said Ivan Greene, manager of the indoor climbing wall at The Sports Center at Manhattan's Chelsea Piers. "We teach people how to be a wall climber."

With that in mind, the center is marketing its classes by offering two tickets to see the movie if they sign up for four weekly lessons on "Being your own Spider-Man," for $110 for club members and $195 for non-members.

And the Spider-Man web is likely to reach far beyond, according to Jeanne Niemer, executive director of the United States Competition Climbing Association. "We'll probably get an influx of 6- and 7-year-old kids saying, 'I want to be like Spider-Man,'" she said in a telephone interview from her Portland, Ore., offices.

The 1,000-member organization, which coordinates competitive indoor climbing for adults and children throughout the country, is expecting to see the biggest spike in climbing interest since Chris Sharma climbed to the top of the wall-scalers culture with a gold medal for bouldering in the 1999 X Games.

Strangely enough, Niemer said, most of the buzz she's hearing over the coming bug-hero movie isn't from children.

"One of the older guys came in the other day and said, 'I'm so excited the Spider-Man movie is coming it's a lot like climbing,'" Niemer said. "I mostly hear it from adults at this point."

Twenty-four-year-old climbing instructor Chris Geer himself a dead ringer for Spidey alter ego Peter Parker said he's bracing for the coming Spider-Man climbing hatchlings.

"After Mission Impossible 2 came out, a lot more people were coming in," he said beneath the Sport Center's 47-foot-tall climbing wall. "Whenever the French guy [Eiffel Tower climber and 'real-life Spider-Man' Alain Robert] gets arrested for stunts, people's interest is piqued. I'm sure once Spider-Man comes out we'll start swinging in here."

And those who do come hoping to resemble comicdom's favorite web spinner might be surprised by how close they actually can come, he said.

"If you look at the best climbers, the differences between them and Spider-Man are pretty small," Geer said. "A very well-conditioned, smart climber can climb walls as well as Spider-Man."

Of course, most people can’t shoot webs from their wrists like Spider-Man can, he added.

But even the techniques between human wall climbers and real-life, non-mutated spiders are amazingly similar, according to University of Missouri-Columbia biology professor James Carrell, who’s been both studying spiders and reading Spider-Man comics for 30 years.

For one thing, spiders use two or three tiny claws at the end of each leg to lodge into imperfections in the climbing surface, just as human climbers use their fingers and toes to hoist themselves up yard by yard. And spiders, just like most humans, rely on safety ropes to prevent deadly falls.

"A human wall climber will attach a rope to various places along the surface so if they slip they can then can swing and not get too badly injured and resume climbing, and that's pretty much what spiders do," Carrell said.

But after the Sam Raimi flick hits theaters, it won't be flies that need to be on their guard, Geer said.

"I'm sure when Spider-Man comes out, kid's will be hanging upside down from the jungle gym, bugging their moms to take them rock climbing," he predicted.