Wearing traditional Muslim clothes has not slowed an Indonesian woman’s climb to the top of her sport.
Matthew Moore reports from Jakarta.
When she chalks up to cheat gravity in the climbing events in next month’s Asian Extreme Games, Etti Hendrawati knows she’ll be turning heads.
But unlike most of her peers, the 28-year-old Indonesian climber will stand out for the amount of clothes she’s wearing rather than the lack of them.
In a sport dominated by skimpy tops and second-skin short shorts, Hendrawati and a growing band of Indonesian Muslim women climbers compete in loose long pants with the ends of their hijabs, or headscarves, tucked out of the way inside generous tops.
Her clothes disguise the strength and suppleness of her 47-kilogram frame. But a few moments on one of Yogyakarta’s 20 climbing walls is enough to see the results of a tough training regime.
Hendrawati has been climbing since she was 15, when she lived on a cliff-lined part of Java’s coast with a mother who could climb coconut palms.
Climbing artificial rock walls has been her passion for a decade: she is one of hundreds of Indonesians enjoying a sport that is becoming increasingly popular.
In a country where few athletes apart from badminton players ever reach world class, Hendrawati and a handful of other Indonesian climbers stand out. She won the speed climbing event at the world championships in San Francisco three years ago when she scaled an 18-metre wall in 13 seconds.
Last year she came second in the world cup event. Her husband Rosit finished fourth.
The president of the competition division of the Indonesian Rock Climbing Federation, Wahyu Bintoro, said there’s a new generation of women climbers coming through but for now, Hendrawati remains “the No.1 Asian climber”.
Wherever she competes, rivals from Western countries invariably ask about her hijab.
She just tells them that she is a Muslim and it is obligatory for her to wear one.
She said many of her competitors were surprised to see Muslim women climbing, especially in a hijab, but she believes it is important to set an example that encourages young Muslim women to try such sports.
She now has a job teaching climbing to about 20 men and women at a university in Purwokerto, about three hours from Yogyakarta. Quite a few of the women wore hijabs, she said.
She said that when she wore it, it showed other women that a hijab did not need to stop them doing such activities.
Whether she’s in the gym on the wall or on her daily runs, the hijab is always on.
At the Extreme Games, she’ll compete in bouldering, an unroped climb on a seven-metre wall where falls are stopped by giant cushions. Her competitors will include lithe young women, some of whom appear in climbing calendars wearing their hallmark lycra tops and shorts.
Hendrawati said she has never been asked to do a calender shoot, but doesn’t envy those who are. And her hijab has not stopped her getting sponsors, including the Government of Yogyakarta.
Sponsors also pay for her equipment and her special shoes, although no sponsor has yet offered to pay for her hijabs.
“That’s not a bad idea, though,” she said.