We just finished watching the inspirational and unbelievable talent of the ABS Finals. Hopefully all of you out there tuned in as well. If you did, you no doubt saw Daniel Woods crushing like a champion, Alex Puccio leaving the crowd speechless with incredible displays of pure strength and power, and a whole group of strong competitors right at their heels. You saw Juliane Wurm blow everyone away with her capabilities as she took first place. What you may have also noticed was a huge variety in competitors. Daniel Woods and Alex Puccio have reigned as champions for 8 seasons, but they really had to fight to win against some other seasoned competitors and some new comers. This year people really noticed some talent that they didn’t see coming. There were some strong young climbers (15, 16, and 17). There was some remarkable talent for first time ABS competitors.
What we noticed was that the competitors had very different years of experience on them. Some had only climbed a couple of years, and some have been dominating the climbing scene for a long time. They all came from different parts of the country (even one from another country), they all had different strengths and weaknesses, and they all climbed at different grades. They were all different ages and they all brought different skills to the show. It left viewers with the inspiring message to hit the gym hard training, because climbing is something that really can be anyone’s game as long as they work at it.
It was mentioned several times by the commentators that this is really an exciting time for climbing. It is picking up, it is hitting main stream, and it is evolving in new and different ways each day. This is exciting! We are making history and living through the evolution of a sport. Now some people are all smiles and cheers about this news, while others fall a little more on the apprehensive side. Personally, the mixed feelings are shared by myself.
On the one hand, we want our sport to grow. We want to encourage it’s development and share all that it has meant to us, because we believe in it, love it, and feel passionate about it. On the other hand, there is something to be said for having your own thing. For many people climbing is borderline spiritual. It is something deeper than just a hobby or cool thing to do. We really build up a lifestyle and a new perspective of the world when we engage in climbing. It is hard to think of our peaceful crags which we know and love because of their ability to release us from the world around us for a few hours, being filled and bustling with new climbers who might not have as deep of roots. We listen to some of these gym climbers and are dumbfounded at what they say. They are not the same as us in many ways, but in other ways they are. We all enter the climbing world a little naive and grow and develop in leaps and bounds by how much it has to offer.
The more I think of it, however, it is an exciting time for climbing. Climbing has so many different forms now. We can boulder, top rope, lead climb, trad climb, ice climb, mix climb, and alpine climb. We can climb for competitions, climb for fun, climb on the weekends, or climb to be the best of the best. There really is enough of climbing to share. We should be excited to open the doors to those who can love it and see it as we have all this time. New eyes bring new perspectives, opinions, and creativity. In some ways this is great. In some ways we may disagree. Ultimately, there is room for all of it to be encompassed in a broad term of climbing. We can all share it and celebrate it in our own ways. This is in large part due to the fact that while it is social, it is also solitary.
Gyms are growing and popping up all over the country. They can hold all the new interest. Let’s face it, a majority of new climbers probably will mostly stay gym climbers. That’s okay because gyms have the space. Our sacred outdoor areas may grow a little larger as well, but they also are large and able to hold a big capacity. We will still have our spaces and we may gain more. People who are able to open up new first ascents. People who may be more interested in developing than we are. People who can show us new beta or a new approach. We can grow together through sharing. It is good to embrace the positives that will be numerous as climbing grows. We can still hold on to all we love and cherish about it.
It may become more mainstream, but there is always that special part of it that will remain. Think about other mainstream sports such as football. Football is huge! Have you seen a group of kids or a group of adults playing their own game of football in their backyard? My dad, before he passed away, used to meet with a group of friends each thanksgiving to play a game at a local school. Rain or shine. None of them were particularly great, but there was so much meaning in that game. It was something no one outside could understand, but no one at all could take away. Other extreme sports like Skateboarding have become large and mainstream. That doesn’t change how I feel when I’m riding down the street on my longboard. There are ways that our sport will connect to us and only us and no matter what happens, that will remain. We have nothing to fear.
We do have some things to gain by the growth of climbing. We have more money poured into it, which means climbers may get to really live their dreams without needing a second job or to be homeless. That would be great! We will see more done in terms of access support and help developing cliffs with money brought in. More areas may be willing to open up to climbing. We might see some standardization to help prevent tricky ethics violations like bolt chopping or hold chipping. We might have an easier time getting respect for our need to take time off for climbing trips…well maybe that is going a bit too far. Although, I’ve worked at places were taking off for golfing is unquestioned, so there could be hope.
The bottom line is that this is really a fascinating and interesting time for our sport. We can be and should be a major part of its progression. It will be great to see what the future brings. I feel confident that the future of climbing is very bright!