Will A Popularity Gain Shift the Culture of Climbing?

Official word has been let out that Climbing will be in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. You probably already know of this because the media attention has been huge. There are people strongly for this, strongly against this, and a whole bunch floating around in that area of uncertainty. You’re entitled to whatever opinion you have, as there are valid pros, cons, and areas of uncertainty. I’m not trying to take anyone to battle, because in full disclosure I support this but I’m not a huge Olympics fan. I never watch the Olympics and I’ve never cared one way or another about them, but I do see positive aspects that could emerge from it. I don’t want to rally you into one category or another. However, one thing that I keep hearing over and over is that the Olympics will cause this increase in popularity that will shift the culture in climbing from all that is good about it. Will it though?

People are protecting climbing like a favorite book. Like that book that just reaches into your soul, gets you on a level that no one else does, and makes you feel like you are not alone in the world. You worry that people will talk about it with a totally different interpretation than yours and it will sound like complete blasphemy because this isn’t just a story, this is a piece of you. I totally understand. I have often been quiet about books that had this effect on me for the same reason, but then I kind of thought of it a little different.

Fight Club, written by Chuck Palahniuk, holds a lot of meaning for me. Recently, I’ve been hearing teenagers have it for required reading in high school. I think back to those days of English class were these pompous know it all kids made every book about the bible or repressed sexuality of some sort. I cringed. I did not want want to think about a bunch of teenagers ripping apart a beloved work to sound ultra intelligent while missing out on the whole real meaning. Then another thought hit me, if this was required reading when I was in high school, maybe I would have actually engaged more. I’d have the fiery passion to lash back with my own thoughts and interpretations, instead of just rolling my eyes while the students do this to classics so boring I never even bothered reading them anyway. It would have shaped my life to be exposed to things I could really connect with earlier on. There were a couple books in high school that engaged me enough, and when I did say something, it brought up some really interesting points. It encouraged the more silent types to have a voice, and challenged some of these other views in a way that made class fun. I mean some of these kids are just saying this stuff cause they think it’s what teachers want to hear.

At the end of the day, having different insights and interpretations into things will either help people grow, or you could walk away saying “Man, those assholes just don’t get Palahniuk like I do,” and continue on your day. It doesn’t change your right to interpret it or enjoy it. Honestly, we can put all we want into Fight Club and the author says he wrote it while bored at work. None of us really “get” Chuck Palahniuk, because only he really can. We all have different ways to see it and that can help us form deeper connections or go about our day. Climbing is just a person moving up a rock, or plastic. When you stop and really think about it, there’s nothing actually there. However, we come to it with feelings, experiences, etc. that craft our love for it. It becomes so much more to each of us individually. What I get out of it will not be exactly the same as what you get out of it or what anyone does. That doesn’t change how important and real it is to each of us.

People say surfing and climbing shouldn’t be in the Olympics because they have cultures that aren’t really the Olympic type. Sometimes adding to a culture can be a positive thing. I remember when I was a teenager, I started skateboarding. It was the most in love with anything I had ever been. I got on that board and everything in the world just vanished. As someone that battled with depression, being bullied, teenage angst, anxiety, and managing a chronic medical condition, skateboarding was pure calm and release from it all. I felt truly connected to something. I didn’t care if people liked it, made fun of me, or whatever. It was just mine. My thing and my special time. All that mattered was the sound of those wheels rolling across concrete, the rush of wind to my face, and that totally peaceful area I was brought to. Without skateboarding, it’s honestly hard to imagine making it to where I am, as sappy as that sounds. Nothing felt better. I was obsessed. I went out every chance I got, sometimes even risking going in poor conditions like rain. I feel like all my words fail to adequately describe it. I remember when I got a Steve Caballero board in Philadelphia, he was my fav. at the time, I slept in the backseat the whole ride home with it wrapped in my arms. My brother made fun of me for being the biggest dork, but I just loved everything about it. I remember while girls in my school were crazed for boy bands, I had a complete starstruck meltdown when Bucky Lasek emailed me back about a school report I did.

Having said that, I am far from what skateboarding “culture” was about at that time. For starters I’m a female. At the time I got into skateboarding, I couldn’t name one professional female skateboarder that I knew of. I watched the movie Grind, which had people making fun of the one female skater for even trying and the main characters who were nice to her, were at the same time blown away she was actually a skater. It seemed unheard of. Even today, I’m far from psyched about what female representation looks like in that sport. Also, at least at the amateur level, skateboarding was known for being a “bad boy” sport. It was heavily immersed in street culture. Skaters were the ones you had to keep an eye on because they were trouble, skipping class, and usually involved in drugs or small crimes. That’s what outsiders thought. While I got along great with the guys that skated at my school, they all fit right into this negative stereotype. I was a very good girl. I was honor roll, dedicated to doing well in school, law abiding, morally upstanding, and completely straight edge, as they’d say. When I tell people I love skateboarding, they think I’m joking. When they finally come around to taking me seriously, they say it’s weird because I just don’t look the type. People who are into it because of the love of it, usually embrace and accept me because we have a common bond and that’s all that matters. I’ve made fast friends through this. People can try to say I’m not of the culture and I don’t belong, but I can easily argue that type of interpretation means they don’t get it either. It should be about the love of it, and not being a certain stereotype of a person, right? Especially in these alleged rebel type sports, wouldn’t destroying labels actually further the purpose?

You can say I’m out of the culture, but you can’t argue I don’t love it as much as anyone else who does, or that my experience with it is unreal or different because I don’t fit the mold. The fact that I come to as a different person, didn’t shift the whole culture. The skating culture wouldn’t know who I was whether I fit properly or not. I had friends who tried it because I liked it, but they didn’t get that same feeling and they moved on to other things.

Sure, the Olympics might peak the interest of a different group of individuals. Those new individuals may try it. Either they are going to try it and think meh, I’m not into this and stop, or they are going to feel that rush, that pull, that obsession all climbers felt and become a real climber. The Olympics might introduce people to a sport, but they aren’t going to keep doing something they hate because the Olympics are just so damn cool. I mean really, I don’t know anyone that thinks the Olympics are cool and cutting edge. People like them and go crazy watching them, sure, but it’s not where trend followers are grasping their ideas. Unless there’s something I don’t know.

Ultimately, people who become obsessed with climbing might be different from you, they might have their own interpretation of what climbing is, but they aren’t less of a climber. They’re just coming at it in a different way. They aren’t taking away your right to view climbing as you want. You can still be the climber you want to be and get all the same stuff from climbing. They are just following their own passion and trying to enjoy life like you are. We tend to think of it as shrinking our area, but there are so many undeveloped areas out there. Having more attention might bring better stuff, like people investing more in checking/replacing bolts, people developing new areas, etc. Chances are people inspired by the Olympics will just stay in the gym and train though. I mean they are known for being those completely dedicated, all work and no play types, which are well suited for gyms.

Studies show the Olympics do increase people’s interest in athletics and exercise, which is so important for our obesity and laziness rates. It makes people more healthy. However, there isn’t a direct correlation for individual sports. So watching cool sports like climbing, skateboarding, and surfing, which will engage youth, will make them more likely to run around, go to gyms, try out sports etc. It won’t necessarily make them all hard core climbers.

Again, you can continue disliking the Olympics and the idea of climbing being in them, but I, personally, don’t think this is going to mess with climbing culture. It might create a new sub culture. We already have issues of trad vs sport, outdoors vs gym, competition vs all other climbing forms, etc. Chances are high all of climbing will stay the same, but now we’ll have Olympic climbers vs comp climbers vs trad vs alpine vs sport vs bouldering vs ice, etc. Things in that regard, will likely just carry on. What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment agreeing, disagreeing, or just adding your own uniqueness. Just keep it respectful.




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