Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Future of Climbing I: Cages and Volumes

Most people are interested, excited, and even anxious to see where the sport of climbing is headed.  I am one of those people, and I’d like to share my perspective on the progression of our sport.  There are many aspects I’d like to address, so just one blog post simply won’t do.  As good a place to start as any are the “cages and volumes”!


The wall is ready for finals (photo by Jesse Gagnon)

A bit over a week ago, Jesse, Rob D. and I drove down to the third annual Boulder Bash at the Dominion Riverrock in Richmond, VA.  As part of a sports and music festival, such an event brings in the biggest crowds and gives us a chance to show the world what climbing is all about.  Well, Brent Quesenberry with a team of professional setters took the opportunity one step further, put up a couple of oversized overhanging steel cages and pasted enough volumes on these things to make IFSC jealous!

The crowd loves this event with all the music, the lights, the crazy looking walls that resemble Ninja Warrior structures.  In turn, the event sponsors are happy and this helps our growing sport.  Does this really show off the basics of our sport to general public, though?  Don’t we sometimes climb slabs?  Don’t we scale smaller boulders with a tiny pad underneath us?  And don’t we also climb much taller walls with a rope to show off our fitness levels?  Sure we do, and we are used to those standards: bouldering and sport climbing.

Well, this event is something new and fresh to our sport.  It is more exciting for the spectators as these structures were never seen before.  It is fun for us athletes, and it is definitely still a climbing competition, with a twist...  Sitting in isolation, we had no idea whether our next round was going to be mainly to test our strength, our endurance, or maybe the ability to figure out all the toehooks and heelhooks on the wall.  In other words, one had to be good in all aspects of climbing to come out on top in the end.

To me, this event clearly demonstrates the potential for growth of climbing as a sport.  For instance, we have known for ages that we can make climbing look cool for climbers, but what about the general population?  This is still an uncharted territory for climbing that can be reached through music and outdoor festivals like the Dominion Riverrock and the Nor’easter.  It took a lot of ingenuity, dedication, time, and money to put together the Boulder Bash and should be viewed as a major accomplishment.  The athletes enjoyed competing and the spectators were thrilled to see something new, and it is this kind of symbiosis that is necessary for the progression of competitive rock climbing.

Check out this gallery by Jesse Gagnon:

I ended up in 3rd place just after Jimmy Webb and Rob D’Anastasio, while Sasha Digiulian proved dominant in the women’s category.  The 3-day event ended with speed bouldering, in which Meagan Martin took the title and in which I battled Josh Levin (or simply McLevin’) for 1st, but he took it with time to spare.


Josh (left) and I (right) in the final showdown.  Photo by Mark Pownall.