Should we want climbing to be a top-tier sport?
I have a bit of experience participating in mainstream sports. I played football in the great state of Texas for 8 years prior to rock climbing. In the Lonestar state, football is the mainest of the streamest of all sports. Here, watching your favorite team lose a football game is the equivalent to watching your cam creep out of the crack while taking a whipper. That is, it ruins your day and probably your week.
Personally, I love climbing as a counter-culture sport. I don’t identify as a hipster, but I suppose that makes me one. When I started climbing, it opened me up to a whole new world that I never knew existed.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned or maybe I just don’t like change, but here’s why I think our niche sport should stay that way.
Climbing is different. There aren’t many sports where athletes living out of their vans are celebrated as heroes. On the flip side, every year advertisers pump millions of dollars into mainstream sports to get their brands out to the public. The average U.S professional basketball player makes $5.15 million over the course of his career. That’s enough money to hire a guide to help you climb all seven summits nearly six times. (You’d run out around Everest camp 4 the fifth time around) At what point does a sport become less about the passion and more about the luxury lifestyle?
Of course, the opposing argument would say that a little extra climbing capital would be great for the advancement of the sport. And that could be true.
If there is one thing I LOVE about the sport of rock climbing it’s the camaraderie. I’ve been climbing for a while now, and I’ve observed that the friendly climbers VASTLY outnumber the rude ones.
This got me thinking. Climbing is not the most popular, it can be scary, dangerous, and it’s HARD to make money doing it. So why the back-clip do we do it?
The reason we rock climb is because we love to rock climb.
I believe some of the problems with mainstream sports stem from athletes competing for the wrong reasons. Of course, there are those who love the game, but others will inevitably participate for fame, money, or to impress those around them. I really don’t want to see that happen to climbing. It’s great to be surrounded by people who share goals! We wish each other success in getting to the top of that gosh darn wall.
I don’t want to take away from popular games like football. One day I’ll probably remember this blog while forcing my kids to play sports for “character building purposes”. There are plenty of great reasons to play mainstream sports and work with a team. If you play them, more power to you dude.
Is the mainstreamity of climbing even possible?
You may already be noticing the recent expansion of the climbing industry. New companies, gyms, and climbers are popping up left and right. Before you rush to your stockbroker and invest your rainy day money in Black Diamond (CLAR), let’s do a little critical thinking.
Competitive rock climbing isn’t that interesting to watch. DON’T CLICK AWAY. Hear me out. Television is a huge reason for the success of modern sports. The fact is, climbing just isn’t interesting to the non-climber. Personally, I think the problem is that climbers make it look too easy. The most experienced climber’s moves are calculated and smooth. Non-climbers simply don’t understand how hard it is to hold on to that sloper at a 45-degree overhang. To them, each of the climbs looks the same as the one before it.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I climb that bomber V5 on the arete, the ladies never seem very impressed. Then again, that’s probably just my bad haircut.
There are several other reasons I think climbing won’t become mainstream. Access is one of them. Sure there are climbing gyms in most main cities, but there are many rural areas where there isn’t an artificial crag for miles.
Another problem is the price tag. Pricing closes the sport off to a massive number of people who can’t afford the gym membership, gear, and eventual hospital visit.
So what do you think? Should I be rooting for popularized rock climbing? Do you see climbing becoming more popular in the future? I’d love for someone to start the conversation below.
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Thanks for reading,