It’s Been Two Years… Is Climbing Mainstream Now?

“I Don’t Want Climbing to be Mainstream (And Here’s Why)” Was the first blog I ever wrote for theDIHEDRAL way, way back in February of 2018. Since my induction into this family of writers has (almost) reached two years, I thought I’d revisit the blog and see if it holds up.

Fun fact time! At the time I was living with my parents (I was still in high school) and I finished my first theDIHEDRAL blog and sent it over to my dad to read. About five minutes later he sent it back with this message:

“I would completely rewrite this. Start over.”

Oof. And thus, the blog we are reviewing today is the writing that followed the deletion of my actual first theDIHEDRAL blog…

I’ll put all of my current day comments in red! 

“I Don’t Want Climbing to be Mainstream (And Here’s Why)”

Should we want climbing to be a top-tier sport? To get the word ‘top tier’ sure I’m pretty sure I Google searched “synonyms for mainstream” and arrived at this slightly-out-of-place adjective.

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. Ouch! That one was painful. The horrible ‘play on words’ by adding ‘est’ and the fall in my analogy.

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?

I think I still agree with this. I don’t think many young rock climbers want to be professionals for fame and glory. I think the majority of the reason that climbers ‘go pro’ and try and take on sponsorships is so that they can just climb more. It all goes back to the love of the sport.

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? 

I think I was trying a little too hard here. I remember trying to use ‘back-clip’ as a sort of curse word. Not sure if that actually landed or not…

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.

At the time of writing this, I had just recently stopped playing the sport of football at my high school. I think I may have been a little too harsh on mainstream sports. Ultimately there are plenty of people in all different activities who are playing for the right or the wrong reasons. 

Also, I definitely will NOT be forcing my children to play any sport…

Is the mainstreamity of climbing even possible? 

‘Mainstreamity’ is definitely not a word!

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.

I was waaaay too proud of this joke…

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.

Besides the poorly executed joke at the end of this section, I still stand by this point. Unless you are a rock climber it can be extremely hard to completely understand how hard the climbing actually is. I think this is part of the reason that comps have moved to the more “parkour” style of climbing. It’s just more interesting to watch!

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.

Two years down the road from this blog, and while the documentary “Free Solo” and other events have helped to popularize climbing, things still seem pretty normal. I would love to hear from you! How have things changed in the last couple of years? Have you seen more people at the crag or on the hiking trail?

. . .

Thanks, as always, for reading. 🙂

– Casen

9 Replies to “It’s Been Two Years… Is Climbing Mainstream Now?”

  1. More people climb now that there are climbing gyms. I remember when those holds were invented, and people I knew were bolting them onto the walls in their houses. Even to think that any individual sport (like climbing) will be mainstream is kind of missing the point of individual sports. The key word, I think, is “individual.” To me that means not having to think about anything other than doing ones sport. I think that’s liberty.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I recently spent an hour or so standing on small holds a hundred feet off the ground drilling a bolt hole with hammer and bit while a curious condor cruised a few meters above me. That’s rock climbing. Gym climbing is a legitimate sport, but it’s not rock climbing. Mainstream? Is that a legitimate question?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know about about climbing but I remember my coworker was an avid climber 25yrs ago. Then about 10 years ago all the male profile pics I’d see on dating sites were of them climbing, it’s seemed like a cliche, how annoyingly trendy it had become.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Climbing is in the Olympics. Free Solo won an Oscar. Sasha diGuilian is sponsored by Adidas. Adrian Ballinger snapchatted his way up Everest. Climbing is definitely a mainstream sport now, and has become increasingly so since you wrote the original article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your post is fantastic, we published a post a while ago called 14″ that reminds me of everything you had to say. Way to capture the feeling of the wall! We are always looking for content writers if you ever feel like you want to submit a piece on your climbing experiences. you can reach us at thedihedral@gmail.com

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much! I’m getting more into your page as well. I love reading about climbing. The town where I live just opened up a new gym and we’ve been having some good experiences there. I’ll definitely reach out if When I write a piece about climbing again.
        Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

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