Climbing feels like a blue-collar sport. You gotta get dirty, sweaty, your hands get calloused, you bleed. It takes work to get to the crag, hiking through thicket, fighting off poison ivy, battling mosquitos, enduring extreme heat or cold. Climbers have armpit stains on their t-shirts for sure. Generally, climbers pack in and pack out their own gear, food, and water. After a day of climbing, your muscles ache, your back hurts, and there is a high probability that you smell a little bit like butt.
I grew up in a blue-collar family, a blue-collar town, and prior to climbing I dedicated much of time to another blue collar-sport. Basketball! Basketball is interesting in terms of social stratification. It’s a sport that almost anyone can afford to play. All you really need is a ball. Most cities, big and small have basketball courts and hoops sprinkled throughout the town.
Growing up, I would spend hours and hours at whatever basketball court would be active on any particular day. If I wanted to find a game of half court hard-nosed 3 on 3, I’d head to St. Mary’s parking lot. If I wanted a game of full court 5 on 5 I’d head over to the county park (this place had the benefit of working water fountains), St. Thecla, had rims low enough for us to almost dunk on, plus streetlights for playing at night, and Chippewa Valley HS had glass backboards, with single rims, and actual nets.
Chippewa Valley HS was the boujee high school on the “right” side of the tracks, and so whenever we made it over there, we were often met with some level of contempt. I guess we didn’t have the right shoes, balls, or style. The thing about basketball though is that once that ball goes up in the air, none of that other stuff matters. All that matters in the end is whether or not you can put the ball in the basket. We’d win some games and lose some games, but never once did I feel like the outcome of the competition was based on the brand name emblazoned on the sides of my shoes.
Certain forms of climbing, especially bouldering have some strong similarities to basketball. If you’re in the right location of the planet (a location with rocks to climb), then all you need is a pair of shoes.
Climbing is a blue-collar sport, and like most blue-collar activities, you get out what you put in.
Traditionally climbing has been a sport for dirtbags, by and large it still is, but climbing has a wide appeal. And the folks with the white collars, the folks from the “right” side of the track, the folks with the designer beanies are coming and will continue to come in droves. The climbing crags, walls, and gyms, like the basketball courts around the world should be open and welcoming to everyone equally no matter where you come from or what color your collar is.
As the great philosopher Socrates once said “It’s not the name brand on the front of your toga that matters, what matters is who you are on the inside”.1
So, to anyone out there struggling to fit in because you can’t afford the expensive name brands, or you have to wear your brother’s hand-me-down shoes, or your sister’s harness, because your shirt isn’t adorned with the face of a mountain, or your pants aren’t the right color, to you I say…CLIMB ON!
- Socrates never said that…but at the end of The Apology he did say: “Still I have a favor to ask. When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing, – then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands. “