Climbing Reimagined

Phase 1

Is rock climbing a watchable sport?  For climbers, yes (to a certain degree).  If you’re hiking and you see some people scaling up a rock face, then also yes.  But I don’t think any non-climber is clamoring for more rock climbing on primetime TV.  No one is marking their calendars for the next World Cup live-stream on YouTube.  And as unpopular as it is to say (especially on a site that revolves around climbing), the reason no one cares, is because climbing is nearly unwatchable from an outsider’s point of view.  There is an initial novelty, but once that wears off…CLICK.  

I think about this more than I should, and write about it less than I should, but what (if anything) could make rock climbing a watchable and entertaining enterprise.  The sport as is stands competitively right now comprises of three varieties.  Sport climbing which consists of a climber wearing a harness, tethered to rope, trying to make it up a very tall wall without falling.  Bouldering which consists of a climber sans harness and rope, trying to make it up a much shorter wall without falling.  Speed climbing which consists of a climber tethered to a rope trying to make it up a very tall wall as fast as possible…without falling.

I’m not just considering watchability.  I’m really shooting for mainstream popularity that stays true to the sport without overdoing it on gimmicks. If all we wanted was popularity, then all you’d have to do is make the uniforms more revealing, include intimate personal background stories, provide lots of money to the winner, and manipulate the potential for a love connection.  At that point however, climbing would look more like a “reality” show and less like a sport.  So, let’s avoid the gimmicks as much as possible.

As mainstream sports go, team sports enjoy much more success than individual sports.  Golf and Racecar driving are exceptions, but those are terribly boring flukes that can’t be relied on as a formula for success.  One of the reasons that team sports are so successful is a human desire to belong. There is an aspiration to be part of a tribe.  In most major team sports, the majority of the players aren’t from the city emblazoned on the front of their jersey.  Fans are drawn to the team, not necessarily the players.  That is, until those players are wearing the right colors, the colors that represent the “right” tribe.  Another relevant commonality shared by most team sports is the implementation of both offense and defense.  A less relevant feature, although nearly universal is the use of a ball.  From cricket to rugby some form of ball is used.  Although not absolutely necessary, a ball may help climbing become more understandable and recognizable to future would be fans.

The major team sports often, though not always include a clock (we’re looking at you baseball/softball), and tend to run for about two hours.  They have some type of scoring, as well as penalties for actions deemed undesirable to the outcome of the game.  There are probably dozens of additional shared features, but I think these are the important ones.

So, where are we?  We want to keep sport climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing in some fashion.  We want to make climbing into a team sport, jerseys and cities included.  We want to include both offense and defense.  Perhaps we add a clock, some penalties, and a points system.  Finally, we should try to incorporate a ball of some variety.

This is the groundwork for climbing reimagined.  Phase 2 will include style, and teams. Phase 3 will include rules, goals, and gameplay.  I have a loose idea of what Phase 3 will look like, but I’m open to suggestions, so if you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them!


22 Replies to “Climbing Reimagined”

  1. I think rock climbing is already there: (1) Offense: the climber, (2) Defense: the rock, (3) Ball – one of those squeezy things you use to strengthen your grip, (4) Team: you and your belayer and whoever brought the beer, (5) Uniform/jersey: ratty grunge stuff from Goodwill in the early years, Patagonia in the later, more prosperous ones, (6) Clock: We’re not going to get past the crux before dark – you bring the headlamp?, (7) Penalties: looks like it’s broken – can you walk?, (8) Points/scoring: 5.2! Dude, that was a 5.14 red point, minimum! So all we really need to bring your fantasy (Dude, ease off on the edibles) to life is a Commissioner of Rock Climbing and some astronomical salaries! And some free stuff from Patagonia…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If climbing became a reality show, the producers would “Hollywood” it to include… I don’t know, sex in a portaledge or something. Mike and I have watched free climbers scale a wall in Utah and have been fascinated by those climbing Devils Tower, but we probably wouldn’t watch a show about climbing. Well, maybe if… Oh, never mind…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are absolutely right…Hollywood would “Hollywood” the show for sure. I actually think we are about to find out how. HBO is making a show with Aquaman Jason Momoa, and climber Chris Sharma. If they arent already including sex in a portaledge then they have severely missed the boat!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I think in climbing gyms where the obstacles could be standardized and manipulated, but no. Nature’s taking enough from people right now as it is — that said, in Switzerland, at the base of the Eiger, people watch climbers all day.

    As I read this I tried to puzzle out why people climb at all when all they’re really doing is putting themselves in danger of falling and then not falling (or dying). I like watching climbers climb. I used to head up a very steep trail to sit on a rock across a canyon from a climbing wall and watch the climbers, so n. Now I have to ask myself why I did that. Did I morbidly hope someone would fall? No, it was sad and scary when a helicopter showed up to rescue someone. I think I was happy we were all having a good time on rocks/hills. Most people weren’t.

    Personally, I think climbing is different from all other sports and maybe it’s the distinction between an individual and team sport. Even a runner — who might be part of a team and trying to outrun other runners — is also trying to outrun him/herself. But seriously; taking on a wall just so you don’t fall? That could a definition for madness. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard climbing described as trying to get to the top of something by means of the hardest way possible.

      I love when we are climbing outside and someone lets us know that there is an easier way to the top from the other side. I never know how to respond. I would usually just thank them.

      Madness hasn’t occurred to me, but maybe that is a proper sign of madness?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Maybe it’s madness, but I was asked by a friend when I told her I wrote novels, “Why would you do that?” so maybe passion itself is insane to the so-called “normals.” There’s a whole world of impossibility that just doesn’t interest people. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yikes I love how supportive some friends can be! Passion seems to be a driving force behind climbing and writing, at least for most of the climbers and writers I know. Great call!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Not a climber myself, but agree that it is hard to make it mainstream without making it cheesy. Wonder if there is a Ninja Warrior style way to do it without making it gimmicky. At the end of the day, most people have a short attention span, so a combination of speed and increasing levels of difficulty is probably the best bet. Just my $0.02 from an outsiders perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chris that is exactly what I was thinking, and it’s even more valuable coming from an outsiders point of view. A well invested $0.02 indeed! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As a non climber it is interesting to read your insights like this. I hadn’t really grasped these sport concepts. I thought climbing was for personal pleasure alone. Deep satisfaction in challenges and self achievements. That and the camaraderie of others on the same climbs. Like swimming a wild and hidden away countryside river course for a few miles and meeting deeps and shallows. Should have realised really. Other interests that are the everyday for well being activity wise are sports too. Mountain biking and road cycling as an example. Be good to read further parts on this. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For me you really hit the nail on the head…challenges, self achievements, and camaraderie. I competed in one competition and it totally changed my approach, and goals, and once it was done, I just looked back at the experience with remorse. I didn’t like it at all. That being said, watching pros climb is something I watch with awe, but I think the presentation of the competitive side could use some upgrades on the entertainment side. Hopefully the piece comes together? If not I’m sure we’ll all have a good laugh!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Be good to see where this one goes then. Interesting when your an observer, on the outside looking in and trying to understand why people are enthusiastic with choices they make in their lives. You write well. So it’s always a good read and always insightful. All the best. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi,
    I think it is very watchable. It is a bit off to stop and do what easily is perceived as stare though down to the person who ideally will not if they begin getting involved become a bad advisor. The world cup is in the town I am in this week but performance is so off my chart for a good while and is my personal reason to not attend.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have never been a climber as I get tired of just climbing steps if their too many 😂, but I loved to walk a lot during my younger days. I still do now though not as much.

    But my mother and I use to love a show that aired back in the 1990’s called the American Gladiators. We did not miss one single episode and they use to climb walls in a tackle sport among other competitive activities on the show.

    So even though I am not a climber I am one who definitely did enjoy to watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so cool that you mentioned American Gladiators, I think this could have a real Gladiator vibe. I hope that this type of sport really could appeal to people who don’t climb, and you have given me confidence that it really could!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, thank you!

        The Gladiators were really exciting to watch and they competed with contestants from all walks of life.

        They had talent, determination, and a love for the sport.

        It was very appealing and inspiring to see the ability in what they were able to do and accomplish.


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