To round out a week of trade-showin' I checked out the Denver SIA last week to visit the mighty Arcteryx booth, check out our brand new awesome base-layer system and see what this ski industry show was all about. Lured in by thumping bass, screaming and curious smells, I made my way to the snowboard corner of the trade-show on my way out to my car.
In dramatic contrast to what I would ever expect from a trade-show, this corner was rowdy, un-supervised, young and unprofessional. It was a every bit of a party, complete with camp fires, drinks, music, low-hanging skinny jeans and attitude. I couldn't help but laugh and jokingly profess aloud, 'damn dude, screw rock climbing, I need to get into this sport!' Brought up by said experience along with a number of recent stimulating articles and discussions about climbing media and the growth of the sport, I engaged in a monologue rant on the drive home.. below is a rough text version.. enjoy!
Much of the reason why snowboarding has emerged as a powerful industry and seemingly lucrative pursuit is based on it's appeal to spectators and the ability for advertisers and manufacturers to use lifestyle as a selling tool. Good snowboarding is awesome to watch. It's loud, dangerous, thrilling and fast. So much so that people outside of the sport are willing to pay to see it- be it in person or televised. The snowboard lifestyle is (at least portrayed) as loud, lush, hip and sexy. This lifestyle is a powerful marketing tool to masses of youth, evident by the swarms of high-school / college age kids who hurriedly buy that new Billabong checker pattern hoodie or [insert any number of fresh, popular board brand apparel here]. What teenager wouldn't want to live the life of Shaun White? The dude crashes Lambo's and makes 10 Million a year!! and while he might be the most successful of the new wave snowboarder entrepreneurs, even the lifestyle of those working the lift all season for a pass and a measly wage in order to get fresh tracks 4 days a week is made marketable- why? cause that kind of live-your-dream drive is inspirational.. a kind of drive many rock climbers can relate to.
The size and power of the snowboard industry is not based on the accessibility of the sport (how many people can really afford to snowboard or live anywhere near a ski area).. I believe the power of the snowboard industry is heavily based on the ability to sell the pursuit (in one form or another) to those completely outside of the sport.. be it spectators (and thus advertisers) to an event, or apparel / lifestyle to a entire generation.
Despite the efforts of many, rock climbing has not yet emerged into mainstream limelight with any where near the same velocity as snowboarding. I personally think this is in large part due to the difficulties making rock climbing entertaining for non-climbers (creating large scale spectator events) and the lack of appealing and lifestyle oriented marketing (not such a bad thing really). The comp / indoor scene has come a long way.. and I think most would agree that indoor climbing and indoor competition is where the most growth potential for rock climbing exists (as experienced in Europe). Making climbing appeal to a broader audience is the key to growth in this area- the accessibility of indoor climbing has increased vastly over the last five years domestically and the spectator value of competition is beginning to accelerate with such events as the Teva Games, Gravity Brawl, high ball comps, etc. Competition organizers and route setters (including myself) are drawing inspiration from high profile events like the Winter X Games, making comps and routes exciting and finding [SAFE! please] ways to challenge athletes in new ways that also entertain and display obvious difficulty that non-climbers can relate to or simply understand.
Next is media.. When you open a snowboard magazine, it POPS.. explosive aesthetics have become so key to print and video media that even mainstream advertisers have realized the importance of making their adds fresh. The competition for visually exciting space is so intense that the act of an unprepared individual peering into a snowboard magazine may induce a seizure- the result, is, in my opinion, a visually striking book, and one that has lead advertisers to competitively invest in marketing to the point that A) athletes have greater support B) magazines have more money for photographs (photographers) and writers and C) despite the high shear volume of ad space, most advertisements are as cool to look at as the articles themselves, and often even feature the best photographs in the book. Advertisers have been driven to invest more creativity, money and effort in creating cool ads. I think this is great- given how much of climbing print media is add space why not make them interesting and inspiring? (and if you value reading great climbing news and articles and seeing amazing, inspiring photography please don't complain- because it's the ads, not the subscriber dollars that allow these magazines to even exist).
Obviously, snowboarding and rock climbing are very different pursuits that have aged differently from respectively different origins. Let me be clear that I'm not necessarily an advocate for the rapid, widespread growth of rock climbing. I don't really want to see a Chris Sharma XBOX game or a Target line of Lynn Hill clothing. I do, however, want to be aware of what it might take for climbing to grow and how that might affect our experience of the pursuit, the life and monetary success of athletes and the impact of a larger industry on climbing access and lifestyle. Mostly, I simply find such comparisons interesting... and I do enjoy flipping through Transworld every time I walk the magazine isle- I would love to see print media and advertisers take inspiration from the snowboard industry.. everyone likes a more visually pleasing magazine- the reader, the advertisers, the athletes, the photographers, etc...
I hope my rant encourages these questions:
How would the growth of climbing effect our sport? In what ways would more climbers (thus more money) or more spectators (also more money) change the industry, compromise or encourage indoor/outdoor access? How can media be improved and made even more inspirational? How do youngsters manage to walk with such skinny, low-riding jeans?
So in celebration of the such a blog post, I've made my site 'POP' a little more with fresh graphics and a wicked photo compliments of Andy Mann- Paige Claassen destroys the 1st and 2nd pitch of Eldo's testpiece 'Genesis' 12d... second try.
And one more thing.. on the topic of media, inspiration and sharing one's experience.. a generous grant has been created on the behalf of climbing legends Micah Dash and Johnny Copp- have a look here and get stoked!