This past weekend, The Gravity Vault, a stellar climbing gym in New Jersey, hosted a local youth American Bouldering Series (ABS) competition that is a great example of what I think competitions should look like. At this competition, are fine balance was found between the rules of an athletic competition and the creative process inherent in climbing. In a good competition, judges find a way to abide by the rules and still maintain the adventure-loving attitude of climbing culture.
In the ABS, problems are given a different amount of points based on their difficulty. Climbers have a certain amount of time to complete as many problems as they can. The five problems with the highest point value that they complete are added up as their total. Generally, climbers start with easier problems and push themselves more later in the competition, while making sure to avoid wearing themselves out.
Climbers are allowed as many attempts as they want on all problems, with each attempt being tallied. When the climber successfully completes the problem in a controlled manner, the judge initials that the problem was sent.
Climbing as a competitive sport is complicated. On one hand, the competitions push climbing into the public’s view and give climbing a chance to become increasingly mainstream. On the other hand, competitions can have a trivializing effect on the sport, lending to a love of trophies and medals rather than adventure and exploration. However, the Gravity Vault climbing gym has found a happy medium to satisfy both the explorers and the athletes in the community.
The ABS is structured so that judges do not have to grade form or technique. Instead, judges look for contestants to finish a problem in a controlled manner. Besides maintaining the basic principles of bouldering, the ABS allows competitors the freedom to discover their own beta through discussion with other competitors and to try a problem an infinite amount of times. I’ve found that a lot of competitions are just not an accurate portrayal of climbing outdoors and putting up ascents. There’s something in the creative process of figuring out a problem that’s missing in competition, and from what I saw, the Gravity Vault and ABS seem to have found a way to allow for discovery while maintaining a fair, fun, and intense competition.
The real star of the competition was Matthew Rube, a competitor from the Rock Club, a climbing gym in New York, a member of the US National Team for bouldering, and a multiple-time regional champion in both bouldering and sport climbing. He had a really good day at the ABS, sending several of the hardest problems at the competition. He will soon be competing at the Pan-American games in Mexico. Based on his performance at the local ABS, he should crush at the Pan-American games.
In the end, the competition was a major success – drawing over 100 local competitors. I was stoked to see a great show and to see what the next generation of climbers is bringing to the table. Props to all of the climbers who competed, to all of the family, friends, and coaches who were there to support them, and to the volunteers who made the event possible.
Thanks to Meghan McDonald from The Rock Club, Ferdie Araga from the Gravity Vault, and Jamie Harpster from the Gravity Vault for providing pictures and details for this post.