Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Future

It has been quite a while since I have updated with significant information about what's been going on in my life.  It is safe to say that I have reached some what of a turning point.  Upon returning from a successful extended U.S. roadtrip this past fall, I have been forced to start looking at things in some what of a new light.  Following a successful, yet disappointing, winter tradeshow I have managed to put together a rough list of some of my recent "realizations".

1.  I am not a professional climber.  Meaning that currently I am nowhere near being able to support myself by just rock climbing.
2.  I want to be a professional rock climber.  And with that I need to find out how to properly become one and also what kind of "pro" climber I want to be.
3.  Being a professional rock climber currently has very little to do with how hard you rock climb.
4.  In fact, most pro climbers don't climb as hard as you might think.
5.  Some of the strongest climbers in the world are complete unknowns.  No 8a, no press, no nothing.  Completely unknown.
6.  At this point in time, VERY few climbing companies have any clue what they are doing beyond making a decent product that sells enough to keep them afloat.  I believe that much of this is due to BAD marketing techniques and BLATANT misuse of key athletes on their climbing teams.  Hint to climbing companies-stop doing the marketing by yourself and hire someone that knows whats up.
7.  The growth of climbing is vital for progression.
8.  More climbers=more people buying climbing shit=climbing companies making more $$$=more climbers climbing full time=progression.
9.  Their are 3 types of professional climbers.
I. Bad Climbers-Great Representatives
II.  Great Climbers-Bad Representatives
III. Great Climbers-Great Representatives
10.  Climber I typically misrepresents their abilities, but generally makes up for it by working hard for their sponsors. 
11.  Climber II typically thinks he's just too damn good to work hard for their sponsors.  "I get money and free shit because I climb harder than you".
12.  Climber III is a rare breed these days.  Climbs hard (Not just grades, but standard setting accomplishments) and works hard.  These type of people need to be rewarded more in the industry.  Many are not.  These people also need to be better utilized by their sponsors.
13.  I aspire to be Climber III and will not settle for being either Climber I or II because these people devalue what it means to be Climber III.
14.  Hopefully, in the future, ALL sponsored climbers will fall into category III because that is the best for the future of the industry.  
15.  Climbing competitions in the US are poorly executed and poorly advertised.
16.  Climbing is a selfish pursuit.
17.  Their are ways to make it less selfish by giving back to the community.
18.  I need to find more ways to give back.
19.  Most people do nothing to give back and it only hurts progression.
20.  We need to start working together better, as members of the WORLDWIDE climbing community, to progress the sport.  This means better recongnition as a sport by the general public.  Climbing in the Olympics.  We need athletes that are recognized by the general non-climbing public.

I know that a lot of these points isolate the things that are wrong with the climbing industry and I have stated very few ways to fix the problems.  Personally, I don't know how to fix a lot of them.  Maybe some of them aren't even problems.  But hopefully by pointing some of these things out more people will start to think.  If you have anything to add to the topic please comment.  I am not professing these beliefs as absolute truth.  All I know is that things aren't great for pro climbers these days and I would like to improve that.  And maybe you just don't give a shit about any of this and so be it.  But climbing is currently my life and I will do whatever I can to improve it.

Aside from that stuff here's what I've been up too.  In January I competed in the SCS Nationals in SLC during the tradeshow and managed to take 1st Place!  I trained a bit for the comp, but not nearly as hard as I could have trained.  I was very suprised that I basically made it through the comp without getting pumped.  Rope climbing is beginning to look like a facet of climbing that I could get very good at, and I am excited to pursue this side of the sport for the remainder of 2009.  My personal goal is to establish myself as a solid 9a climber and then start searching out new lines.  Following ABS Nationals and a possible short trip to Hueco, I will be spending a lot of time at The Fortress of Solitude (for Kryptonite), and the Southern Utah crags.  As well as Rifle in the spring and maybe the RRG.  Petzl has been so kind to hook me up with some great gear for my endeavors and I look forward to representing them PROPERLY in the coming months.


SCS Nationals

ABS Nationals is this weekend.  I have been training boulders in the gym.  Almost feeling strong. Almost.  We'll see how it goes.  Routes to boulders.  Hard to transition.  I've been climbing with P-Rob a lot and I must say I'm extremely impressed with how hard he is climbing following his ankle break in the fall.  He is definitely one of the top contenders for the title this year.  I guess more of us need to lock ourselves in the garage with a campus "bored" for a few months.

I have been entertaining the purchase of an HD video camera for the past few weeks.  MomentumVM has been for the most part a complete let-down lately and it would be nice to see more large format, HD quality, high-production value climbing shorts on the web these days.  It looks like I might get the opportunity to try my hand at it pretty soon.

Also,  BIG props to my little brother Giovanni or "G" for his somewhat recent ascents of Haroun and the Sea of Stories V12 and the 2nd Ground-Up Ascent of Evilution V12.  The latter achievement is very inspiring considering G used to be afraid to climb a 25 foot slab on a top rope.  You can view his ascent of Haroun here.

23 comments:

NM said...

Carlo,

Excellent blog post man. I agree with your observations and I might add...more prime time airplay would definitely help...I know that a number of members in my family (who don't climb) were loving the climbing footage in "Jeep Wide World of Sports" coverage on NBC?
thought you might like this clip of a pet cat "getting in his training" for ABS nationals: http://novebi.ning.com/video/campus-boarding

wish you and yours the best.

Peter Beal said...

A feisty post Carlo!

tommy said...

wow. excellent post. glad to see 'the road' produces more than simply big sends and late nights drinking around a fire.

sock hands said...

i appreciate you and others have been aspiring to the noble type III... seems like most of the non-colorado world believes that 99% of colorado climbers fall into type II. over the years, i've tried to contact climbing companies and mention those of their atheletes who have been very down-to earth, good people... i.e. type III. i've never ventured to call out the raging dooshbags by name or to mention the same to their sponsors, but perhaps that is something that will emerge in the future as the good examples proliferate? cut out the bad seeds, etc... who knows. guess it's best to keep it to positive feedback or none at all in the meantime.

anyway, don't forget that type I often does not misrepresent a lack of skill. i've been a type I for a number of years... never have achieved much re: difficulty or "notable" ascents, but i've tried to play a role in the community... sending out beta responses a few times a week for obscure areas or tricky problems... trying to support other climbers and keep people psyched... i do think it's important for type I's to be upfront to the companies who help them out... and if there is honesty, i think that the type I workhorses certainly do have a place in the future as long as they participate in the community at a level which benefits the companies who throw them a bone once in a while.

just some thoughts...

i do hope, however, that the fickle nature of the climbing communtiy and it's propensity to turn on its own does not entirely fade away, though.... on one hand this stuff can be petty and infuriating, but on the other hand even the most arrogant "pro" climbers are better than the most chill professional atheletes in the more mainstream sports. if that kind of element begins to emerge, i really do hope the climbing community implodes and tears them all to shreds. climbing is one of the last bastions where the gumbys and pros can share a pad, a spot, and a laugh. if that is ever lost, i'd be honored to light the first torch.

Andy Wellman said...

carlo,
Great post, interesting thoughts. Although I don't know you personally , we did run into each other a couple times in Rifle last summer. After watching you "flash" Benign Intervention, I was so impressed, motivated, fired up, that I had to go run all those laps in the arsenal, in the dark, which I had previously completely demotivated for. So thanks for the inspiration. I think you have all the elements to be a type III. You care, you are willing to give back, and you are obviously talented and inspirational. I think a big thing missing from Pro climbers these days is the complete desire to give back to climbing. Pro climbers obviously do give back a lot, but it seems to me, they do so mostly because they are paid to do so. I know lots of pro climbers, and I must say the amount of bitching and grumbling many of them do before they go to OR, or the Ouray ice fest, or the red rocks rendezvous, in order to be PAID to give back to the community, is at times just sad. I would like to see pro climbers who rally to every trail day they can make it to, who give slide shows for free, and who give back to climbing just for the joy, rather than the money. I think someone with your skills, who does these sorts of things just out of good will and desire to give back, with super positive energy, could use this as their resume to attract sponsors(rather than number of momentumvm movies published, or whatever), and set a new standard in the process. Just an idea.

Sorry for the rant, the real reason I wanted to post was because you said you planned to spend time at the Fortress in the near future. I live in Rifle and am one of only about 4 people who climb up there regularly. Man, I would love to see that place see some more action! Can't wait for you to come to the West Slope and get after it! If you need any beta, wondering about conditions, need a partner or belay, whatever, feel free to give a shout. andyclimbsatyahoodotcom. In case your wondering, right now every hold is utterly and completely dry, even on kryptonite, and the trail is in great shape, nice and packed down. That said, you may want to hit it up soon, cause come april time it'll probably be seeping.

Keep up the good work man, and stay psyched!
peace,
andy wellman

Jon said...

Great post, Carlo. The link to the video should be: http://www.deadpointmag.com/news/72-video--mirando-because-some-people-piss-excellence.php

cheers, and keep up the good work

Ryan said...

Carlo,

Great post! The fact that you have the insight and courage to reflect upon yourself, recognize your faults and strive to correct them says a lot about your character. That is the type of individual we need representing our sport. In high school I had an amazing teacher who would end all his classes with this piece of advice, 'Remember who you are and what you represent.' As long as this is something you keep at the forefront of your mind I think you will be fine. Best of luck this weekend at Nationals!

Garrett Gregor said...

C-lo

Very well thought out... See ya this weekend man... I'm gonna need some motivation....

Carlo Traversi said...

I appreciate all the comments.

Sockhands - Though I do believe that by nature a type III is a better representative for companies than type I or type II, this isn't to say that an honest and loyal Type I doesn't have their place. I definitely think that a good Type I is much better than a Type II any day. I just see a lot of Type I that feel the need to misrepresent their abilities to benefit themselves. You obviously do a great job with your role in the climbing community. And this role is important and you should be commended for it. I also strongly agree with the last part of your comment. The friendly/family atmosphere of the climbing world is what drew me to the sport in the first place. It would be devastating to see that side of the sport disappear.

Andy- I pretty much agree with everything you have to say. Pro climbers can sometimes bitch a lot and it is a pain in the ass. I bitch sometimes too. A standard does need to be set for future athletes that promotes their attendance to as many community events as possible. Giving back now is the way to receive more later. And I should take this advice more often.

About the Fortress. I am very psyched. Trying to get out their ASAP. Thanks for offering up your knowledge on the place and I will definitely be hitting you up for it soon. I would definitely be psyched to climb with you when I make it out there.

Tom Markiewicz said...

Thanks for addressing this. You really touched on some important issues regarding how the climbing companies do their marketing.

sock hands said...

word. my thought streams are never very coherent.... or.. edited. however: agreed about the importance of type III... i think my tangent about type I fools was just to point out that it's just as important for them to not misrepresent themselves as it is for type IIs to be less dooshy. be real is the lesson for both types, i guess.

unfortunately, i think a lot of the "evils" regarding sponsored atheletes, regardless of actual skill, is the desire of many climbers to feel part of something and to be recognized. many who actively solicit climbing companies seem to want their name on the roster more than the free product itself...

at its root, there is nothing wrong with this level of psych, i don't think... where it goes wrong is when kids feel demoralized and empty in their climbing if they are not "sponsored"... and it breeds competitiveness when someone else does get sponsored... but why, they ask, i climb so much harder than that fool!

lately, i've really been enjoying all the "exposed" or "unearthed" mini interviews in climbing mags... how it almost serves the 'recognition' urge of folks without making sponsorship the be and end all of climbing life... but i also wonder if appearing in those magazine sections will itself breed the competitiveness between folks... almost the evolution of the sponsorship phenomenon?

then, on the other hand, you have the anti-hype curmugeons who sow hate and anger as their way of defending themselves against all these shenanagans... [like i condoned earlier, i guess. hypocrite much]...

while it can give folks a reality check to take this climbing 'scene' less seriously, perhaps that negative energy can be fashioned to do some good instead?

if climbers can sort out these dynamics in this small fishbowl, [which seem intrinsic to human society... angst, competitiveness, etc.], maybe we can tell all the other fools out there how to fix this planet. one can dream.

till then, false angst on the intarweb!

David said...

Props to you dude...speaking your mind, being true to yourself, seeking a better state, and keeping it clean, direct, and respectful. I'm proud of ya. Love ya 2.

chance and real said...

Sorry dude - climbing's too weird, the general public doesn't understand it, and it's boring to watch. I live in a city of 13 million (LA). In it, there's a mile long crag (Riverside Quarry) in full view of a freeway. Hundreds of routes. 3 rock gyms within a half-hour of it. Perfect weather all winter long while the rest of the country is encased in ice. A busy weekend there is...20 people. Meanwhile there's tens of thousands driving through gridlock traffic to get to the local ski areas. We got the most awesome crag on the planet a few hours to the north. Has the average man on the street ever heard of El Cap? No. Even the top guys in Europe, where climbing is ingrained into the culture itself, and where you can't walk 100 yards without bumping into a cliff, are community-sponsored, state-sponsored, whatever - not industry sponsored.

England's economy makes our's look third world, tons of great climbers, tons of rock, gyms, etc...the British invented the sport for chrissakes...any of those guys making decent money?

Marketing strategies are not the answer. You have to go out and do things that capture the public's imagination, not just the climbing communitiy's attention, and you ain't gonna do that on a boulder, or a crag, or even (apparently) on El Cap. Actually I think if Alex Honnold free solos El Cap, that would get some mainstream media attention...but guys like Sharma or Edlinger (or Shaun White or Laird Hamilton) come along once in a generation, and there's only one of them at a time.

Justin said...

"We need athletes that are recognized by the general non-climbing public."

When you say, "we" who do you mean exactly? I don't think most of your readers nor the vast majority of the climbing community "need[s]" this in any way. If you mean 'sponsored climbers' then I'd say your absolutely right and the way to do that is no just better marketing but by making what you do more appealing to a wider audience. Unfortunately, the things that will most likely appeal to a greater portion of the community will probably be very unappealing to the climbing community. Go figure.

Good luck.

skank123 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ekaufhold said...

http://www.usafreedomcorps.gov/

If you really are looking for ways to give back then there are many ways to give back on the website above. Also, being a mentor is a great way to help someone who really needs a role model. I've heard many climbers mention how much they want to give back, but they never do because volunteering does not fit into their training regime. You're right in saying that climbing is a selfish sport.

fitz said...

Carlo,
thoughtful impassioned post.

You're recognizing the B.S. that is built into the business realm. The reality that the loudest often succeed -- this is a sad truth throughout a variety of different careers. The wonderful thing about climbing is that it is one of the few passions where you can escape this by simply walking away from it.

Why do you want to be a pro climber? I understand the desire to go climbing everyday, to drift, to wander, to push yourself, to chase the next tiny problem or grand adventure but do you need to be a pro climber to give back to your community or to chase your dreams? Or is that dream a product of the very same marketing strategy you decry? (Trust me, kicking out the current marketing dept for higher food marketing types would be like replacing an inept democratically-elected leader for an efficient dictator)

You certainly don't have to be pro to be recognized by friends and fellow standard pushers.

The climbing companies will come and go. Even Chris Sharma's sponsorship will end. What won't? Your friendships from the vertical world. The joy of introducing a new climber to this sport. The moments when thoughts of marketing and sponsorship and ratings fade into silence and is replaced by what ultimately attracts us all to this pursuit -- the simple joy of moving upward. Afternoons spent soaking swollen fingertips in cold rivers. Laughter around campfires.

Good luck in your journey.

F.C.

J V said...

Is there a tier of sponsorship packages? How many climbers do companies support? How many companies are sponsoring beyond providing free product? What are athletes expected to provide in return? Obviously there are a ton of questions that can be asked - and ultimately it is market driven. But still, perhaps some further transparency in the industry would further the discussion.

Dave said...

I respectfully disagree with your opinion that climbing needs more money and more exposure and more pro climbers, be they I, II or II.

Keep the money out of climbing and you'll be left with the people who want to climb. I don't have a problem with pro climbers at all, but if having more pro climbers means my next pair of shoes costs an extra 10 bucks so that a company can maintain their margin and pay joe pro, I'm just not interested in that.

Some people are able to make it work and that's great. I don't want to sound grumpy because I like climbers, but many crags already see plenty of traffic in my opinion, and the only way to get more money and more exposure, is to get more people. Again, not interested.

Further, I think getting slick New York City marketing firms involved is a bad idea. I imagine it must be climbers doing that work now, let them keep it.

Again, I don't hate pro climbers, I have a lot of respect for their drive and talent, I've met a few who have been great. But as mentioned, I've met numerous .13+ climbers who you've never heard of.

I'll also freely admit progression of the sport isn't that important to me. Modern climbing with modern gear has only been around a few decades and I think we're progressing ok.

Money will kill the community and purity of climbing. Look at surfing. Big bucks, weird personality worship, poisonous vibe at crowded lineups.

Wasatch Girl said...

Carlos,
Very good post with content I as well have been thinking about lately. I was talking with a friend about some of these issues a couple weeks back, but finally wrote my thoughts on my blog due to this post. Thanks for taking the initial step.
http://www.cragbaby.com/2009/02/16/future-of-climbing/
Best.
Rachel

Walt said...

Hi Carlo -

You've made some interesting points. The situation is very similar to the scene in the "pro" mountain biking world - only a couple of people can actually support themselves as bike racers.

I think the key thing to remember here is that people who don't participate in these sports don't appreciate watching them - watching climbing is really boring if you're not a climber, as is watching bike racing if you're not a bike person. The average Joe can understand NASCAR - because he drives a car too, and probably imagines what it would be like to race it.

So the best way to make comps and sponsorships more lucrative (or mountain bike races, for that matter) IMO is to take a page from the triathalon folks and look to build the sport from the ground up. Give free comp entries and awesome prizes to junior/beginner competitors. Give free clinics for the public. Make decent equipment affordable. Make participating fun for everyone, regardless of ability.

If we raise a generation of kids who love to ride/climb/surf/whatever, rather than sit in front of a TV all day, we'll see a lot more opportunities for people to make a living out of the sport(s) they love.

Then again, it's not so bad to have to do constructive work to pay the bills. Climbing is recreation, and that's really not a bad situation, IMO.

Best of luck at the Fortress! If I still had my turbo-Bosch I'd loan it to ya, but I have it away years and years ago.

-Walt

MikeB said...

yo, appreciate the post.

I think Dave, Fitz, Justin and Chance for Real all made super solid points.

Something related to things other posters said, I think climbing blowing up could be a bad thing in terms of attitude. One of the great things about climbing and differences from surfing is how much more chill and welcoming the vibe is. People who get pulled into the climbing community individually are more likely to absorb that good-natured vibe and transmit that to others, the culture remains intact. If people come from the outside in gobs(i've seen this happen in other scenes) I think its more likely that they will bring mainstream culture intact, which is more competitive, people defining themselves by emphasizing their differences from others, rather than what they share.

As far as progression, I'm curious as to what your take on the role of progression is, for both proclimbers and climbers who will never climb 5.13+. Personally I love that we have pro climbers that I can watch travel around the world climbing dream routes that I will never get a chance to get on; it doesn't matter if every year things jump up a letter grade. Pros continually raising the bar is something that ultimately plateaus and not something you can stake the meaning of climbing on. The hardest routes are not always the most inspiring, (or worthwhile to climb I imagine) and an individual's personal progression and their attitude and philosophy about it is vastly more important and interesting to me than what Climbing's max progression is.

I think the best way proclimbers can give back is 1. by doing what they need to do to stay stoked (If that means having reservations about having to travel to a comp I think thats natural because from the onset we aren't climbing for money, and some days you don't feel it and I notice this with the young rippers in the gym that they don't always seem stoked and I think it says something that I may never be as good as they are but I am allowed to choose my own terms and create my own personal meaning for climbing rather than have to force myself to climb when it feels wrong thus making it seem hollow. Money and Competition have perverted so many of our social relations I think we will all rue the day when(if) climbing becomes a money sport, or an olympic sport(people climbing to make a(n irrelevant) statement about their nation rather than because they love it)(think about russian and chinese gymnasts.).
2. For people who take advantage of the outdoors to the extent that climbers do I don't notice much of an emphasis on the priority of maintaining the environment. Its really easy and self-serving to say don't leave your trash in front of the crag but true environmental stewardship goes much deeper than that. A lot of climbers are lucky to not live in places where the consequences of our society's ignorance of whats on the other side of everything it consumes are facts/features of daily life. As climbers we know how simple it can be to find happiness, just need a rock, some trees, and a sky, we are so close to enlightenment, being taught these unknown potentials in our bodies by the oldest things on the planet. We get stronger, weaker, we die, the rock remains. What do we leave behind? Thats our choice.

James said...

Carlo,

If you don't mind me digging up the past, I was hoping to pick your mind regarding a number of points you made in this post. As you mentioned, you may not yet know how to fix a number of these issues, however some months have elapsed since you originally wrote this and your opinions would be insightful nonetheless.

I decided to write after reading the article 'Squeezing Blood from Dry Fingertips' in the last issue of Deadpoint magazine, which again addresses the somewhat dysfunctional relationship that exists between climbers and industry sponsors here in America.

Particularly interested in your thoughts regarding #8:

More climbers=more people buying climbing shit=climbing companies making more $$$=more climbers climbing full time=progression

From the standpoint of a climbing gear company, the sponsor-sponsoree relationship seems a simple one: We give you: money & gear. You give us: more climbers who want to buy our gear.

But how exactly do pro climbers increase the total number of climbers? It sounds fun and easy to take the free gear, travel the world, and be seen using the gear--but how much does this really help the gear company?

How much of an effect would the same company see from sponsored athletes who regularly put together and participate in climbing outreach programs through schools and other youth organizations?

How many more youths would join local climbing teams if the same stars and starlets whose faces appear in the climbing media were coaches, or were on some sort of rotating schedule to drop-in and work with numerous climbing teams throughout the season?

As a climber myself, I agree with the general sentiment that climbing is a selfish pursuit. However, for a sponsored athlete I believe it becomes the person's responsibility to their sponsors to open themselves up to the community and actively share their time and resources -- discovering ways to inspire those who have already taken up the sport, and discovering how to effectively leverage their image and reputation to reach non-climbers.

All this talk of course begs additional questions:

Should it be the responsibility of the sponsor or of the climber to organize such events?

Should a schedule of events for the coming year be drafted by the sponsoring company and offered as a condition of sponsorship to the climber?

Or should a company simply stipulate a total number of 'community hours' or such and leave responsibility to the climber?

--

This post is already longer than I expected it to be, but any thoughts would be appreciated.