Climbing is for All of Us.
Updated: Jul 3
Written by: Zach
When I got my first big job in the climbing industry at age 24, I wrote a blog post about how climbing had brought so much meaning into my life, and how it influenced the way I viewed the world. I started the post with this quote from Didier Berthod, from a now-old school climbing flick called First Ascent:
“When I was a child, I thought taking a plane was just for rich people, or eating sushi was just for Japanese or very rich people. I thought it wasn’t for me, I thought I was just like a little Swiss boy or whatever. I started climbing and it brought me to this life I have, like traveling and not having much money and doing things very simply. It makes me feel like yeah, I have lived, I’ve seen stuff, I ate sushi.”
-Didier Berthod (First Ascent, 2006)
At that time, I was so grateful to have found climbing because of everything it gave me: a sport I could throw myself into wholeheartedly, a community I loved, and a coaching job that was a dream come true. I’m still grateful for those things today.
The main theme of that post, written when I had been climbing for about 5 years, was a reflection on how climbing gave me more than just a sport; it gave me a way to see the world and my place within it.
Here’s an excerpt from my long-abandoned blog:
For me, the most memorable parts of climbing trips from that time aren’t the climbs I got on, but the time spent around the campfire, or the long drives in a packed car, or the rest day adventures we’d devise. The most memorable aspect of working with Isaac, my coach, isn’t the beta I got on specific climbs, or the training routines we did, but the way that I learned to see climbing through his eyes.
This happened at a time when I thought these things weren’t for me. I didn’t have a passion, didn’t know what I wanted to study in college, didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Climbing entered into my life and gave it shape, structure, purpose.
After 6 years of coaching kids full time, I’ve come to see how important this experience can be for others. I’ve seen kids, coaches, even whole families have their lives change in a positive way when they began looking at the world through the lens of climbing.
One of the best things about most youth sports programs is what the kids gain beyond the sport-specific skills they’re learning. Developing climbing skills is cool, but developing confidence, resilience, and lifelong friendships are some of the most important experiences you can have as a kid.
The important point here is that it’s not exactly about the climbing itself; it’s the things we achieve through climbing that matter most. Don’t get me wrong, climbing is a rad sport. But it’s one of many avenues that can help people find their place in the world. Finding community, dedicating yourself to getting good at something, and finding a springboard for your adventures, career, and relationships is what it can give us. That’s what matters.
To me, starting a gym is a new opportunity to share climbing and everything it has to offer with a whole new group of people. We have a special opportunity with our Berkeley location to serve the Cal campus and introduce students to climbing at a pivotal point in their lives.
When I started at Cal, I remember how grateful I was to have climbing. I was young, nervous about meeting new people, had never lived on my own, and was overwhelmed with my first semester of school. Adding more commitments with a part-time job at the climbing gym might seem counterintuitive, but my time at the gym was what helped me survive (and eventually thrive) in college. I met almost all of my college friends through the gym, met my girlfriend of 5 years, and created my first real career there as well.
I know how much climbing has given me, and my goal in starting a gym is to share that experience with others. Whether it’s brand-new freshmen looking for an after school hobby and a way to meet people, or an established climber who wants to keep up with their sport in a new town, I hope that our gym can be a special place for these people.
The positive ways climbing can shape our lives are there for all of us. You don’t have to be a hardcore climber to be a part of the community or fall in love with the sport. Hell, I wasn’t even a good climber when I started, and all I wanted to do was be a part of climbing 24/7.
Over the past 10 years, my relationship to the sport has changed in a big way. I went from being obsessed with getting stronger as a climber, to being obsessed with being the best coach I could be, and now I’m obsessed with building a rad business in the climbing world that will help others share in the climbing experience.
Maybe it’s out of sheer laziness, but I think it’s appropriate to wrap this up with the same outro I used in my blog from 5 years ago:
On one hand [...] it’s just climbing. It’s moving on rock (or in our case, mostly plastic). But seeing yourself as a climber, as part of a team, as having a place in the world, that’s special. And that’s what I want the kids to see: climbing is for you. It’s for me. It’s for all of us. And it’s freaking rad.