In 2015 I finished a Phd THE PROBLEM OF REPRESENTING THE ‘BOULDERING’ EXPERIENCE AS IT EXCEEDS CONVENTIONAL FORMS OF REPRESENTATION in which I hope I argued relatively successfully that bouldering was in fact an art form.
Since that time things have inevitably changed. Currently there are people practising bouldering as an art form consciously and often less consciously that is still a fact. Yet a much higher percentage of boulderers are now participating in a sport and maintaining the growing fashion of calling themselves athletes.
What is the situation right now? It depends on how and from what point you look of course. However if we ask this question and our research is a scan of current trends and media coverage, on the internet and social media platforms then the answer is that it is definitely a sport. In actuality you would be hard pressed to find much evidence suggesting otherwise.
The problem that is emerging here as I see it is that the sport that is being practised is largely derived from the art. This is a one sided relationship and I think it is fair to claim that the sport doesn’t add much to the art. What does art give the sport then? Namely creativity, opening new boulder problems outside being the primary example. Secondly indoors the contribution is both problem setting on walls and in the problem solving from the climbers. It is the creativity that ties these acts together, it is the creativity that nurtures the sport. If however there is no support or recognition of the role of creativity in this practice/activity/sport, then what will happen?
Route or bloc setters, I would hazard a guess have all climbed outside and have bouldered at places like Fontainebleau, Magic Wood,Rocklands, Bishop to name a few top class venues.. The knowledge they gained from this experience they then bring inside into the climbing walls and gyms and into the creation of the problems/blocs. What will happen when these bloc setters retire, give up. Problems will then be set by a younger generation who have climbed extensively or predominantly inside. Their knowledge of movement, their creative understanding of what a bloc can be and how their body fits with that bloc will be derived from an increasingly narrow field. Ultimately this will undo the sport, making it increasingly anodyne and boring, well at least for those people that understand bouldering as art, or even the people who have a flickering remembrance of an experience that constituted more than a blob to blob hop skip and jump.
It is this kind of imbalance in the media of representations of bouldering that I have tried to address in my Phd and through the occasional foray into the world of digital platforms and publishing.
This week I uploaded my thesis to https://independent.academia.edu/AndyWhall?from_navbar=true
Initially I had thought I could publish it, then I moved to France, started a family and lost interest in all things academic. Tentatively I began re thinking this position and thought after the OLympics and the steepening curve of athletic terminology creeping into the climbing world. Plus what I began to see as an existential crisis developing in the climbing world. I thought it was time to stick it on the web. This blog post is also a small step in that direction too.
So once again you too can read it all here https://independent.academia.edu/AndyWhall?from_navbar=true
*Blocs, a modern term, denoting a boulder problem, confusingly though it also is used to refer to boulders. It is therefore possible to have a bloc on a bloc. Personally I think its’ a stupid term.
Lovely views, tired legs, flies, snakes. I think I prefer it in the winter.
Hazy sunshine and blown snow. Photos by Sandra Baizid-Whall
I look hard into the wind driven snow, a grey white depthless landscape. On the same day I look inside my Dad’s old glove, I couldn’t see much in there either.
Detail and sizes for hold set 2, and two year old playing with hold set 3.
|Wooden climbing holds – Hand carved. You can find the shop on the menu or click here https://andywhall.com/wooden-training-climbing-holds/|
The holds are ideal for training boards – the smoother texture is more skin friendly than conventional resin holds but also requires greater tension which contributes to more productive training. They are also significantly better for training on in warmer conditions than resin/plastic holds. I’m happy to offer these holds for sale. I can make to order sets of six, more or less identical holds (two versions) or one off bigger holds. All the hold are ideal for boards up to 50 degrees.
The world lockdowns, the countryside goes quiet, the animals become bolder, the birds seem to sing louder.
With some spare time on my hands, well a little bit of time, a new baby tends to suck most of the time away. I decided to make an attempt to think about my climbing, with as much of an objective perspective as possible.
I have two very similar tendencies or preferences if you wish. I say to my wife, I’m going training, this means going to my shed for an hour or so, sometimes a little more, here I listen to techno, I do a few dead hangs on increasingly smaller holds, a few assisted pull ups, standing on a bucket, then I do three (warm up) problems in escalating difficulty, if I flash them all I move onto three harder problems, one of which was a project for several months, basically these are three maximal effort problems. After that I try one of maybe two on-going projects, I fail to complete the projects, both of which are over a year old. Then I go back to the house.
Outside I mostly go to one of three or four same venues and try and fail on one of my four or so projects in the area. Occasionally I make progress, but if I’m honest I’m some way from finishing them off. Now and again, a few times a year, I clean and climb a FA, grade wise I look for 7’s, if the FA is a 7B+ it might take a half a dozen or more sessions, less if it’s easier. To be fair on myself I do sometimes finish a harder project, more often it will be a FA. It’s just that the last time I did this seems some time ago now, maybe it’s what happens as you get older or maybe I like the process too much or maybe I’m just lazy.
It’s clear my training and bouldering is limited, maybe not in imagination and dedication, but in terms of breadth it is limited. My training I suspect if analysed by a professional isn’t even training. However I justify to myself that I am in fact training for circumstances that I encounter in reality, for example a single boulder project, isolated near no warm ups, its often cold. So my ‘training’ in the shed is I think specific at least. This specificity is revealed when I try and do something broader, like a long boulder problem or visits a bouldering wall with blobs and compression and roofs and not a 45-degree angle with small holds in sight. In these contexts I’m rubbish.
So I ask myself what do I really want from my climbing and training. I think I like doing what I do, it’s a habit, it’s a routine and it’s a comfort, it’s a meditation and sometimes a philosophy. It’s also an embodied practice; I’ve been doing more or less the same thing for twenty years. But and it’s a big but, I would like to finish one, at least one of my projects.
Next time I have some spare time on my hands and I don’t go to my shed to train, or drive to a project and fail, I will try and write up some ‘objectives’ or some ’thoughts’
So I moved to France as a EU citizen in 2017, made a family, got married, and had a baby. As a family it will now be very difficult, maybe impossible to contemplate the idea of moving back to the UK. Family members from the UK and friends will now only be able to visit, with visas I guess. I never imagined this curtailed of freedom would materialise. I never imagined a hysteric myopia would fracture a sense of European community one that may have never been an ideal, may never have satisfied all the people, but surely the ‘people’ could have seen it was for the best for the most.
Ah well, goodbye England, Wales, Scotland and N Ireland and for those that voted leave I hope you are happy with the scumbag Etonians you so faithfully arsenic.