The Great Postmodern Sport of Indoor Climbing

Written by 

bird's eye view of a woman indoor climbingI'm hooked on indoor climbing. Here's why: it's postmodern.


Indoor climbing is unisex. There are as many women as men climbing the walls at my gym, and any other gym I've been to. There's no disparity between the abilities of women and men in climbing the way there is in weight lifting, sprinting or basketball.


Technique is more important than muscle power. All the best climbers are fit, but skinny. A beefy guy is at a disadvantage. He weighs more, and is probably used to muscling his way over challenges. Good climbers use their brains as much as their arms and legs. Every climbing route is a puzzle. The higher the difficulty rating, the less obvious it is how to get from one hold to the next. But there's always a way. You have to figure it out. And hang from the wall in a way that doesn't drain your strength in the mean time. And then remember these nuances the next time you tackle the route.


climbers on the wall at a climbing gymIt's non-competitive. There are competitions, but they're a minor part of the sport. Very few climbers know who the champion climbers are. It's a sport of participants, not spectators. Climbers compete with themselves, refining their technique and ascending harder routes. There's no jock atmosphere. No one's checking each other out or laying down smack talk about how they're going to outdo what someone else just did. Beginners climb alongside experts. Each does her own thing. Everyone's trying to improve, for their own sake. There's no score to keep, no clock to beat, no fans to impress, no scouts to woo, no sponsorships to win.


It's international. It's common to overhear a variety of languages and accents at my gym. For a while I was part of a group that consisted of:


me - English Canadian white guy

Rebecca - white girl

Nadia - First Nations girl

Andre - French Canadian guy

Gary - Chinese guy

Sham - East Indian guy


girl climbingIt was like we'd been selected for a brochure on multiculturalism, except we'd assembled organically and unselfconsciously. And we were consistent with other groups in the gym. White, black, brown, yellow, red, beige. And no nationality dominates, either. Find that diversity in any other sport, I dare ya.


And lastly, it's the province of the at-least-decently well off. Postmodern consciousness, with its insistence on fairness and equality, is mostly absorbed over
the course of a university education. Not everyone can afford that. And not everyone can afford the gear, membership and intro course required to climb.


But more people are getting college educations now than, say, three hundred years ago. Or fifty years ago. And there are school groups and birthday parties at the climbing gym pretty regularly. More kids are are getting into climbing, and unconsciously absorbing its postmodern tenets. It would have done me good at their age. This kind of thing helps our culture's moral average - our "centre of gravity" rise. And raising the centre of gravity, appropriately enough, is what climbing's all about.

Related items

Join the Discussion

Commenting Policy

Beams and Struts employs commenting guidelines that we expect all readers to bear in mind when commenting at the site. Please take a moment to read them before posting - Beams and Struts Commenting Policy


  • Comment Link Bill Albert Wednesday, 23 March 2011 22:31 posted by Bill Albert

    I think I have been to too many hockey games lately. I would not mind watching this is if there was checking allowed. Interesting spectator sport then.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Monday, 28 March 2011 16:22 posted by TJ Dawe

    Checking while climbing would indeed be entertaining. But I'm happy that the focus of this particular sport (or activity might be a better appellation, given that it's non-competitive) is on participation, not watching.

    I think we're a society of spectators. And while watching someone who truly excels at any discipline - soccer, opera singing, speed-painting - at work, there's an empowerment that comes from doing an activity one loves, even if you can't do it at an expert level.

    I'd like to see it be a more normal thing for people to be both participants and spectators.

Login to post comments

Search Beams

Most Popular Discussions