Last weekend was absolutely riddled with indoor climbing enthusiasm as we all clambered on top of each other in a dusty poorly lit gym sweating our balls/labia’s off for hometown recognition and (for a lucky few) a chance to pick a crash pad, chalk bag, or rope bag (what’s up with all the bags??). Yes, after five or six years I finally attended a climbing competition. Feeling in great shape and climbing quite well lately I entered the Tacoma Throw Down not necessarily over confident but sure of myself enough to win Advanced and maybe even be bumped into men’s open(?).
The day of competition coincided perfectly with the day of the ABS nationals’ semi-finals and finals and I wasn’t sure which event to get more excited about. Okay, that’s a bald faced lie, I was WAY more excited about watching ABS nationals instead of pawing at overly-chalked holds amidst a spraying orgy of teenage angst, thirty-something glory haze, and tiny blonde girls elbowing their way to the front of the queue.
The Tacoma Throw Down, albeit in a tiny gym with relatively outdated holds, was exactly what you would expect from a small gym bouldering comp. Besides the organization of the comp being an absolute mess and the comp process being a total free for all no holds barred type of affair, the problems were actually quite good. I sampled most of the harder stuff and a little of the medium hard stuff. I liked the fact that they didn’t resort to using tweaky holds to make the problems hard, instead they were mostly difficult but at the same time incredibly doable. There were only a small amount of problems that did not get done and looked totally heinous but for the most part a lot of the higher end Open problems were sent in a matter of tries by the subsequent competitor.
My performance waned considerably after my first few attempts of a hard’ish problem and I spent the rest of the comp working the jitters out. It’s funny to me how nervous you can get even when you have a long history of climbing under your belt, situations that call for intense focus, climbing on real rock in sometimes life or death situations; and yet here we are in a gym, over gripping and hoping people don’t think you’re a complete gumby. How silly. But, that’s the reality of it. You can also tell who the real comp climbers are by the way they casually stroll up everything that looks impossible. They also seem to have herculean amounts of power endurance and are able to give hard problems handfuls of tries without showing a bit of wear or tear.
I mostly milled about waiting for the herd to thin, trying this and that. I never topped a single hard problem unfortunately. My moment of glory was snatched away from me as I lurched to a finishing jug on a problem I had tried six or seven times now and watched as my hand unfurled from around the juggy lip of the last hold and I was sent to the chalky mats below accompanied by a sigh of shame from the crowd. Oh well. With a little less than an hour left I started making the rounds on easier problems to buff up my scorecard but the clock was ticking and suddenly I had ten minutes left and had only completed four problems, one of which was not going to help my score in the least. I tore my score card up and tossed it in the trash. I knew I had made a mistake by not warming up to these challenges properly and so I refused to turn in a scorecard that didn’t accurately reflect the kind of climbing I know I’m capable of.
Comps aren’t just about whose the strongest, sometimes it’s about whose got the best strategy. Besides all of the climbing, the best part about this comp was seeing and getting to climb literally with all of my favorite people in the Washington climbing community. We had Tex, Waterfalls, Sachs, Ken, Billis, Hannah, Yogi, Jimmy, Geoff, Josh, etc. It was a strong showing for the World Wall 1 god fathers for sure. Most of whom I had never seen climbing on plastic before which was mind blowing in and of itself. The really bad news came when Waterfalls, who had finally muscled his way statically through a huge sideways dyno, engaged a drop knee to get out of the roof and felt a pop in his knee. He dropped to the floor and instantly knew something was wrong. He spent the rest of the comp limping around with a bag of ice lashed to his knee. It sounds like he tore his ACL. HUGE bummer, because if that is the case he will be pretty much out of the game for almost the entire season. I’m still waiting to see what the MRI shows. Sending a lot of positive vibes his way.
I had a good time regardless of how I climbed. It was fucking awesome to get to sample new problems, climb with some of my local role models in the climbing community, and re-learn how to climb in a competitive e setting. It actually got me kind of stoked to compete in the future.
However, the real competition happened in Madison, WI on Saturday, January 30th 2016. I spent close to 15 hours watching footage from this event not wanting to miss a single step, dyno, fall, French blow, or commentator foible. I love this shit! I wish we had more nationally recognized comps in a year. I’m tired of only having one major comp to look forward to in the US when the world cups can range from 5 to 8 comps in a season. I know/follow most of the competitors in these comps which makes it more interesting because you know how they’ve done previously and it’s cool to follow their progress. I was in it mostly to see how well Puccio was going to do after her seemingly effortless recovery from an ACL tear. The commentators were saying things like ‘…Puccio suffering from a disastrous knee injury’, and all I could think was, ‘Really? Disastrous? Didn’t she send V.12 like six weeks after her surgery?’ I would hardly call that disastrous.
But as the competition wore on you could tell Puccio was nervous about her knee. She opted to down climb almost every problem she topped 2-3 moves before hopping off, and even her dismount from the problems was different in the way she dropped as lightly as she could onto her feet and then immediately bowled over backwards letting the brunt of the fall impact her butt. Plus I also noticed a few times where a hard right drop knee or heel hook would have helped her and she seemed hesitant to engage it. However, a psychologically scarred Puccio is still stronger than the majority of human beings anywhere, and this was evident in her performance. The highlight of the entire comp, and I don’t think I’m alone on this, was when Puccio (seemingly injured after a disastrous second go attempt of female finals problem 2) was helped off the mats by an EMT only to re-emerge for female finals problem 3 and flash it with some of the coolest looking horizontal heel hook beta ever! What an athlete. I was left howling at the screen and cheering.
In the end, Puccio took second to a nearly flawless performance by her ‘protégé’ Megan Mascarenas. Of course the narrow minded and controversy driven media tried to play up this defeat as a some sort of off kilter rivalry between the two but Puccio, the savy veteran, hopped into the interview booth shortly after the comp to set the record straight by espousing her many losses on this National stage as well as her many defeats on the World Cup circuit. We really like to hold up ‘our’ climbers as some kind of representation of what the ‘best’ in the world is, but its sadly just not true. With that being said I’m fairly confident in my assertion that Puccio, regardless of her amazing record as a competition climber, is also the strongest female rock climber in the world today (I’m seemingly immune to the overt implications by the mainstream climbing media that the ‘best female rock climber is a 14 year old girl’, no offense Ashima).
I was a little bummed that some of the old school female competitors were amiss, no Payne, no Johnson? What gives? Plus where were even some of the young up and comers like Francesca Metcalf and Isabelle Faus? Ashima was a no show because of her age, but man it’s going to be ON next year when she can compete as an adult for the first time. Without some of these names it kind of turned into the Puccio/Mascarenas show and that’s not a knock against the other competitors, it’s the truth. Nina Williams, Kasia Pietras, Molly Renny, Megan Martin, Claire Buhrfeind, Kyra Condie, and Grace McKeehan are all VERY strong, but they just don’t make it to that next level like some of the other female competition climbers I’ve seen (Jule Wurm, Akyio Naguchi, Myio Nanaka, Mina Markovich, Jain Kim, Shauna Coxsey, just to name a few!).
Also, there were 90 male competitors to the females 45, what’s that about? Either we need to enforce some kind of vetting process for the males OR the females need to step it up and start coming out for these events. They’re kind of a big deal, at least to some anyways.
My main gripe falls in line with everyone else’s which has to do with the fact that the scoring system that is in place for USA climbing is garbage. While it may be technically sound and look relatively ‘good’ (read ‘complicated’) on paper, it translates into a bunch of frustration for the athletes/viewers and inaccuracy when accurately judging a climbing competition. This is twice in a row Daniel Woods has gotten completely shafted by this scoring system and it makes me sick. All I can say is the real climbers out there know who the real champion is, and frankly, it’s Daniel Woods. He did the best on ALL of the problems and thus, deserves to win. Case closed. Now, where the association will go from here is a mystery but all I know is that if they keep using this method of scoring they will lose a lot of the momentum they’ve picked up in the last few years and it will be a real shame as well as an easily avoidable detriment to this burgeoning sport. Do I have any suggestions? Yes, I do, I’ve been watching world cup comps for the last few years and I don’t see anything wrong with that system besides needing a few small tweaks. I would like to see each hold gain a point value after a bonus hold, and tops of course should remain supreme. If we assign each hold a point value after a bonus hold this would incentivize moving upwards and also sort the competitors’ efforts out in a more realistic fashion. Getting to the bonus hold should represent the first challenge, with every hold past the bonus hold representing a higher ranking and thus motivating the competitor to keep going. This way, even if we have three competitors that make a bonus hold we can sort them out based on who got the farthest past the bonus hold by tallying up points. I like this system because it rewards you for moving past the bonus wherein if a competitor almost tops the problem they aren’t held at the same level as someone who just managed to get the bonus and no further. They can still be ranked higher because of the point system allotted to each hold after the bonus.
Daniel Woods came in fourth because he failed to top a boulder (by one move) that a lot of the other competitors did, even though he crushed all three of the other finals problems. No one else had this kind of performance, so why did he come in fourth? Because the fucking system in place now for ABS sucks! Jimmy Webb got second place and he didn’t even come close to topping the first problem. This just does not make sense to me. Although, we all know Jimmy and Daniel are pretty much the best boulderers in the world anyway. I do have to mention Nathaniel Coleman’s send of male semi-finals problem number 4 which no one else was able to do. If that doesn’t entitle him to some kind of competition glory then I don’t know what does. When he made it past the heinous iron cross pocket campus section at the beginning we were all thinking ‘that was sick, but how much does he have left in the tank?’. And just to shut us all up he grabbed those two heinous bubble wrap pinch slimpers, eyed the top flat jug, and slam dunked it with both hands like Shaq does when he gets anywhere near the rim in the post. That was definitely the other stand out moment in the comp for me.
All in all, it was a VERY good competition. It’s hard to compete with ABS 15 (you know, when Daniel won but there was this crazy back and forth between him and Vasya and Daniel had to perform on the last problem, which he did, but we were all on the edge of our seats because the last problem was this heinous looking sloper compression power problem that none of the other competitors could do until DWoods crushed it second go!!). It’s hard to live up to that legacy, but this comp was close. It had all of the ingredients of a good competition, the problems were extremely well set, and they accomplished something that I think is very hard to do, which is to separate out the truly best climbers. The fact that the scoring system is all fucked up isn’t the route setters problem, it’s a logistics thing that will settle over time. A personal highlight for me was watching Ty Landman climb. His style is just so dialed and beautiful to watch. He has this crazy control that comes from his core and his steel cable finger strength and I never get tired of watching him crush. So good to see him back in action; if you are new to Mr. Landmans abilities I highly recommend picking up the flick ‘Between the Trees’ by UncleSomebody films.
Allright, that’s it from me. We’ve got one more good National comp to look forward to before the World Cup circuit starts in April. Hope everyone is out there having fun and getting ready for the season to start!