Five Things to do at a Climbing Competition

I love climbing competitions. I started going to competitions not long after I started climbing at West Virginia University’s Climbing Wall. WVU, along with other nearby colleges, held a series of enjoyable, low-stress competitions which dominated my free time during the frigid winter months in West Virginia. Every weekend 5 to 15 of my closest climbing friends and I would travel to one of the six venues to boulder, win raffle prizes and enjoy the recreation centers of the host universities. After bouldering, cheering, playing basketball in the pool and some hot tub time we would head out and refuel on whatever food the locals would recommend. This was my regiment for six weeks every winter I was in Morgantown. Nothing was better for my climbing, my psyche or my climbing friendships.

The WVU crew visiting Pittsburgh. One of my first competitions. Can you find me?
The WVU crew visiting Pittsburgh. One of my first competitions. Can you find me?

Competitions in general are a great way to learn from others as well as meet and socialize with people in the community. Whether competing to win the cash purse in the open category or just looking to compete for the first time in the beginner category, climbing competitions give you opportunities to improve your technique and learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses. If you have never been to a climbing competition, check one out – even if it’s just to watch. You might be surprised how motivating it can be.

The following are some ideas to get the most out of any climbing competition. They happen to be some of the reasons I love competitions. There are certainly many great ways to reap the benefits of competitions and I invite you to share your own favorite competition aspects and stories in the comments section below.

Revamp Your ‘Try Hard’

Sometimes the most difficult thing about rock climbing is simply trying hard. You have the fitness and you know the moves, but for whatever reason you can’t will yourself to hold it all together at your absolute limit. As with nearly everything worthwhile, “practice makes perfect.” The more often you can bring yourself to try your hardest, the easier it becomes to engage it when you need it. While some people get really psyched on projects or rely on scary leads to provide motivation, I find competitions to be a great way to motivate myself to bear down, core up and hold on for every desperate move. Competitions have a funny way of making you persevere.

That's a 'try hard' face.
That’s a ‘try hard’ face.

Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses

It is easy to measure how well you are doing at a competition. There are a lot of different problems to try and you must think about what you will be able to send in the given time and format. A competition gives you a great opportunity to gauge how strong or weak you are in specific areas. Are you climbing significantly harder problems on the slab or on steep angles? Do you on-site every pinch and sloper problem, but get spit off everything with crimps? Once you know what you are good and bad at, you can focus your efforts on improving your weaknesses as well as polishing some strategies for competing in future events.

Observe Technique

Beyond being more informed about your weaknesses, competition climbing is a great way to attain and practice technique. In fact, simply watching a competition can benefit your climbing. To truly take advantage of a competition you should not only be observing how your body is doing, but what techniques are working or not working for other competitors. Competitions are informative because you have the ability to watch climbers of different experience levels (above and below your own), see different styles and observe a variety of body types try the same moves. I like to take any opportunity I can to learn from watching and talking to others and trying to imitate successful movements and sequences. Not everyone’s beta will work for you, but it can lead to a richer understanding of climbing and movement.

Maggie Hamill points out a key foot to Katelyn Jones at a competition held by WVU.
Maggie Hamill points out a key foot to Katelyn Jones at a competition held by WVU.

Cheer Your Face Off

Every competition I have seen has been full of positive energy. Cheering, beta swapping and constant chatter about climbing are generally accompanied by whatever music seems to motivate. The cheers often swell as someone who has been working the blue crimper problem finally links all the moves to the top.  Of course, not every competition is a rock concert, but I promise the more energy you pour into a competition by encouraging others to succeed the more you will get from the experience. Who knows, you may even become that guy who is willed to the top by the cheering crowd.

Have an Awesome Day

I am not saying your last trip to Red River Gorge or Indian Creek wasn’t straight awesome sauce, but don’t discount the fun you could have competing with your friends, trying hard, winning a raffle and then grabbing some food before sitting down to watch Dosage V. There isn’t anything better for getting stronger than having fun trying hard. For me competitions are the best way to hone in on trying my hardest and have a fun time doing it.

There are 3 competitions coming up that I am aware of. The first is at Momentum on October 11th, the next at the Front on November 2nd and the third is at the Quarry on November 15th. I am challenging myself to compete in all three as if they are my own little bouldering series. Please feel free to join me.

-Jon Vickers

Quite possibly my first and best raffle prize.
Quite possibly my first and best raffle prize.
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