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Interest Strong in Climbing as Sport Heads for the Olympics

4 Sep, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

No rocks and no hard places here. Climbing is headed for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 (and for Paris in 2024, for that matter) so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that it’s growing in popularity in the U.S. A new study shows that 40 percent of people plan to watch climbing in the games, and an additional 30 percent of people are interested in learning to climb.

All this despite the fact that only four percent actually identify as climbers.

The North Face released its data on the state of rock climbing in America and the sport’s increasing popularity. The report was timed to Global Climbing Day on August 24.

And oddly, the sport seems to appeal to a city-dwelling audience. More than half of climbers responding to the survey (56 percent) reported living in an urban area. City-dwelling climbers may also be playing a large part in the changing perception of indoor climbing, which 53 percent of Americans think has become more popular.

Event owners should be aware of this growth, and of its potential to escalate - but more so, they should be aware of the burgeoning interest among non-climbers. Offering clinics and demos, information sessions and chances for non-climbers to try the sport can help build business as well.

The data also reveals interesting findings on why people rock climb:

  • 88 percent of climbers pursue the sport because it makes them feel adventurous and energized or gives them a rush.
  • Nearly 40 percent of climbers say that the sport is a great way to spend time with friends and family
  • 68 percent climb with a friend, significant other or spouse

Expect awareness of climbing events to increase as well as athletes begin to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Climbing Team. Just last month, Brooke Raboutou, 18 has made history as the first American climber to qualify for the U.S. Olympic climbing team for the 2020 Summer Olympics. (Raboutou has been an adidas-sponsored athlete since the age of 14.)

The 2020 Summer Olympics is the first to include climbing in three disciplines, speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing.

Industry-wide initiatives have been offered to raise awareness of the sport. Recently, Verde Brand Communications partnered with 1Climb on a project to introduce a minimum of 100,000 children to the sport of climbing by opening local climbing walls and joining forces with local organizations such as Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs.

The North Face, which has supported climbing for more than 50 years, launched its Global Climbing Day and the “Walls are Meant for Climbing” campaign in 2016 to introduce even more people to climbing. The campaign encourages people to work together to overcome challenges, push boundaries, and foster a community united by differences, bound by empathy and strengthened by understanding.

As a part of the “Walls are Meant for Climbing” initiative, The North Face has partnered with The Trust for Public Land to build public climbing walls that make climbing more inclusive and accessible across the U.S. By 2021, The North Face and The Trust for Public Land will have completed construction of four public climbing walls in Denver (completed 2018), Atlanta (Fall 2019), Chicago (Fall 2019), and New York (Spring 2021).

USA Climbing, the national governing body of the sport, recently released its calendar of events, with dates and locations of its National Cup Series, to be hosted in New Mexico, California and Tennessee.

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