If you think climbing isn’t a spectator sport, think again. The Psicobloc Open Series presented by The North Face is a testament to sheer athleticism, community and awe-inducing intrigue.
In recent years, the sport of climbing has exploded. From indoor climbing gyms popping up in cities to the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo gaining pop-culture notoriety, climbing has left the cozy constraints of niche and entered the open embrace of the ‘worldwide’.
According to the International Federation of Sport Climbing, 25 million people are climbing regularly across the globe. It’s estimated that between 1,000 to 1,500 people are trying to climb for the first time, every single day in the U.S alone.
More and more, athletes — both novice and elite — are attracted by not only the physical challenge, but the mental aspect of the sport. However, in a fast-paced society with a new workout fad almost weekly, people are looking for more than just fitness. Beyond the sport itself is the importance of community — a sentiment that historic climbing brand The North Face has not only understood, but hallmarked as the heart of their message.
“Climbing is for everyone. It is all about community and having fun,” said North Face athlete and elite mountaineer, Gabriel Filippi. “Sometimes everything is a competition — about being the best, but with climbing it is more about how you feel about yourself,” he explains.
As the second Canadian to have climbed Everest from both sides and having scaled six of the highest peaks in the world, it’s safe to say Filippi knows a thing or two about climbing.
[Gabriel Filippi, at Psicobloc 2019]
To mark Global Climbing Day on August 24, The North Face hosted local events at 240 climbing gyms globally to help people come together to test themselves, build trust, and strengthen bonds.
To further foster growth in the community, the longtime outdoor brand brought the Psicobloc Open Series competition to Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau Aquatic Complex for its Canadian debut. The only way to describe it is: ‘you have to see it to believe it.’
Previously held in Utah, the extreme free-climbing competition is performed without a rope or a net, as two competitors race up an overhanging 55-foot wall above a deep-water pool — those that can’t quite make the climb have a safe but albeit shocking plummet to the water below. The trophy? A $20,000 divided purse and $40,000 worth of other prizes.
For a long time, climbing has had an element of secrecy due to it’s generally remote nature. However with indoor climbing walls and competitions like Psicobloc, it’s capability as a spectator sport is undeniable. The sheer athleticism evokes awe, while the flexibility and speed needed to maneuver the wall in near-animalistic fashion is unlike anything found in other sports.
What makes the competition unique is the component that allows all climbers of any skill level to try the main wall during public wall sessions throughout. The goal of breaking down the barriers between professional climbers, beginners and the spectrum alike, is not a new concept for The North Face.
“North Face is based on exploration, whether you’re exploring your personal limits, or your physical surroundings. The message of inclusivity and bringing people together matters,” said Max Turcotte, senior brand and sports coordinator for The North Face Canada.
The North Face’s Walls Are Meant For Climbing campaign is rooted in that very notion. Through climbing, walls are seen as opportunities rather than obstacles with the hope to break barriers down rather than build them up.
“[On Global Climbing day] we open our doors on behalf of the North Face and introduce people to climbing free of charge,” said Turcotte. “We want to get people excited and involved, and help break the barriers around going to a gym and having to get introduced to the sport. It makes it a lot more accessible for people.”
Named after the coldest, most unforgiving side of the mountain the company ironically began on a beach, in San Francisco in the 1960s as a small mountaineering retail store. While many people today may associate the brand to durable, stylish outerwear for the winter months, climbing is at the core of the brand’s DNA.
Psicobloc is just the beginning. The sport will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, featuring three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing.