For the first time, Boulder, Colorado has hosted a climbing event, The Battle in the Bubble, that reflects its position as one of the country's premiere climbing destinations. Simply put, everything went perfectly from a spectator's point of view.
Access was no hassle after entering the park at the Reservoir. Sponsor tents, a slackline setup, and a climbing wall tower were just a few of the things on hand to check out. Not charging admission was a great idea, and I hope this event can continue to stay that way.
Andy Mann looked visibly relieved but tired as the sun started going down on a perfect late spring evening. He was put in charge of managing the sound, lights and video for the event. The weather to put it mildly had been awful since Tuesday and the prospect of staging an outdoor comp in the rain at night must have been a constant nightmare. Andy, everything looked and sounded great!
Walking around near the walls, Tara Gee, one of the least likely candidates for holding the velvet rope, offered me a VIP pass. A good thing Tara is so nice, as a fiercer bouncer would have ejected me and my wife for allowing Sophia (can't turn away for a second!) to get past the fence and start running under the main comp wall just as things were getting started. Cue very embarrassed parents.
The comp got started in earnest when the starting hold was flown in by parachute, a nice touch that indicated that this event was running super smoothly. And indeed, the actual climbing got underway pretty much on Swiss time. Dan Howley and Andrew Clinkingbeard got the MCing underway. I though they did a great job with this.
The VIP pass got us into the up-front seating so we watched the early stages of the comp from close range. The problems were good right from the start with long powerful moves that forced climbers to reach at their limit, take risks on dynos and generally push their abilities hard.
The key to making the comp different from others and much more spectator friendly was the elimination concept.In other words, the field was whittled down on the spot as the event was happening, from problem to problem, making it really clear who was ahead. This put a heavy burden on the routesetters as they had to insure that the field was steadily reduced on each problem. The advantage was that there were no obscure rules, countbacks,or arcane scoring systems to confuse the final results. The person who climbed highest actually won, a much-needed improvement in terms of involving the audience.
We had had enough of trying to rein in our lively daughter and it was time for dinner, so we headed home. Later we tuned in on the Spot Gym's webcast of the event. Inexorably we were drawn in as the last two climbers in men's and women's were battling it out on the last problem. It looked like there might be an upset in both divisions. Angie Payne has been keeping a low profile recently but last night she turned it on, going into the last problem ahead of Alex Puccio. Alex barely got up the problem and Angie barely missed it. In the men's Daniel Woods was soooo close on the last move of the last problem and Julian Bautista, a young climber from California was right behind. In a made-for-TV ending, Daniel, having won after Julian put in one valiant last try, stepped up and vanquished the final problem in front of a roaring crowd. This was a great ending to a comp that has finally forced me to say, yes there is a climbing competition format that might appeal to a more general audience.
Were there any problems? Only three come to mind. One was that Paul Robinson was not able to compete. Rumor has it that someone matching his description was placing dynamite under a certain boulder in Eldorado Canyon, the one that Paul recently fell off of spraining the same ankle that he injured in Switzerland last year. Talking with Paul before the event started, he told me he was confident he would be up for the World Cup event in Vail coming up soon. It would have been nice to see how the evening would have gone with Paul climbing.
The other two were more controllable by the event managers. First, start the event earlier, say 4 pm so families with kids can come out and stay until dark, not until 10:30 or later. Do this and the live audience will probably double. Include even more kid-friendly attractions and events and the participation will be greater still.
Second, the live webcast is becoming standard fare for climbing events with any claim to significance. So make sure that the feed is smooth and that any hiccups with audio or video are minimal or nonexistent. The better the webcast is, the more likely that audiences will tune in. I felt that the filming, when I could see it, was great and the audio was good too.
But these are relatively minor issues compared to the overall impression of a warm, welcoming, vibrant event with plenty of potential for growth. The Spot Gym really pulled this one off in the tradition of the many other events they have produced. A big thanks to the event sponsors and the City of Boulder for making it happen. I am certainly hoping there will be many more to come.
Battle in the Bubble May 2010 from peter beal on Vimeo.