Photo By: Grant Mason

Why the Rock Climbing Trend is Here to Stay

By Hannah Pugh

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, climbing as a whole contributed $12.5 billion to the economy in 2017.

Some 4.4 percent of all Americans now climb indoors, whereas a decade ago they weren’t even tracking this statistic. In 2018, there were 7.7 million climbing participants in the United States alone.  According to the Climbing Wall Association, in 2017, on average, climbing facilities have 100 new members each month. 

There is an increase in climbing participants in our nation and around the world. What was once considered a radical and dangerous novelty activity, is now becoming a mainstream sport. It will appear in the Olympics next year.

Why People are Climbing

This rise of interest is due to a variety of causes. One of these causes is the rise in media coverage. In early 2019, USA Climbing announced a multi-year partnership with ESPN to televise three adult national championship competitions. Additionally, there have been a number of movies and documentaries created in recent years which promote this trend.

Grant Mason, climber of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky shared, “It is getting more popular in media, it seems like this cool thing to do. There is so much lifestyle sold on Instagram and climbing sort of goes in that category. There is way more to it than how it comes across I think.” Although the push from media adds to the climbing trend, there are reasons beyond this that continue to push people in the direction of climbing. 

When asked why people choose to climb, Grant responded: “It is two things: It is the community and the actual experience of climbing itself- the introspective pursuit. With the outdoor community that I strive to be a part of, there are so many people that come in and out of your life, sort of randomly. You make quick friends with other climbers. It is easy for people to connect.”

How Climbing Benefits the Body and Mind

Outdoor and indoor climbing are sold to consumers as an adventurous lifestyle. However, media promotion is not likely to be the only cause which supports the numbers of climbers who get out and climb every weekend. 

Rock climbing builds physical health through building muscle and endurance. However, it also reduces stress, improves brain health, and supports mindfulness. 

People are not just climbing as a means to have more fitness in their life, but in engaging in the community, and being a part of the outdoors and climbing is a way to have both. Furthermore, people are interested in a meditative, existential experience, known as flow. The calming effects on the mind are of greater value to some than the benefits on the body. 

The Climber’s “Flow”

This experience of heightened focus and awareness is flow. Optimal experience, or flow, within positive psychology, has received worldwide attention since its birth. It depicts the mental state of a person who is immersed in an activity with energized concentration, optimal enjoyment, full involvement, and intrinsic interests, and who is usually focused, motivated, positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The term “flow” describes optimal experiences that are among the most enjoyable in human life and such experience may emerge in any situation or place in which there is an ongoing activity as well as when there are clear goals, immediate feedback, and good balance between skills of a person and the challenge of the activity.”

Research reveals that sport climbing can benefit depression treatment by controlling the feeling of fear and anxiety. Additionally, it is able to reduce depression and anxiety levels as well as maintain emotional stability. 

In order for us to understand the rising demand for sports climbing, we ought to understand the less tangible motivators fueling the industry. These are: community, psychological elevation, and benefits of the body and mind. What is fueling the modern climbing economy isn’t merely a sport, but rather, a counter-culture community and lifestyle. What will happen to this community as this upward trend becomes increasingly mainstream?

photo by Grant Mason