I am a competitive person and have had the pleasure of being able to compete with some really great climbers and of course most importantly, myself. So although it wasn’t planned maybe it wasn’t a great surprise that at this years Montagu Rock Rally I found myself running (for short distances) between crags in order to score as many points as possible. In parallel I also got to do some of my favourite routes and see some of my favourite climbing buddies. For me (and probably Justin Hawkins too) the highlight was to be the spit braai afterwards, but alas those greedy runners and mountain bikers had managed to devour all the food and not a scrap was to be found.
The rock rallies found in South Africa are great thing, but are unfortunately as a result of a slow decrease in the number and quality of artificial wall competitions. Of course the real competition is one on an equal onsight route with the benefit of bringing the climbing to the crowds. But still the current basket of rock rallies in SA serve a great purpose of bringing together climbers which results in refreshed levels of motivation.
The problem with the current rock rallies is the fixation on giving climbers of all levels a financial “carrot” to compete. Firstly climbers are given handicaps in order to give “Joe couch potato” a chance to win. He will for many years be able to tell his siblings how he managed to win a climbing competition even though he climbs at a leisurely level of difficulty. Secondly some organisers have the misconceived idea that to attract climbers to a competition, one must have super prizes – be they hard cash or in same case just plain hard liquor. Never once have I travelled to a competition because the prizes are gonna be stonking – I have however always desired to measure myself against my peers, share in the excitement and of course perform in front of a bunch of rubber neckers.
My biggest concern is the acceptance (in fact motivation) of mediocrity and not excellence. No other sport (barring one where the top guys get paid too much to chase a little white ball across the lawn) has a handicap system – imagine pitching up at the Comrades and winning because last year you had the slowest time, and now after getting your lardy ass off the couch you managed to come in the top 5000? Somehow I don’t think those lean athletes who have worked so hard to achieve excellence would be motivated to compete. At the Boven Rock Rally I was disappointed to see that the average grade hovered below 20 and that one of the favourite teams climbed over and around climbers already on a route. Instead of all the climbers focussing on pushing themselves to climb hard, the winners were those who managed to run the fastest between crags. The recently held Cape Peninsula rock rally may well have been poorly attended as the handicap formula was one that even Einstein would have struggled to comprehend.
Sportclimbing on bolts has allowed us to push ourselves, and competitions should first and foremost motivate climbers to perform at their peak regardless of how hard they climb. I must concede that I will never win a climbing competition; I take part in order to have a good time with my friends, and maybe secretly to make sure the youngsters don’t take it too easy. In order to motivate climbers like you and myself to compete it is essential for the organisers to arrange good social fringe activities and to ensure a spread of performance, spot and fun prizes such as
• Top males and females individual overall score
• Top males and females individual top 6 routes average with bonus points for flashes and onsights.
• Top teams (A handicap system can be used here for the stronger gender and age so that mixed, male and female teams can compete on an equal footing)
• Most significant ascent (ie big redpoint or onsight)
• Most improved climber on the day
• Most interesting dress
• Most scantily clad female
• Worst technique (yes this does go against my argument for excellence)
• Best legs (sorry only female competitors)
• Most courteous (this may prevent the usual bun fight at a rock rally)
• The organisers
The idea should for climbers to get together and go and crank as many HARD routes at their limit as possible. Of course a little fun on the side can be had too.
Finally thanks to the organisers of all the rock rallies, like bolting it may never be perfect, but always appreciated.