Recently there has been a lot of talk about how Czech wunderkind Adam Ondra is ‘taking climbing to the next level’ with his recent rampage through the world’s hardest routes, boulders and unclimbed projects (not to mention the competition wins), but it seems to me that one important thing has been overlooked in all this hysteria. Adam Ondra is not cool.
I don’t think there has been a top level climber this uncool since French climber Alain Robert aka the French Spiderman, who regularly sports the worst of the ‘80s aesthetic in his leather pants and bizarre cowboy vests. But of course the problem is that Ondra is much better and far more famous than the French Spiderman, which begs an obvious question: how much damage is Ondra doing to climbing’s credibility? And further, how much longer can we allow it to continue?
Traditionally, the top climbers have been cool. Think Chris Sharma for example (rugged surfer charm), or a little further back Jerry Moffat (attitude) and Ben Moon (dreads were probably cool back then). Admittedly there are some exceptions, for example, Wolfgang Gullich and his dodgy mullet and penchant for short shorts and Alex Huber and his whole leather pants and Fabio-hair thing – but they are both German, so they don’t count. Really you look to guys like Yosemite legend, Jim Bridwell, who epitomised ‘70s cool. Or Patrick Edlinger, who could wear a pair of tights like no one else.
But Ondra? He has nothing (apart from a striking resemblance to Harry Potter). From the pile of poodle hair on top of his head, to the glasses and the long, skinny neck sitting atop narrow unathletic shoulders, Ondra is pretty much singlehandedly destroying the image of the sport. Can you imagine any young non-climber wanting to be like Ondra? Pale, girlfriendless (presumably) and, dare I say it, looking like the King of the Dorks.
And Ondra is not the only one, Paul Robinson has been busily wreaking havoc on the world’s hardest boulder problems and the cred of this once cool sport with his massive brown bouffant, squeaky voice and skinny science-geek look. And he calls himself an artist. Artists are supposed to be cool. All I can say is, thank the Lord for Daniel Woods and his bad boy tatts, that is the only thing holding bouldering’s image together at the moment.
Self-confessed dork Alex Honnold is similarly ruining the image of soloing with his big doe-like eyes and straight fringe, although at least I hear he now has a girlfriend. Soloists used to be hardcore dudes, from the swaggering style of Jimmy Jewel to the casual cool of Peter Croft in perfect white pants, you could never accuse them of looking like they belong in chess club.
Climbing is often compared to surfing as a lifestyle sport, but can you imagine any top surfer looking like Adam Ondra? It wouldn’t happen, and if somehow it did, it wouldn’t last long. Someone would be there to sort that shit out: send him to the tanning salon, add some peroxide to his hair, get him some decent threads and a model for a girlfriend. You have to ask yourself what is going on with Ondra’s sponsors? They must surely take some responsibility for this debacle. Clearly they need to take some kind of action to remedy the situation before an entire generation of young climbers is turned away from the sport because lawn bowls has more sex appeal.
Which leads me to the obvious solution: Ondra needs a stylist. Clearly, he can’t be trusted to do anything other than climb really hard. So he needs someone else to take care of his image. (I would volunteer myself except that I recently ran into someone who hadn’t seen me for ten years and they said I was dressed exactly the same way [and you have to know your weaknesses].)
And while it is easy to laugh at foreigners, we shouldn’t be too complacent at home here in Australia. Without naming names, many of our own top climbers seem to basically roll out of bed and rock up to the crag. Of course, they have had some truly terrible role models, who can forget photos of Geoff Weigand climbing in a pink cardy or any outfit of Mike Law’s from the last 20 years (some of those shirts are still burnt onto the inside of my retinas). Even Australia’s most loved climbing legend, the mighty HB, has a dark past of stubbies and a singular mullet..
In the end, the best climbers have to realise that climbing is more than simply something that is fun to do or that allows you to escape the everyday humdrum existence of modern life, they have to remember that it is a Brand. And every Brand needs its Ambassadors to look good, not like they are going to do battle with Voldemort.