The Circuit is a new climbing magazine born from the brains and brawn of Eddie Fowke. The man himself might be a Kiwaussie but he’s aiming big with his new beast, targeting a whole-of-the-world audience with a title dedicated to competition and elite-level climbing. And did we mention that it was a print-only publication?
We are fascinated to see where he takes the mag, and just as importantly, where the mag takes him, so we sat down with this documenter of climbing at the pointy end (and good friend of VL) to get the 411.
Print is dead. Magazines are dead. What the hell are you doing?
Print isn’t dead. The old model of disposable, advertising-driven trash magazines with low percentage content is dead but people still love the tactile feel and look of a high-quality print magazine. People want to hold something, to have something on the coffee table or next to fingerboard to look at and psych them up!
All great stories of passionate birth have a critical moment of realisation in them, what was the genesis of The Circuit?
I wish it was that exciting. I was walking into Elphinstone chatting with Rowan Druce and the idea just started to coalesce.
I love sport and every major sport has magazines promoting them. Climbing has magazines but nothing really aimed at the elite. After all you don’t have to be elite to read about them, just like you don’t need to be able to afford a Porsche to read Evo.
So why didn’t climbing have something aspirational?
What’s the philosophy that underpins the magazine?
We will bring the climbing elite into people’s living rooms. This is average Joe’s ringside seat, their opportunity to find out what makes these amazing climbers tick. To see up close through high-quality photography just what is possible.
Climbing is a real sport, it has matured from the old perception of being outcasts and alternative lifestylers squatting in the dirt. Although there are still climbers that fit that description they aren’t the norm any more.
Climbing gyms are hugely popular, outdoor climbing has evolved in comfort and accessibility to reflect this. You may not realise it, but since the advent of sport climbing and bouldering a day out or weekend away is a far more relaxed and obtainable prospect than it was 20 years ago.
People all over the world are connected by social media, they see the same heroes whether they are in Sydney or Moscow, Sheffield or Cape Town.
The Circuit brings you the global stars, the aspirational climbers who make you want to try harder, train longer, buy into the lifestyle more.
You are primarily known as a photographer, how have you found the role of editor and writer?
I have always enjoyed writing, and I work in a day job where I write a lot so it was a comfortable transition to turn my focus to writing about the sport I love.
Being an editor on the other hand has been a real challenge. Indeed it’s worn me down massively and gives me a huge level of respect for those who have come before me and continue to do it successfully.
How did you recognise the tipping point in terms of maturation of the world of competition climbing requiring its own dedicated magazine?
I believe the advent of internet streaming has been a huge boon for competition climbing. It is the first opportunity to see top level climbing, as it happens, anywhere in the world.
With that increase in exposure comes the opportunity to grow the sport, and a high engagement magazine that draws people to the ISFC World Cups by giving personality and back stories to the athletes seems a logical next step.
Where do you see the market for The Circuit?
The market for The Circuit is global and this has been represented in early sales. There has been a fantastic response both domestically and internationally with sales in over 25 countries so far. Countries like Germany with its massive competition scene have been very strong markets. (The German based Hard Moves series had more than 3500 registered competitors in 2013.)
Is there something that Antipodean climbers, by virtue of our isolation, don’t understand about the comp world in the northern hemisphere? How would you describe it to them?
In this part of the world we can’t comprehend the scale of the sport in Europe and Asia. We live in a culture that promotes and glorifies team sports and its athletes from a young age. Therefore we seldom (outside of Olympic years) hear any recognition in the media for individual athletes.
In Europe climbing is in the newspapers, on the TV, in the public eye. Climbing internationally is gaining maturity as a sport but here it still needs training wheels.
What’s your take on the Australian competition climbing scene?
I think that after a rough patch the Australian competition scene is getting stronger and stronger. The top athletes at the domestic comps are competitive on a global scale and the pack of younger climbers that are chasing those top domestic performers are not that far behind them.
There are so many good young Kiwis and Aussies coming through at the moment and I think it’ll be really healthy for the sport when they start challenging for wins. The excitement of seeing young Sam Bowman pushing James Kassay all the way in the Australian Bouldering Nationals is a perfect example of that.
You have documented climbing across a great many different regions, how do you think the climbing cultures of Europe, the USA and Australia differ and how are they the same? What do they say about the host cultures at large?
There are huge distinctions even within the regions let alone at a global scale. The Australian scene tends to follow the very Anglo-American culture which is to me 10 years behind Europe and Asia in terms of maturity.
Holding onto and glorifying climbing’s counter culture status seems a priority to a lot of people wanting to live the climbing life here, whereas in Europe the focus is more on the actual climbing. The culture is evolving in the UK and the US now with the new guard of hard climbers bringing a more European philosophy to training and professionalism.
If a distinction can be drawn, what is the current relationship between the disciplines of competition and rock climbing?
Competition is an integral aspect of finding yourself as a climber. It could be at the crag with friends, it could be at the local climbing gym, it may be just against your previous achievements.
Competing in organised events is part of the journey for most aspiring climbers now. Some will love it and stick with it, some will move their focus to other areas and many will both compete and climb outside, using what they learnt competing to climb better outside of competition. You see this today with competition climbers being at the front of the pack that are progressing the sport outdoors.
Indoor route-setting at the elite level seems to be becoming more idiosyncratic, it is asking different things of climber’s bodies and it seems that is forcing an evolution of climbing movement, what do you think this is going to mean for the future of climbing?
The top climbers are so strong in traditional climbing movements that the route-setters need to account for this by setting to a far higher technical standard than 10 years ago.
If you look at the level of physical conditioning of the top climbers they are all capable of unbelievable feats of strength, Dmitri’s shallow bolthole mono one-arm pull-up in Innsbruck showed that.
So now, in bouldering especially, the climbers have to overcome technical challenges that test their problem solving skills and movement repertoire as well as the more traditional, locking crimps to your waist style of climbing.
You’ve seen a lot of the world’s best boulderers in action now, do you have an opinion as to which one is most likely to take bouldering to the next level?
I’ve seen many of the best boulderers and route climbers in action and I think that this whole generation from Nalle Hukkataival, Daniel Woods and Paul Robinson through to Alex Megos and the likes of Shauna Coxsey and Caroline Sinno will push the level up, indeed I think it already has been pushed up and just like how Hubble and Action Directe got upgraded years after the ascent we will see some of the current 8c boulders move up by at least a +.
Now that Nalle has made quick work of Gioia, which has been surrounded by speculation that it is possibly 8c+/V16, we will begin to get an alignment of grading. It wouldn’t surprise me if Daniel heads back to Italy to try it as well, after all he’s done more than 20 8c/V15s now.
If I had to pick one climber to be the future though it would be Alex Megos, he really is an incredible technician!
Did you have any tips for aspiring magazine editors?
Don’t do it!!!
No seriously, I’d say that all the hard stuff is the stuff you aren’t aware of when you set out, so grow some thick skin and expect to get blindsided by the unexpected at least once every couple of weeks and you’ll be fine.
Also, remember, “Print is Dead”! 😉
And most importantly, where can people get The Circuit from?
The circuit is available to order online through http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy and if you’re in Australia through selected climbing gyms including Bloc and Climbfit in Sydney and Bayside Rock in Melbourne.