Simon Madden finds out that just when you hubristically think you’ve heard all the stupid questions a message out of the blue can trump them all
‘How do you get the rope up there?’
‘Why don’t you just walk around the back?’
‘What are you carrying those mattresses for?’
‘Do you wear gloves with hooks on them?’
I never tire of the stupid questions that non-climbers ask you when they find out you are a climber.
They are also almost shockingly predictable in their ignorance of climbing on even the most basic level, it’s always a variation on the above.
No one asks about the nuances of movement, the rigors of training or the relationship between success and failure. Surprisingly no one ever tries to draw similarities between climbing and some other sport that they are familiar with, a diversion into the metaphoric that is common when we try to understand something new by contrasting it against something we already know. It’s as if climbing is so far beyond the pale as to be inconceivable to the lay audience.
I’ve had all the stupid questions, or at least I thought I had until recently. All of those questions were blown out of the stupid water when I received a message from my GF one Tuesday morning a few weeks back. We had just put on the Grampians Bouldering Festival and she was telling her workmates about the weekend when one of them asked;
‘Where do the boulders come from? Do you have to bring your own?’
I squinted at the screen and laughed my arse off, where do the boulders come from. Not only was climbing now inconceivable but the fundamental constituents of ‘the outdoors’ were too. I reckon this new entry may just have clocked the stupid question game, I might never hear another. It feels like my own little version of Fukuyama’s End of History. BYO boulders FFS.
When she was told that the boulders are already there, just laying around in the bush, she followed up with, ‘Do you have to put the holds on them?’ Okay, so I get it that the boulders are already there, somehow, let’s call it magic or whatever, but they are not going to have the colour-coded holds though, right, so how do you know how to climb them?
Now it may shock you to learn that the asker is no idiot. She is smart if perhaps not exactly worldly, has a good professional job (interestingly enough as a dealer in information and facts). I’m telling you that she is not stupid but she could be at the vanguard of the Post-Naturists, to her climbing must be something that is done indoors that is then taken outdoors. The flow is from the contrived built environment to the natural environment rather than the other way around.
If I really think about it the seeds for the Stupidest Non-Climber Question Ever have been planted in the city’s fertile concrete ground for a while now. We have all been asked, ‘Do you climb outdoors as well or just indoors?’ The general public having constructed an idea of climbing that is primarily indoors. When you think about it ‘Do you have to bring your own boulders?’ seems like the natural evolution of the mindset inherent in the indoors-first framework.
It says loads about where climbing is currently situated in the popular psyche. Even though the Dawn Wall got saturation coverage and Honnold’s majestic and terrifying soloing has been splashed all over the media, and there are more and more climbers heading outdoors there is a growing notion that climbing is first a foremost something that is done in converted factories in cities, places where the boulders have conveniently already been brought there for you.