Monday, January 21, 2008

How (not) to Rate a Boulder Problem

John Gill Now
John Gill then

Saying that I like bouldering is like saying the Queen enjoys her afternoon cup of tea. Bouldering is like riding a fixed-gear bike on the track - it's the sport boiled to its core.

When John Gill elevated bouldering into an art form back in the 50's & 60's, a very simple rating system existed. It was the "B" system (B1, B2, B3). Pretty easy to use.

Me, I just rate boulders as "easy" or "hard". What else could it be? In fact, I usually don't rate my problems.

Why? Because bouldering is often a solo journey into self-improvement . And you can't (or shouldn't) rate an experience that's so personal. Bouldering is like dancing. You work on the moves throughout your life, aiming for perfection along the way.

A while back, the V rating system (V1, V2, V3, etc.) got started somehow. This open-ended rating system is similar to the 5th class rating system (5.1, 5.2, 5.3, etc.).

Why now the V rating system? Competition and ego.

Joe wants to say that he's better than Jim, and so on. The conversation would go something like this: "Dude, I just climbed a V9, and you can only climbed a V5, you suck".

Look at surfers - they don't rate their waves with numbers. Surfers just go out and ride, and enjoy the water

Bouldering - it's personal. So leave the V rating system in the trash and just focus on the moves, and more importantly, the experience.


gwadzilla said...

cool stuff

Josh Platt said...

Holy crap, thanks for that! Glad I am not the only one that feels this way. You nailed it.

Justin LeCroy said...

I definitely agree, we should climb because we love to climb not to show other people how good at climbing we are. Because then we tend to lose the joy in it...then whats the point???

Anonymous said...

I love climbing and I'm kinda new at it right now, so I do like ratings because I can see myself improving... but i still agree that showing off shouldn't be a part of it.

Richard Bartlett said...

I'm somewhere in between. I agree with you that if Joe just wishes to bolster his ego by gauging just how much better a climber he is than Jim then yes, it's ultimately a bad thing. The thing is, in the climbing circles I've experienced; climbers are actually very rarely like this but still carry a grade-centric system of measuring self improvement. I think that this only becomes a bad thing when someone becomes frustrated at slow improvement or stagnation or at "poor grading". These things don't really matter. Despite this, I believe that measuring personal progression by whatever means -including grades- is a perfectly healthy component of enjoying your climbing.

Even showing off can be Ok depending on its flavour. A reduction in grade centric motivation would still do a lot of people a whole lot of good.