Between the Lines: Consider the Belayer

Andrew Bisharat is back with a new weekly column, “Between the Lines,” for Rock and Ice!

By Andrew Bisharat | May 14th, 2020

Great braids of Emily Harrington, I have my own column (again)! As I’m certain no one will remember, this references the first sentence of my first column, Tuesday Night Bouldering (TNB, for acronymophiles), which was, “Great mustache of Henry Barber, I have my own column!”

But times have changed since TNB first printed (yes, printed). For instance, I’m far stronger, more flexible, wittier, and wiser—and not at all savaged by a decade of hunching over a laptop, among other unproductive habits.

Also a reference to Henry Barber’s mustache (or any mustache, for that matter) feels tone deaf in today’s climate. Climbing is no longer a “male-dominated” sport, according to the recent Outdoor Industry Association report, which shows that we’ve achieved gender parity in sport climbing and bouldering for the first time. I, for one, am proud to be part of such an inclusive activity, one that everyone can do so long as they have the means to live “frugally” in kitted-out Sprinter vans and conveniently only ever “work” on rest days.

Check your knots—and your privilege—folks!

Climbing was once an adventure. Then it became a lifestyle. Then a sport. Now it feels mostly like an activity. Devastating. Indeed, times have changed. I have kids now, for example, and kids love activities like climbing. One of my kids is currently (yes, literally) getting her hair braided by the great Emily Harrington herself. Allez! French braids it is. (And you thought Emily Harrington’s braids were irrelevant to this story!)

Great braids of Emily Harrington, Andrew Bisharat has a new column! Photo: Jon Glassberg / Louder Than Eleven.

Here’s what I’m thinking now as I watch one America’s best climbers grooming my daughter. How young is too young to be sponsored? The instinct to turn your children into economic cogs in the family business goes back to pioneer days, when uteruses of iron pumped out 19 children to thresh wheat on pappy’s farm. Now having 19 kids is only good for landing you a reality television show…

But what if all 19 kids climbed V16 (or whatever is actually hard 19 years from now, assuming a rate of one child per year)? This is interesting! I envision the Bisharat clan potentially becoming the new Team Texas. The Olympic Committee would be forced to parse new, even more confusing rules about how many siblings can legitimately qualify for coveted spots in the Games, which they’ve been claiming will happen “next year” for years now.

 

[Also Read TNB: Bad Genes – The Different Types of Gumbies]

 

But, aha! I am more clever than the brains in vats behind the curtain at the IOC, and I will skirt their new draconian regulations by specializing some of my kids in lead or bouldering, while relegating the naughty ones to speed climbing.

Of course, there’s no way in hell that we’re having 19 kids. Two is more than enough. In theory, my wife and I each have a future belayer now … though somehow I suspect that we’ll be the ones doing most of the belaying.

Which brings me to another pressing topic: what to call this weekly column/e-blast? (SIGN UP HERE!)

What about “Consider the Belayer”? My lofty goal is for this to become a weekly musing about our sport from a perspective that you might otherwise never think about. Like that of the belayer, the person you’ve forgotten even exists as you try the 500th different beta permutation just to avoid doing the scary heel-toe jam above your head that everyone has already told you a thousand times is the only sequence that works.

You know, the belayer … the person in charge of your LIFE!?

I also like it because it’s a nod to “Consider the Lobster,” a David Foster Wallace essay that is the only thing I’ve read that has made me truly rethink my views toward eating meat (one of my favorite activities, behind finger boarding but ahead of scrapbooking). This, despite a strong effort on Instagram last week by Alex Honnold, who put out a string of posts that highlighted his views toward the environment and vegetarianism.

Honnold is my favorite pro climber currently, and not just because of his huge balls. He’s bold with his ideas and thoughts, too, and doesn’t waste our time with frivolous influencer social-media bullshit. He seems genuinely concerned about how his lofty position can be wielded toward making this doomed earth a slightly better place. How lucky are we that the most famous climber ever to do our activity is also a pretty ethical guy, who gives a lot of his money away to charity, lives frugally, and only accepts Oscars on his rest days? He’s basically an atheist Jesus who crushes.

But I also have to give it up for someone like Daniel Woods, who slams cognac, gets crazy neck tattoos, and is always making hazy references to the most unlistenable trap music. With no fucks to give, Daniel manages to push and define the upper limits of climbing difficulty day in and out. Prolific scarcely does justice to what he had done for bouldering.

Since the earliest days of our sport, climbing has always existed in the space between total seriousness and respect for the sanctity of this pursuit, and a boozy irreverence toward it on the other side. These boundaries, established in the polarities of such figures dating all the way back to Royal Robbins and Warren Harding, continue to this day in the Honnolds and Woods’ of the climbing world. It’s within this healthy palette of space that we’re all able to find our own ways and define what climbing means to us personally.

Perhaps those definitions change. Youthful irreverence matures as the bumpers of age naturally set new parameters that inspire/force new ways of thinking. As I think back to writing my first TNB 15 years ago (gawd!), and consider the prospect of reviving something along these lines now, I suddenly find myself considering all the ways climbing has changed for me personally. Another theme I hope to explore.

So, what to call this? Now I am thinking that “Consider the Belayer” may be merely a title for this article, as it’s not sexy enough to be a column name. “Hot Flashes” is sexy … “The Sharp End” has a nice ring to it, even though most days I feel more like a Dull Ass.

I’m tempted to call it Thursday Night Bouldering, or TNB for you acronymophiles. But I feel like doing something new. …

Between the Lines it is!


 

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