The Why Post

When climbing at MIT, I would sometimes reflect on rock climbing as a sport. Bouldering especially seems almost intentionally block-headed, obsessively honing the four moves that culminate with triumphantly standing 15 feet above where I started… It was only natural that I would ask myself at some point:

“Why do you climb?”

When I fell off the wall for the 50th time and reluctantly pulled off my two-sizes small shoes, I had to follow that question with,

“Why do you perform these rituals in your sports?” and,

“Do all of them make sense?”

For example, the on-belay call and response, as nursery-rhyme-like as it is, is intended to be a reflex safety check. Properly storing food in the backcountry decreases the chance of an unpleasant wildlife encounter. These rituals make sense.

Taking off my shoes between every attempt on a boulder problem because they’re too tight to limp across the mats in… now that seems pointless.

Of course, I could wear looser, more comfortable shoes, but I’ve gotten used to the lovely edging experience afforded by binding one’s feet into tiny shoes. Crushing my toes into curled claws with taut suede makes them an extension of the longitudinal arches in my feet, effectively distributing large loads through my entire foot. I don’t want to compromise on that kind of capability.

But I am compromising. I’m compromising comfort, which also affects performance. Additionally, constantly donning and doffing shoes is a waste of time. Something is fundamentally wrong with this part of the ritual.

When friends discussed carrying extra shoes up a multi-pitch trad route to have their super down-turned pair for a single pitch, my engineer’s desire for efficiency was outraged. This was the same problem I was having at the base of 15 foot boulders! There had to be some way to design this problem away because there was so much redundancy. Performance climbing shoes shouldn’t engender compromise.

Determined not to compromise, I set out to pare down to the essentials of climbing shoes so that every “Why?” would have a reasonable answer. None of the glorious struggle that is climbing should be menial. No more fumbling at the base of a climb with shoes too tight to put on. No more multiple pairs to haul on trips and to the gym. SFT Climbing’s first shoe should perform unassumingly, in all different disciplines, just the way you want it.

You should be able to point to every single piece of the shoe and ask “Why?” and get a good answer from the designer.

The climbers who wear it should be able to ask that of me. About every material choice, every angle, and each mechanism.

Because this is the way SFT was born. My question is, Why compromise?


6 thoughts on “The Why Post

  1. Great to see the “why” behind the “what”. This does a great job at explaining the problem you’re trying to solve and why it matters.

    This definitely requires a bit of background in climbing (eg knowing what edging is) – which may be fine for your target market. I would suggest being more assertive (eg instead of “Why compromise” assert “Don’t compromise” or at least “You shouldn’t have to compromise”).

    Finally, I want to know the answer to your first question – why do you climb?

    • Thanks for the feedback! I like “Don’t compromise” and it keeps ringing in my head, so perhaps that’s a direction to explore.
      With respect to the first question, I started climbing because I couldn’t sleep at school since my brain wouldn’t turn off at night (or any other time). When climbing however, all my attention was focused on balance and executing each move perfectly, and this could drown out the mental stream of chatter. Plus, a good session at the wall would exhaust me.
      Now, I climb mostly to practice the creativity it requires (each bouldering route is called a “problem” for a reason) and the muscle discipline. It’s kind of like dancing.

  2. I’ve enjoyed reading the replies and comments as much as the blog itself.
    “Don’t compromise” is such a helpful lesson with respect to many disciplines and one I will practice in my work.
    Thank you so much for that feedback

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