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Episode 4
New Years Comp, 2015
Story and Graphic by Aaron Wilcher

     In yet another push to boost climbing’s appeal in the public eye, the Just Amazing Bouldering Spectacle (JABS) began the New Year by announcing a partnership with Gilligan Murdoch’s ESPN 6. The company will host a five-event comp series to be aired with the thirty-first Quintuple-X Games to take place this fall.
     The event promises to surpass the levels of danger seen in recent years. In an effort to reverse the climbing gear and gym industry's harsh decline in sustainable sales and membership numbers--the result of saturated investment in the fifteen years prior--in 2010, the JABS decided to increase the top out height regulations to twenty-five feet. The next year, the number increased to thirty feet, and now there are no height regulations at all.
     The regulation removal gave rise to the so-called, "Breakneck Bouldering Reality Show," hosted last year by Jerry Springer II. The show was pulled by ESPN 5 after an incident where the old-schooler Adam Stick flew off the handle and hit Springer over the head with a folding chair during a taping of the "You're Daddy Spots Worse Than Your Momma" show last July. Neither Springer nor Stick was available for comment.
     Many in the entertainment and manufacturing sectors of the climbing industry are ecstatic about the changes to take place on the comp circuit. "It should be really exciting, featuring new levels of risk never seen before by the standards of indoor or outdoor climbing," said Candi Lauper, the event's organizer and marketing director of JABS. "The only way that climbing can be interesting, even in the smallest way, is if a fall equals serious injury," she said.

      Angelina Pleasure, having achieved the plastic-equivalent status of a Lynda Mesa of yesteryear (now with twenty-nine straight victories in the World Championship of Polyethylene), agreed. "Even though grading scales had to be upped in the last ten years, I'm not really sure anyone, male or female, can ever surpass my new solo route, Ridiculously Insane So Don’t Even Try It, which goes at 5.18 a, V19+, E14, A9, Very Very Very Scary, topping out at 340 feet in the elevator shaft of the Sears Tower. The only way to make extreme climbing work is if the falls are really bad, the landings so horrible that you're bound to be killed or seriously maimed."
     In addition to increasing top-out heights, other factors have been changed adding to the danger involved. Concurrent with the removal of top-out regulations, several bouldering competition promotion companies added hazards to the fall. Pull Down, Fall Off Productions (PDFOP) set the standards for the industry when three years ago it added broken glass on a bed of nails to the landings of its comp problems. Never short of bling bling, Chocolate Bobby, PDFOP's founder, noted the effects of his company's innovations. "We basically put the crash pad industry out of business," he said.
     The JABS has had some serious competition with its rivals and enters its partnership with Murdoch's ESPN determined to set a new standard in spectacle, excitement, and risk. Though bound by a hush-hush agreement, the JABS's lead route setter, Reel N. Howl, was able to release his design on one of the XXXXX Games' Semi Final problems for this frb.com exclusive. Here is his drawing.

Course Overview
Semi-Finals by Reel N. Howl

      These developments, however, are not without their detractors. Krystal Baller and Nappy Kat, spokespersons for the human right's organization, the Center for Sanity and Good Judgment, a strong opponent of bull fighting, voiced strong concern for the climbers' safety and made charges with regard to the sea creatures slated for use. “This is outrageous,” said Kat. “It turns seasoned athletes into no more than a tail and ears. What’s next, Gilligan Murdoch in a tight-fitting sequin outfit prancing around carrying the dismembered leg of Adam Stick with mustard on it?”

“Moreover, the use of sharks is an abominable animal rights abuse,” added Baller" Still, the voices of reason are unlikely to have much effect in the face of the market's hope of triumph with ultra extreme bouldering. So far, despite the last decade's profit losses, the radicalized comps and renewed television coverage have spawned an upturn in gear sales, gym memberships, and tour packages in the last two years.
     Ironically, this market upturn is part and parcel of another trend at the opposite end of the ability scale. The new extreme end of the bouldering scene has been matched by another mission to broaden the business models of climbing's entertainment, tourism, and manufacturing sectors.
     "The new model is accessibility," said Frank Tycoon, CFO of Denver's newest climbing facility, "Jug'n and Cruis'n" a new 195,000 square foot gym, whose majority of routes fall in the 5.4 to 5.6 range. "The vicious V17 minority is great for advertising, but how many people do you really think aspire to do 50 foot highballs over a shark tank? No, our ideal customer is the McDonalds armchair daddy who's going to brag to his buddies over a beer in our café about how he toproped a lowangle 5.4," said Tycoon.
     Whatever the outcome for these businesses, the new JABS series promises to be a bloodthirsty smorgasbord. Enthusiasts will get out their remotes in droves. Competitors will busy themselves polishing up their wire mesh capri pants. It will assuredly raise the bar of high performance comps, if any of the competitors live past the elimination round.

      Stay tuned and Happy New Year.

* This story is based on a conversation with the alpinist Fabrizio Zangrilli.

Aaron Wilcher
early January, 2005


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