Population Growth in Sports

I went on a mountain bike ride yesterday. I rode up Tunnel Creek Road, in Incline Village, up to the Flume Trail. The last time I was on this road was more than fifteen years ago.

It was brutal.

When I did this ride in 1993, I did it every few days and I could get to the “top” without stopping. Yesterday’s ride was difficult and I had to stop to rest at least four times. When I got to the steepest section, it was hard to believe that I could have ever ridden up it.

But I made it.

A few things came to mind on this ride. As riders came down the hill, I thought about how people would sometimes leave a car at the bottom of Tunnel Creek Road and then get a lift to Spooner Summit where they would then ride to Incline Village along the Flume Trail. That ride has a slight uphill for about six miles, with some very steep sections, then the Flume Trail, which is level and flat. After that, there is a long downhill ride on Tunnel Creek Road to the car. Now days, there is a shuttle van and people take their full-suspension bikes on this ride without ever considering shuttling their own cars or maybe riding up Tunnel Creek Road. There is a café at the bottom where people can catch the shuttle and have a snack after their ride. In other words, the trail has become famous and well traveled compared to fifteen years ago. It was famous then but more so now.

I started rock climbing about 13 years ago. When I started that hobby, wire gate carabiners were a new thing. So were Dyneema and Spectra, a material similar to Kevlar used in nylon products. One old guy even suggested that I get some beefier gear because my carabiners were weak. Weak, my ass! He was old and just didn’t like new stuff. I love new stuff.

Anyhow, I didn’t see the birth of climbing gyms but I certainly saw them become mainstream. More and more grumpy hard-core climbers on the internet complained about how they wanted to quit climbing because there are so many noobs with shiny new gear going out and crowding their favorite spots. I was one of those noobs so I never had that feeling. I also never understood it; why would anyone quite they love just because someone they don’t know has shiny new gear and wants to have some fun?

I stated kayaking about six years ago. I think that I ended up being one of the noobs buying new gear and getting in over his head just like I did mountain biking and climbing. The only thing that made me different from the hard-core climbers/bikers/kayakers, and different from the yuppie wanna-be rich guys buying shiny new gear was that I take my hobbies seriously but I don’t care about how other people participate.

But enough of me and onto the point:

Many sports and hobbies seem to grow in an common manner; first, the activity has a small following of participants. Then some weekend-warrior types find out that it is a great activity. Finally, the activity ends up being a mainstream sport or hobby with cheaper new gear aimed at the casual participant and maybe some TV coverage. In rock climbing, the gear never got much cheaper and there is no such thing as casual gear. In biking and kayaking, there are vehicles that range in price from $150.00 to $6000.00, and that excludes the most high end elite stuff that can cost much more.

The Good

The good thing about the increased participation in a sport or hobby is the reduced price and availability of gear. That goes for maps and other information as well. I might someday want to take the shuttle with my bike to ride the Flume Trail from the top. But maybe not.

I also like climbing gyms. They are not rock climbing, but plastic climbing can be fun and is a lot of exercise. The fact is, I work in an office that is on the top floor of a health club and there is a climbing gym mere feet away from me. I mean that. the climbing wall is on the other side of my office wall!

Kayak prices also benefit from lots of participants.

The Bad

Crowds, injury, death. Those are the problems with a lot of people participating in any activity. Crowding is a simple side-effect of there being limit space and lots of people. Rock climbing and biking get the worst of this because there are just so many roads, trails, and climbable rocks, for everyone to share. At least with kayaking, if you paddle across Lake Tahoe, you will not encounter another kayaker out in the middle. I didn’t.

Injury and death occur because there is always some percentage of people who will fail. It’s not really their fault because everyone makes mistakes and someone is not going to get through it. Some might say that rock these activities also attract idiots once they start selling gear at Walmart. I’m not sure of this is true and there are no statistics to back up this claim.

The Fact

The fact is that anything fun will grow, and become more mainstream, and the adventurers will move away and find some new thing that sets them apart.  Is it bad? No. People need some adventure in their lives and if some weekend warrior noob bozo wants to get some climbing gear and get out on a real rock, I congratulate them. We need more people who understand and accept risk and less people who are cowards that want someone else to take care of them.