Climb Murfreesboro will be hosting the USA Climbing Collegiate Nationals on February 9th, and we couldn’t be more excited! And with that news, you may be wondering, “how do climbing competitions work anyway?”
Many new climbers aren’t sure how competitions work, who can sign up for them, and what sort of climbing they consist of. The answer to those questions can vary depending on the comp, but it isn’t too hard to understand once you’ve gone to a few yourself. Let’s start off with the basics.
What are the different types of competitions and who can compete?
The most popular competitions are USA Climbing comps. USA Climbing is a 501(c)3 non-profit that oversees competitive climbing in the United States. To compete in a USA Climbing competition, all you need is a USA Climbing membership, and you can get it through their website. You can also view all of their upcoming competitions, scores, and more.
Many times, local gyms will host their own competitions. For example, High Point Gym in Chattanooga usually hosts a bouldering competition every fall. Climb Nashville also hosts competitions, like the Hotter Than Chicken comp or the Donut Derby. These are usually better for beginners than a USA Climbing comp because sometimes you can compete within your skill level – beginner, intermediate, advanced, and open. To find these, you need to check your local gym’s website and social media pages.
Competitions will consist of bouldering, sport climbing, or speed climbing. Competitions in the fall will usually be bouldering, and in the spring it will usually be sport or speed climbing. For USA Climbing comps (especially collegiate) it will usually depend on the gym they are being hosted at.
So I’ve signed up, what happens when I get there and how do I win?
Once you’ve signed up for a competition, you’ll more than likely get a confirmation email. Hold on to this, sometimes you need it once you get to the comp! Same goes for your USA Climbing Membership – they will email you a membership number. You have to have this at any USA Climbing comp you go to.
When you get to the gym, you check in at the desk, and you’ll get a scorecard. For sport climbing or bouldering, it will have numbers listed, these correspond with a route or problem. They’ll also have points next to the numbers (for example: 1 – 100 points). You’ll also see that on the walls there will be numbers next to routes. The easiest route will have number 1, and the hardest route will have the highest number (this depends on how many routes they set). Basically, if you complete route 1, you get 100 points. If you complete route 2, you get 200 points, and so on. The point amount can change depending on the comp, but they tend to be by the hundred like in our example. For bouldering, they’ll usually take your hardest 5 problems. For sport climbing, it is usually your hardest 3 routes.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say I’m at a bouldering competition. I complete problem number 1, 3, 4, 11, 16, 9, and 13.
My score would be 400 + 900 +1,100 + 1,300 + 1,600 = 5, 300
Speed climbing is a little different. There will be 2-speed routes next to each other. Two people will get ready at the bottom, and when the buzzer goes off, you race to the top of the speed route. Judges will write down your time, and that’s it! It isn’t necessarily crucial to beat the person next to you, unless there are only two people competing, because everyone’s times get written down and the fastest time will win. If you do beat them though, you’ll know you have a faster time than them and you’re probably higher on the list. Some comps will let you do it twice and they’ll take the fastest time.
How does judging work?
Usually, comps will have two types of judging – peer judging and zone judging.
Peer judging is the most common, especially for local gym competitions. It is really based on the honor code. Your scorecard will have a box next to each number that says “attempts,” and two boxes for “initials.” The way this works is simple – you have two other competitors watch you climb a route, and when you get down, they put their initials to show that they watched you climb it. If you are at a competition using peer judging, make sure to ask people to watch you before you start climbing – it really sucks to finally get the problem you’ve been working on only to come down and no one saw you. And almost everyone is honest about it, they won’t sign if they didn’t see you. Many comps will let you have unlimited attempts at a problem or route, but they will be used if there is a tie with points.
Zone judging is exactly what it sounds like. The gym will be divided into different “zones.” Each zone has a judge – usually, just someone who works at the gym – and one person climbs in that zone at a time. If you complete the problem, they sign off on your scorecard and that’s it! If you don’t finish it, they’ll mark an attempt. If the comp is busy, sometimes judges will just hold on to your scorecard for you if you want to try your problem again, they’ll just put it on the bottom of their stack of scorecards.
So that’s it! Competitions can vary tremendously, so make sure you check out all of the details when you sign up. And when you get there, someone will always go over the rules with everyone before it starts, so don’t freak out about not knowing how something works. Everyone is really just there to have a good time, so don’t be nervous about climbing in front of people or asking questions!