Friday, May 7, 2010

Listen Up! Will Gadd on Grades/Ratings

There's a great op/ed piece in this May's issue of explore (Canadian outdoor mag) by Will Gadd about why grades don't matter in outdoor sports.

This may seem counter intuitive from a guy who just proposed a grade of WI10 for a new ice climb Spray On, but listen to his reasoning:
By rating something so difficult, I made all the other ice climbs in the world sound relatively simple, and therefore took bragging and posing rights away form those doing the climbs. Which is pretty much exactly what I meant to do. (We named the route Spray On not only because it was created by spray from a waterfall , but also because in climbing, "spraying" refers to bragging about a route.
He makes a good point about ratings systems as a whole:
For years now, outdoor athletes (especially men) have been applying grades to their most difficult accomplishments. The purpose of these ratings, of course, is to show how badass we are based on what we've done. The problem is that at the top levels, these outdoor grades are starting to fail us; the comparison system is breaking down.

Let's take kayaking as an example. The whitewater class used to go from class I (gently moving water) to class VI (assured death), but many of the rapids that were previously rated class VI are now run daily by second-year boaters. Meanwhile, in the last 20 years, high-end kayakers have taken the standards of whitewater and punted them through the stratosphere. A kid just ran a 198-foot waterfall. How do you grade that?

The kayaking solution has been to simply ignore the upper grades. I haven't read a rating on a high-end paddling run in years; it's assumed to be class rad. What really matters is how cool the story, the photos and the video are. Now, this hasn't stopped the dick-measuring contests about which run is the sickest, but it has put the emphasis more on the experience than the grade. A multi-day first descent of a remote river with numerous aesthetic waterfalls is cooler than a single-day run down a river with one nice waterfall, even though both may be more or less equal technically. The experience trumps the measurable.

As Will also mentions, surfers operate on this principle of experience trumping grade. Wave size isn't irrelevant, but it's what you do on the wave that matters. And as surfers of all levels have heard time and time again, the best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun.

We have tremendous respect for Will Gadd, his climbing and paragliding abilities, the spirit/humor with which he does it all, and his innovative style of adventure. It will takes athletes like him, who are at the top of their sport, to change the general testosterone attitude of adreneline sports. And we wish him good luck!


No comments: