"Black people don’t rock climb"

I recently came across this interview with the BOC (or Brothers of Climbing.) Seeing a group like this confront an extremely complex topic and seek to engage more minorities in climbing is really inspiring and refreshing. It’s no secret that people of color in climbing are widely unrepresented. 

I remember when I first started climbing and spent hours pouring over magazines and videos of athletes around the nation. The hot shots that dominated the media on the women’s side were, of course, Sasha Digiulian, Emily Harrington, Sierra Blair Coyle the “Alex’s” and Angie Payne. (As far as the men went, I obvi had eyez 4 no one but ~*Chris Sharma*~..) At one point, the thought did come to me that seemingly every professional climber was white with blond hair and skinny as a toothpick. For a slightly more muscular, afro-laden, mixed girl in North Carolina, there were many times when I felt out of place and like I could never be a “real climber” because I didn’t fit what seemed to be the perfect type or mold. I had way too much muscle to be really thin, was “tall” at 5’4″ and obviously didn’t have long flowing locks that looked salon-ready in every photo. I had a tight, curly bun on top of my head that had already started dreading from the time I got out of my car and walked to the first climb of the day.

The notion that one perfect type or look exists for climbers is obviously ridiculous. I also think things are changing; gyms are making climbing accessible in so many different areas, and with more and more people getting involved, an increase in diversity is inevitable. I wanted to highlight a few athletes and organizations that are inspiring to me personally and likely changing the way people think about both climbing and people of color in climbing.

Kai Lightner. By now everyone knows or has heard of Kai and his numerous climbing achievements both indoors and out. Aside from his obvious talents, he is one of the most humble and funny climbers I’ve had the chance to meet. I’ll never forget introducing him to a friend at the New River Gorge and Kai stunning my friend with his thoughtfulness by saying”Hello! How did your climbing go today?” 

Megan Martin. What.a.beast. Also impressive on the rocks and in the competition scene, Megan is definitely one of my top climbing girl crushes! Here she is competing in the American Ninja Warrior and kickin arse. 

Outdoor Afro. A group that strives to debunk the myth that African Americans don’t enjoy being outside while promoting opportunities for people to connect and enjoy the outdoors. There are opportunities to get involved from NC to CA! 

Chelsea Griffie. I remember the first time seeing this photo of Chelsea climbing a steep, traditional style roof crack with brown skin and braids dangling in mid air thinking “Wow!” Obviously super articulate, I know, but it was the first time I’d seen a black woman in this way. Natural hair, climbing TRAD, on a roof. It really helped me in ways that would be hard to explain, but I’ll leave it at this: it was extremely nice to see. Chelsea is the first African American woman to climb El Capitain and also part of the Expedition Denali group (the first team of African Americans to reach America’s highest peak.)  

Chelsea Griffie. Photo source: Sierra Club

All this rambling to say, that it would be great to see more diversity in climbing. With climbing’s increasing popularity, I hope that it invites curiosity with people of all backgrounds, shapes, sizes and colors. It is so essential to see people that look like you thriving within a given hobby or space. It is so important to see yourself reflected in your passion.

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