Indoor Climbing is Changing, and I Can’t Wait!

You may have seen that Rugged exhibited for the first time at the Association of British Climbing (ABC) annual conference recently; showing how we’re gamifying climbing walls with our interactive products. The aim: to increase accessibility, competitiveness and enjoyment for everyone.

Harry, Robin and I represented Rugged over the two days, and we were welcomed into the industry with open arms. So, if you’re reading this, and you met us at the conference; thank you! We gained some invaluable knowledge about the indoor climbing industry, which is fast-growing, dynamic, and striving to be better. As a climber myself, I was like a kid in a sweet shop!

The Indoor Climbing Industry is Growing, Fast

Indoor climbing is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, and the ABC Conference provides a space for climbers, gyms/centres and manufacturers to come together to share knowledge and show their latest ‘best bits’. With an estimated 1 million people climbing indoor each year, and this sport growing at a rate of 15-20% per annum, I think it’s fair to say that indoor climbing is reaching new heights (excuse the pun; I couldn’t resist).

Although heavily impacted by the pandemic, many climbing gyms saw a record number of customers through their doors this past summer. This, in part, could be due to people making the most of their freedom following lockdown, but the most likely explanation is because climbing made its Summer Olympics debut! If you’re a climber, you probably also received a text from your grandparents saying “I’m watching climbing on the TV, it’s actually amazing!” I certainly did.

The Olympics gave climbing the platform it needed to showcase what an exciting and unique sport it is. From the compulsive viewing of speed climbing to the strategic trickery of lead climbing, it had audiences hooked from Tokyo to Taunton. Many gyms are now capitalising on this increased awareness with growth and development plans; either with their current site, or expanding with new ones. The future of this sport looks extremely bright, and we can’t wait to be a part of it.

Increasing Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion

For us, one of the biggest take-home messages from the ABC was the industry’s awareness of the need to reach wider audiences, and increase diversity, accessibility and inclusion within the climbing community.

Despite its growth, the indoor climbing industry in most areas of the UK is dominated by white, adult males. Although popularity within minority groups is rising, more work must be done to give everybody an equal opportunity to access climbing. It was evident at the conference that there is a real urgency and importance being placed on this matter, with focused conversations addressing the root cause, and recommendations for action at all levels.

How this industry broadens its appeal is still up for grabs, but strides are already being made. Three climbing disciplines gained some exposure at the Olympics, and now it requires action to capitalise and maintain momentum. Focus towards specific beginner group sessions at local centres, marketing aimed at lower economic groups, job opportunities made available to non-climbers, and more TV coverage of national and international events are a few necessities required to reach the wider communities. 

At Rugged, we bring the fun. Our products are designed to be challenging, motivating, competitive, and most importantly enjoyable. High on our priority list is also inclusivity, so it was amazing to speak with an attendee at the conference who said, “you’ve designed the perfect product for visually impaired climbers!”. We are thrilled by the prospect of helping climbing gyms increase their appeal to larger audiences, and grow their community by breaking down participation barriers.   

The Future – Rugged-Eye View

Traditionally a place where only serious climbers would train, climbing gyms are now adapting their offering to cater for everybody – kids, beginners, casual come-and-goers, disabled, and of course, serious climbers.

New-build climbing gyms are including more than just bouldering and lead walls with training facilities. There’s also fun climbing, ninja courses, tag-arenas, parkour, soft play, trampolines, as well as some even offering outdoor activities such as high ropes, abseiling and obstacle courses.

This industry movement will largely increase the number of kids, young people and beginners participating in climbing; and we’re excited to be a part of the ride to the top! 

By Jack Stenner

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