Inaugural Psicobloc Open Series makes a splash

From Aug. 23-25, Montreal’s Parc Jean Drapeau hosted the Psicobloc Open Series—Canada’s first psicobloc competition. Psicobloc, also known as ‘deep-water soloing,’ is a form of rock climbing performed over a body of water without the use of bolts, ropes, or harnesses. If a climber loses their grip, they plummet—safely—into the deep water below.

Spectators gathered around the diving pool at the Jean Drapeau aquatic complex as pairs of competitors rocketed up the 55-foot wall. Between rounds, the public was allowed to use the main wall, a smaller bouldering wall, and a designated section of the pool. Food trucks, sponsor booths, yoga sessions, and slacklines kept athletes and onlookers occupied throughout the three-day event.

Psicobloc is just one of many practices that fall into rock climbing’s scope. Three other disciplines—bouldering, speed, and sport climbing—will get their Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, indicating a gradual increase in the sport’s popularity. But, while elite climbers push the boundaries of climbing, inexperienced spectators still can’t fully comprehend the sport. Ulric Rousseau, a Psicobloc Open Series organizer, told The McGill Tribune that this disconnect makes it difficult for climbing to find a solid foothold in popular culture.  

“I started doing climbing competitions when I was 18 or 19, and it’s fun to compete, but as soon as you’re […] on the floor, I find it very boring,” Rousseau said. “If [spectators] don’t climb, [they] don’t understand that the climber is holding onto this super small hold, it’s overhung, and she’s been training for years and years and years.”

Rousseau hopes the psicobloc format will make climbing competitions more appealing to the general public.

“The difference with psicobloc is that […] it’s not [about route difficulty],” Rousseau said. “It’s a gladiator [match] where you have to beat your opponent in a speed competition up the wall with no protection [….] It’s skill, it’s mental, and the falls are incredible.”

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on the horizon, the climbing world is focused on the athletes who might finish on the podium. But Rousseau’s focus remains on accessibility and providing opportunities for climbers below the elite level.

“I’m actually more excited to have the weekend warrior […] coming to my event than anyone else, really, because this is what we’ve built it for,” Rousseau said. “We build it for the everyman or the everywoman. We put this competition together so that everyone who’s never really had access to this type of wall or competition can now actually do it.”

In addition to putting together an action-packed weekend, the event organizers established the Canadian Free Climbing Championship, a non-profit which aims to improve the sport’s accessibility. Climbing requires expensive safety equipment and training, which can prevent climbers from truly embracing the sport. Rousseau, who, himself, had a serendipitous introduction to climbing, hopes to provide the same opportunity to all kids.

“When I was in high school […], we had to do some community service […], and I volunteered to work at this fair,” Rousseau said. “I assisted the climbing instructor all weekend, and he saw some talent in me […], and maybe two or three years later, I was probably one of the best climbers on the east coast. It saved me a lot. I was a little troubled kid […], and it really saved me from that turmoil.”

Before the current competitors’ shoes had dried, Rousseau and the other organizers had already turned their sights to next year. With plans to expand to Squamish, British Columbia, and potentially other host cities, the Psicobloc Open Series is set to help spectators across Canada fall in love with the sport.

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