A big fan of climbing competitions, David Murray wanted to combine some of his favourite aspects of different competitions to create a new format that could be enjoyed by climbers with a range of abilities.
Climbing competitions typically fall under one of two formats, Murray explained: recreational scrambling events, or sanctioned SCBC event with finals, which he calls “the ultimate test of pressure.” For the Hangout Open, held earlier this month at the Hangout Climbing Centre in Duncan — which Murray co-owns with his wife, Kayla, and another couple, Tom and Jeanette Ristine — he combined the scoring system of elite events with the social aspect of scrambling, a format he had previously tried in Alberta.
“I took bits and pieces to create something unique,” he explains. “A unique experience for climbers and fans.
“We wanted to make the local climbers feel like stars. We wanted to give them all the hype and excitement that someone at a larger competition would get, without having to go to a larger competition.”
Six climbers from the original groups — 29 women and more than three dozen men — and eight from 24 junior entries reached their respective finals, with cash prizes on the line. At most elite events, climbers go into the gym one at a time, but in the Hangout Open, they were all in the room at the same time, watching each other try the course. Whoever solved a problem first received 1,000 points, followed by 400 for second, 200 for third, 100 for fourth and 50 for fifth. That way, the climbers learned by observing each other, while at the same time no one knew who was winning until the competition was over.
“They were essentially doing a climbing session with the five other best climbers,” Murray relates. “They’re working on it with the other best climbers, but with the stress of trying to be the best.
“The five or six people in each final felt the pressure. They knew they were involved in something special. Maybe one in each category would have had previous finals experience. We wanted someone to say, ‘Wow, I didn’t think I could do it.’”
The finals weren’t just a formality, either, as the top qualifiers in both the men’s and women’s division slipped out of the top three in the finals. And thanks to courses designed for male and female climbers regardless of age or size, some of the younger climbers contended alongside the adults; 14-year-old Nate Corsi won the men’s competition, and another 14-year-old, Kaia Lord, finished third in the women’s division. In the youth division, nine-year-old Kaylee Bamber placed fourth, ahead of several teenage boys.
The youth division was won by 10-year-old Marcus Lorence of Duncan, followed by Nico Schum (11) of Courtenay, Anderson McKenzie (12) of Victoria, Kaylee Bamber (9) of Duncan, Mia Ruhstaller (13) of Cumberland, Amelia Wood (13) of Courtenay, Ben McLeod (13) of Cowichan Bay, and Grant Parmar (12) of Duncan.
The women’s division was won by Kira Stewart of Victoria, followed by Amber Tomlinson of Lake Cowichan, Kaia Lord of Duncan, Ella Orcutt of Duncan, Kaitlyn Arrowsmith of Cowichan Bay, and Claudia Pampin of Victoria.
Corsi won the men’s division, followed by five local climbers: Marc Platt, Jack Whitney, Thomas Kolodinski, Jesse Popma and Evan Hales. Platt, Whitney, Popma and Hales are from Duncan, and Kolodinski is from Cobble Hill.
The competition, Murray says, was very well-received, and he gives a lot of credit for its success to Hangout employees, judges and course-setters.
“There were at least a dozen people who, if they weren’t there, it couldn’t have happened,” he says.
Murray wants the Hangout Open to become a “calendar event,” something for the community to look forward to and be proud of. He would also like to team up with other gyms on the Island to have a series of similar competitions.
Although the Hangout Open was the largest event the gym has put on since it opened, it wasn’t the first. The Hangout has hosted four competitions since it opened in early 2020.
“In two years, we’ve put on more competitions than all the other gyms on the Island combined, that I’m aware of.”
The Hangout is about more than just competitions, however. It is focused on being family-friendly and makes a strong effort to include female climbers. More than a third of the climbers at the Hangout are female, compared with an 72-28 split in the last statistics from the American Alpine Club. The routes themselves are created with both women and men in mind.
“Our climbs are actually designed to be approximately equally challenging,” Murray says. “It’s the hardest part of what we do and what makes us unique.”