Sports

How The North Face is Promoting Inclusivity Through Climbing

Gabriel Filippi at the Psicobloc Open Series event [photos: Holly Walker]

The sport of climbing has been on the rise at a rapid pace in recent years. According to Google Trends search data shows an interest for indoor climbing and the term “climbing gym” has increased steadily over the last five years

The sport will see its debut soon at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, featuring three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing. While climbing may once have been cloaked in secrecy due to its remote nature outdoors, the growing number of indoor climbing gyms and competitions like Psicobloc Open series by The North Face has brought the sport to the forefront.

The North Face brought the Psicobloc Open Series competition to Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau Aquatic Complex for its Canadian debut earlier this year. The event is an extreme free-climbing competition that is performed without a rope or a net. Two competitors race up an overhanging 55-foot wall above a deep-water pool — those that can’t quite make the climb have a safe but albeit shocking plummet to the water below.

While the sport is undeniably exciting, it’s the messaging behind it that is the most powerful — through the Walls Are Meant For Climbing campaign walls are seen as opportunities rather than obstacles with the hope to bring people together and foster community.

In addition to the competition, the brand also hosted local events at 240 climbing gyms around the world to mark Global Climbing Day. 

We chatted to Max Turcotte, senior brand and sports coordinator for The North Face Canada and Gabriel Filippi, North Face athlete and elite alpinist at the Psicobloc event in Montreal earlier this year about the sport of climbing, Global Climbing Day and the evolution of the North Face brand. 

Why was it important to bring Psicobloc to Canada?

Max: We had spoken with the event producer a few years back about bringing a version of Psicobloc to Canada. Since [North Face] is rooted in exploration and climbing, we saw the perfect fit.

Gabe: This competition is incredible. But it’s the community of the sport that makes it so powerful. You will see [at Psicobloc], professional athletes talking and climbing with spectators or young fans, or people who haven’t climbed before but that are curious, this is a place and a sport for everyone.

The North Face’s campaign Walls Are Meant For Climbing surrounds the concept of walls as opportunities rather than obstacles. Why was this important?

Max: In the political climate, there was a lot of negative talk around walls. We saw it as an opportunity to speak positively about [walls] and bring people together rather than apart.

We had launched the campaign called Walls Are Meant For Climbing around the same time the [Psicobloc] conversation started, in 2016. Around that time we were looking for a way to elevate our Global Climb Day and basically the brand’s experience around climbing and how to make it more accessible to the public. Psicobloc was the perfect climax of experiential events and tying the brand into climbing.

What is Global Climb Day?

Max: Global Climb Day happens every year around the 24th of August. What we do is globally, we partner with about 300 gyms around the world, where we open our doors on behalf of the North Face and introduce people to climbing free of charge. We want to get people excited and involved, and help break the barriers around going to a gym and having to get introduced to the sport. It makes it a lot more accessible for people and it’s a great campaign around uniting people with the conversation of walls instead of dividing them.

What makes the sport of climbing so unique?

Max: It’s one of persistence and one of community. It’s not the easiest sport at first. But it’s a great way to get people together and to challenge yourself.

Gabe: Climbing isn’t about whether you’re a boy or girl, short or tall, or any divisions. Climbing is for everyone. It is all about community and having fun. Sometimes everything is a competition — about being the best, but with climbing it is more about how you feel about yourself. You’re competing with yourself, it’s just as much mental as it is physical. You learn a lot about yourself.

Climbing is close to the heart of The North Face. With the sport moving into the Olympics in 2020, where do you see the future of the sport and the brand going?

Max: Climbing is at the core of our DNA. We’re going to continue to push climbing and put it at the forefront of who we are. We’re going to keep investing, supporting and propelling athletes forward. With it being in the Olympics, it’s an opportunity to make it more popular and bring it to the forefront of everyday consumers.