Whether you’re into climbing, caving, kayaking, hiking or however you choose to get after adventure sports you’ve probably heard people talking about; “the community,” or “my tribe.” We love to form groups and circles around our interests with like minded enthusiastic people. The groups generally good intentions; they bring people together to share experiences, grow the sport, foster healthy competition and in some case lend legitimacy to the sport and help secure access for the activity. But, what happens when a community becomes too exclusive? At what point are we stopping the growth of our sports by intimidating would-be newcomers from even giving it a try?
Now it goes without saying that many adventure sports carry with them an inherent risk of serious injury or even death and part of being an ambassador for your community means protecting those would-be newcomers from hurting themselves and others. For instance, in climbing getting off route and taking a big whipper could result in not only injuring yourself but cleaning other climbers off the wall at the same time. It’s how we go about it that counts. Do you verbally accost these people and send them running back to their televisions or do you discuss the risks with them? Help to determine their skill level? Suggest an alternative point of entry to the sport? As practitioners of any level you are the face of your sports for those on the outside longingly looking in, so when you go chasing some someone off your favorite snowboard run they might walk away saying, “all snowboarders are assholes!” now you haven’t just turned off that one person you yelled at but potentially everyone they talk to about their experience trying snowboarding. Or worst they may adopt a defensive indignant posture and double down on the risky behavior.
I have personally been on both sides of the gated community; I’ve been intimidated by veterans of the sport and I’ve been on the inside witnessing others being turned away at the door like some exclusive night club. I certainly understand the mind-set and the inclination to bar these would-be pretenders to your sport. You’ve paid your dues, you’ve made it past the bouncer why shouldn’t they have to do the same? This is “your crag” or “your break” you “found it” and now you can’t even find a spot in the line-up! It’s important that we all remember our first days and how “fish out of water” we felt and how tenuous those first forays in a particular sport were. Maybe you had someone who reached out their hand to help mentor you in those early days? Or maybe you could simply be the one to spare them the hardships you went through when trying to enter the sport. As hard as it can be in the moment, we must try to remember that we don’t own those mountains or the ocean; adventurous sports are not ours alone these things belong to everyone and we were all new once.
Finally, there’s the issues of etiquette and these newbies just don’t know it. It can be really maddening hearing that group coming down the trail with a Bluetooth speaker blaring, building cairns all over the place or disturbing the natural surroundings. It is precisely for this reason that our communities must be open, and we must be ambassadors for our sports. When we are open and welcoming they will be more receptive of the accepted morays of the outdoor adventure world. Someone had to teach us to, “take only photographs,” and “leave only footprints,” after all. But, if deny everyone access to the outdoor world because they weren’t born with the proper etiquette that we ourselves had to learn from somewhere then the behavior will continue and we’ll be left grumbling in our ivory towers about how, “we’re the only ones who know when you should build a cairn!”
For as many reasons as there are in favor of gated communities the potential upside of an open community sure out weighs the potential downside. Being open not only grows the community but brings in outside experiences, perspectives, diversity and forces us to think differently and our community will grow not only in numbers but in overall quality. As the community grows the sport is taken further, additional areas are discovered or made accessible, the sports evolves and new gear and equipment is develops or becomes more readily available. We must remember that no one owns the outside world or adventure sports. We all started somewhere and we all had a first day. The best way to grow our outdoor adventure communities while safe guarding the standards we upholder is to start with ourselves as individuals. Each and every one of us must endeavor to be the best possible ambassadors for our sports, communities and tribes we can. We must all lead by example and typify the types of people we’d like to see on at the crag, in the line-up, on the hill or on the trail. We must be mentors for those coming behind us and continue to grow ourselves by striving to rise to the examples of those above us. If we all do our own small parts then we’ll each have a part in leaving behind a stronger, more open community for subsequent generations.
Todd Mederios - New York Ambassador