Climbing is the new golf, and kiteboarding is the new yachting

The other day I was at Dogpatch Boulders and a realization struck me: At least for the tech industry, climbing is the new golf.

What does this mean? Well, for decades golf has been the sport of business. You could catch up with a business partner, pitch a deal, have a low-key brainstorming session, develop your plan to kick Larry off the board, etc. while hitting small balls in acres of green fields set aside from the real world.

Exclusive, collegial, challenging – but no one gets left behind, you can see why it ended up as the default game of business. It comes in handy as well with regular meetings in the office as a source of smalltalk. It is seen as so crucial to business success that there has been a strong movement by women to break into the golf clubhouse, which has only very recently gotten into the final stages.

So golf worked for the Mad-Men-era and the Boomer generation… but so did white picket fences and homophobia. As usual, the Millennials are doing their own thing, and it seems so far that the new ‘gioco franco’ for the tech-set is rock climbing. (‘Gioco franco’ is ‘lingua franca’, but for games. Yes, I just made it up, it’s not a real term… yet) By ‘rock climbing’, to be clear, I don’t mean upside-down halfway up K2 as much as hanging out at Mission Cliffs and pushing to go from a V2 to a V3 on the bouldering wall.

Climbing has the advantages in that it is:

  • cheaper, more inclusive, and doesn’t have the baggage of racism / classism / sexism etc (wow, that’s a lot of isms golf has issues with…)
  • more compact – we don’t live in the suburbs and our leisure activities need to fit into our urban footprint
  • less of a time commitment
  • more forgiving of people joining and leaving groups at the climbing gym

I’ve been at Mission Cliffs and have met old colleagues, friends from a different neighborhood, and new friends who have immediately tried to get me to join their startup. Most seem to be ‘techies’ in at least the loose sense of the word. It is definitely the top sport techies play, with the possible exception of hiking (I’d argue that hiking does not fit well as a business / networking activity, and is hard to classify as a ‘sport’).

Even though it may be better than golf, we should think about what it means that our industry is creating some norms that are very familiar from the old business world. Also, while cheaper than golfing, it’s still $80 / month – a barrier to someone who isn’t already making tech salaries, and requires you to be in decent shape to start getting on the wall. Lastly, while vastly better than golf in this regard, those who climb tend to match already-privileged demographics*.

Is it right that there should be a benefit to your career if you like to climb? Are all demographics equally prepared to hop onto the wall? Do you have a membership? Should you get one even if you’re not passionate about climbing? I don’t have the answers, but I’ll keep thinking about it.

Lastly, I’ve heard from a few sources that while climbing is the new golf, kiteboarding is the new yachting. Expensive, more exclusive, and apparently beloved by VCs. Somehow I’m less sure this trend will continue as strongly as climbing overtaking golf…

TL;DR: The role golf has played in business is now played by rock climbing. This is probably a good thing, but we should think about it anyway.

* Unfortunately I could not find solid data on this, but I think in this case we can go by common sense / vast overwhelming anecdotal evidence. Please point me in the direction of data if you have it.

P.S. I’ll also include the other perspective that, at least in Australia, road biking may actually be the new golf instead of climbing!

2 Comments

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  • 2014/04/28 - 8:37 AM | Permalink

    One more note might be a more fitness oriented culture than previous business environments. The current culture seems equally focused on personal improvement and business acumen. So I’d like to think that climbing fits more in line with those values than golf would have… Though maybe it also goes to show how we’d rather have an intense recreational activity than a nice day walking and talking at a golf course.

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