Friday, July 27, 2012

Wine Country Boulder Brawl 2012: Review

I’ve spent the last six days in an overheated climbing gym, moving up and down ladders, breathing in chalk, drinking too much coffee, falling off everything, staying up till 3 a.m., and attempting to throw a grassroots bouldering competition for v13 climbers. Saturday night, both local enthusiasts and visiting professional climbers gathered in Napa, CA to compete for a $2,000 cash purse at the second annual Wine Country Boulder Brawl. My goal for this competition is simple: help climbing grow.
Co-Founder of the WCBB, Alex Biale, falls asleep with the master list of problems.

The idea to host a grassroots climbing competition stemmed from the hearts and minds of two local climbers (Alex Biale and Nolan Kloer) who simply wanted to give back to the community that has given them so much. After last year’s event, my friend/partner and I decided we wanted to morph this local competition into a national event. The West Coast does not have any competition series that draw in climbers like Daniel Woods, Carlo Traversi, Rob D, etc., so why not start one? This year’s WCBB was our attempt at hosting a bouldering competition for top tier athletes in CA. (We figured to start in our own state, then work our way towards Mr. Woods). 
I could write an entire piece on the six days leading up to the event, but it would take me too long to write it and it would take you way too long to read it. I learned more about route setting, event planning, networking, marketing, time management, friendships, insomnia, the positive and negative effects of electronic music, how many bottles of wine it takes for me to be able to do three one-arm pull-ups, and even some business savvy in that one week than I have working on any other event. 
Head Setter, Jake Novotny, replenishes with some Napa Valey goodness after setting V13

Throughout the week, the gym kept getting phone calls from professional climbers asking things like, “Where is the nearest airport?” and “How much money does Men’s 1st Place get?”. Our crew began to step up the levels of difficulty of our setting as soon as we heard that climbers like Michael and Julian Bautista were coming. After hours and hours and hours of setting, forerunning, tweaking, re-setting, drinking red wine, and more forerunning, we were ready.  
On the day of the event, everyone was getting excited, well, I wasn’t. See, a few of my friends from the bay area told me they were coming, and those friends happen to be some of the strongest climbers in the U.S. So, the Wine Country Boulder Brawl did not start, in my eyes, until one of them walked through the doors. Within minutes, Brian Hedrick walked into my climbing gym. Now, if you’re in the know, you’ve probably heard of Brian Hedrick. He’ll hate that I’m bragging about him online, but fuck it. 

Brian Hedrick (Cuz) is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s strongest boulderers. He also happens to be one of the most humble climbers I know. He’s climbed The Swarm (V14), The Mandala SDS (V13), and made the second ascent of Chris Sharma’s infamous The Impossible Traverse (V13) in Berkeley. Right? Sorry Brian. 
And now the name dropping begins...
This past Bishop season, I met Max Zolotukhin on one of my projects, Xavier’s Roof. I had obviously seen videos and read news articles about things he’s done, so when he and his crew walked up to the problem I was trying, I got all kinds of excited. With style, he sent it first go. I remember his girlfriend and my friend, Natasha Barnes, saying, “That was hot.” I met them both a few more times throughout the season, and the same reoccurring trend kept happening, I would fail on my project, Max would send it immediately, and Natasha would say under her breath, “That was hot.”
Natasha and I met a few years ago in Yosemite Valley. I’ve seen her periodically throughout the years at different bouldering locations, and I’ve obviously seen the videos. This girl has been crushing the national comp scene lately, as well as climbing some inspiring lines outside... Drive On (V11) in Yosemite...
If you follow the comp scene, you’ve heard of Michael and Julian Bautista. These brothers come from the L.A. area and are absolute monsters on the wall. These kids walk into a comp and everyone immediately goes, “Well, there goes 1st and 2nd. Maybe I can get 3rd?” I had not met them before the comp, but they both turned out to be some of the most down-to-earth guys I’ve met in this little world of climbing competitions. Humble, positive, and strong as balls. Thanks for coming guys!
Last year’s event was the first time I had ever met Giovanni Traversi. Giovanni (G.), brother to Carlo Traversi, hails from Santa Rosa and is just as impressive as his brother on the rock. Watching G. absolutely destroy the competition last year left the Napa crew with enough psyche to last for the rest of the year. His reserved and soft-spoken nature exists in complete contrast to his ability to take complete ownership of every problem he tries. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a powerful climber move with such control. If you’ve seen him climb, you know what I mean. G., you’re a boss. 
The point I am trying to make by listing all these climbers and the few times I’ve met them is this: All it took to rally such a solid crew of strong climbers to a local climbing competition was a little bit of prize money and cashing in on some newly-formed friendships. I am convinced that the climbing community is separated by a mere one degree of separation, because with a few Facebook invites and text messages, I had some of the strongest boulderers in our sport climbing at my comp. 
To all of the athletes who made this year’s Wine Country Boulder Brawl a show for not only myself, but the crowd and the community, thank you.

As for the event itself, it was exactly what I wanted/needed it to be. All the competitors had a great time and continued to compliment the setters on the quality of their problems. This sort of acknowledgment does not go unnoticed. Finals was a blast, especially for the women. Our crew of setters did a perfect job of creating unique problems with showy cruxes for the crowd to enjoy, and their difficulty levels were right where they needed to be. 
My favorite moment was watching Natasha Barnes flash the last women’s problem, Finals #3. When she made it past the move her predecessor fell on, I began screaming, “Flash this! C’mon ‘Tash, FLASH IT!!” I might have gotten a little too excited. Sure enough, she hit the finish hold, maintained control, and swung high above the crowd for the win. When a finalist is able to flash (climb first try) the last problem in the comp for a win, you know you did something right. Good job Natasha.

Female Finalists! 
On the men’s side, things did not work out as well. Don’t get me wrong all the problems in finals were amazing, they were just way too hard. The three main setters for this comp were Jake Novotny, Jonah Ferohn, and myself, Alex Biale. None of us climb above V11, and very rarely do we ever accomplish that grade. I’m currently dealing with the worst finger injury I’ve ever had which disables me from using my left hand. Jake climbs outside more than anyone I know, and doesn’t necessarily climb in the gym a whole lot, and Jonah sets way harder than he climbs. This is to say, we all know how to set quality problems, but there is no way in hell we can climb the stuff these previously mentioned climbers can. 
When I found out that G., Max, Brian, and the Bautista brothers were all coming to our comp, I had a sit-down with the setters. We decided we needed to set boulder problems that were much harder. I’ve seen Brian Hedrick piss all over The Mandala (V12) as a warm up. I’ve seen Max Zolotukhin absolutely destroy The Buttermilker SDS (V13). I know what G. can do and I’ve seen both the Bautistas come agonizingly close to beating Daniel Woods in bouldering comps. THESE GUYS ARE STRONG! Logically, Jake and I thought that if we could do every move on the problems with some decent links, these guys could climb them, and potentially flash them. So, after six days of setting and forerunning, every move on every problem went down, either by Jake or myself, we did them all. Sadly, we underestimated our strength and ended up completely sandbagging the male finalists. SORRY! 

Male Finalists!
I had an amazing time watching them thrash on our boulder problems, but not one of the male finalists were able to complete any of the three men’s finals problems. This is not what a head setter wants, and neither does the crowd. It was cool for Jake and I to watch strong climbers like Max climb to the same spot as us on the problems, but it was disappointing knowing that we set them too hard, and that no one was topping out on the guy’s side. Oh well, we learned a lesson.
After the comp was over, I made a point to talk with each of the top male finalists and ask questions about ways to improve for next year, ways to make finals more enjoyable and more exciting. To my surprise, they all stuck around and offered friendly advice that will help make next year’s event even better. So, once again, thanks guys.
The Bay Area couple, Max Zolotukhin and Natasha Barnes, ended up walking away in first place for men and women respectively, both earning $700 in cash. For the full results, visit The Wine Country Boulder Brawl on Facebook.

Natasha Barnes and Max Zolotukhin, winners of the 2012 Wine Country Boulder Brawl. Thanks guys!

That was all a very long and drawn out way of saying thank you to our local heros and role models. While they might be friends and fellow climbers, they’re also at the forefront of our sport, which means the rest of us get to look up to them.
The Wine Country Boulder Brawl started off as a way of saying thank you to a man and community who helped two kids fall in love with climbing. Over the past couple years, our simple thank you has transformed into a dream of one day hosting a bouldering competition/festival that will inspire and rally the climbing community on a national level. Keep an eye out for next year’s event, I promise you, it will be worth the plane ticket.

This event would not have been possible without the support of a small but core group of like-minded individuals. Thank you to our sponsors:

Andrew McDermott, Dwayne Robertson, Robert Biale Vineyards, Prana, Raw Revolution Energy Bars, Evolv

Thank you to all the volunteer staff. Without you, I'd still be stuck on setting Men's #3:

Jake Novotny, Jonah Farhion, Craig Cooledge, Ryan Cooledge, Mrs. Cooledge, Mr. & Mrs. Kloer, Andrew Zaslove.

Nolan, word. 

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