Wear­ing a Hel­met Is Cool

Gripped - - EDITORIAL - Bran­don Pul­lan

Ever since my folks took me skat­ing, I’ve known that hel­mets are a part of hockey. Grow­ing up in On­tario, I played out­side when­ever I could, whether it was base­ball, ski­ing or rid­ing a bike. I was taught that when you move fast or have hard things com­ing to­wards you, the best thing to do is to wear a hel­met. So why isn’t it the same for climb­ing?

At one point, climb­ing was viewed by many as a soul­ful pur­suit of the so­cial out­casts. And while it sort of still is, there are more rules in 2018 than there were in 1988. Some ar­eas re­quire you to regis­ter and pay for the day. Some have strict where-to-park guide­lines and you can’t just sleep in your van wher­ever you want. Camp­fires are banned most sum­mers be­cause of the fire dan­ger. And you can’t num­ber-two on the wall and hope no one finds it, some­one will. Climb­ing, as a sport, has changed.

I can still pic­ture Dan Os­man’s long hair f low­ing as he soloed At­lantis i n The Nee­dles and Lynn Hill’s, as she jammed and smeared the first free as­cent of The Nose. Those glo­ri­ous heads of hair, free to f low with­out a heavy hel­met. It’s hard to imag­ine iconic rock climb­ing pho­tos where the climber is wear­ing a hel­met, un­less the climb is R- or X-rated. There was a time when skiers and hockey play­ers didn’t wear hel­mets ei­ther, not un­til the equip­ment and sport evolved.

I heard of 10 ac­ci­dents this sum­mer where the lead climber f lipped and hit their head on the ground or the wall. Luck­ily, they were all wear­ing a hel­met. When I started climb­ing, I learned from the Alpine Club of Canada that hel­mets were a must. As I moved away from the club and be­gan climb­ing with hel­met-less part­ners, I, too, stopped wear­ing one. I came to the be­lief that I was “freer” with­out chin straps and head­lamp clips weigh­ing me down. When I be­came a rock climb­ing guide with the As­so­ci­a­tion of Cana­dian Moun­tain Guides, I re­al­ized that feel­ing “free” wasn’t worth the risk.

In 2018, a num­ber of com­pa­nies are re­leas­ing hel­mets that chal­lenge cur­rent de­signs and beef up pro­tec­tion on the sides and backs. They are light, ven­ti­lated, in­ex­pen­sive and, com­pared to other sports’ hel­mets, they look cool. I be­lieve that climb­ing is at that point, like ski­ing and hockey was, when hel­mets be­come a part of the sport. So, whether you’re crag­ging or big walling, wear a hel­met and en­cour­age new climbers to do the same.

You might never take a rock off the head or f lip and hit the ground. But look at how many kilo­me­tres you’ve driven in a car and worn a seat­belt with­out any­thing hap­pen­ing. There’s al­ways the pos­si­bil­ity you slip, the rope sneaks be­hind your leg and you’re dead. Do you re­ally want your last thought to be, “shit, no hel­met?” Or worse, “Damn, Bran­don was right.”

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