Wearing a Helmet Is Cool
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.”