Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sponsors, Knee, Blacking Out

June 11th note--I just had a long call with David, learned a lot, and will fit those pieces together once I also talk with a few other people involved. There is both more and less to this story.

I'm chipping (wait, bad word!) away at the Lama/Patagonia cluster and slowly learning some new information. Lama and I will hopefully Skype tomorrow, bits and pieces of other info coming in but not enough to have a real understanding of what's going on. The comments on the last post have been lively, thanks for those. One misconception I'd like to clear up is that Red Bull (or any sponsor) somehow tells Lama, me or any of their athletes what to do in our sports. One person posed a question in the comments about I would do if Red Bull told me to bolt a crack. The idea is, to me, just wrong. None of my sponsors would think of telling me how to do a climb (they might justifiably crucify me if I were to add a bunch of bolts to an existing route. Bill B. at Black Diamond would likely hunt me down and kill me...). Seriously, I can't imagine that scenario. Some likely won't believe that comment, but that's honestly how it is.

How it works with athletes and sponsors most of the time is that an athlete gets a cool idea, works to find the money if required, and then goes and tries it. Most of these ideas are so out there that the sponsor could never think it up ("Hey, Will, go climb ice in abandoned mines, yeah, that'll be great! Ha ha...") I have never, in going on 20 years of relationships with sponsors, had a sponsor tell me how to climb (I have been sent to obscure places to drink heavily with locals and show pictures, been asked to do TV shows, some comps and clinics and other fun stuff, etc, but in terms of how or where to climb something, not once.). I'll be extremely surprised (but won't totally rule it out, weird stuff happens) if whatever happened in Patagonia had anything to do with a sponsor telling the guides or Lama how to do their jobs; that's directly on their heads alone, but as Red Bull paid for the trip the actions of those on the trip justifiably reflect onto the sponsor. Even if a sponsor somehow did ask an athlete to bolt a crack the athlete should say, "No," and explain why that would be a really bad move. No thinking sponsor wants their athletes to do stupid stuff that will reflect poorly on the company ("Say, Tiger, would you mind going out and having a bunch of affairs with strippers?"), it just doesn't make sense. This is partly why the situation in Patagonia is so puzzling to me; I know RB wouldn't say, "bolt!," so who was on the ground and what in the hell were they thinking? I'm really looking forward to the conversation with Lama. I really want to know how a cool idea could turn into such a cluster, and if there's a way to get a less-bad result out of it (and I agree that doing something positive for the Patagonia environment sounds like a good idea, but I'd want to hear more from locals who actually know the place, it's theirs).

Planes: I had a cool opportunity last weekend to go and watch the Red Bull Air Races in the scenic (well, not wildly scenic) town of Windsor, Ontario (Interestingly, Michael Kennedy, well-known alpinist and publisher, somehow grew up there, that's like a golfer from Antarctica or something, need to get that story one day). Windsor sits directly across the water from Detroit; you can see the GM logo on their building on the detroit side clearly. Both towns are getting hammered by the recession. But the flying was insanely cool to watch, pilots ripping along at over 300K only a few meters above the water (one pilot hit the water and flew out, crazy! 1:00 minute in the clip). Anyhow, I had an amazing opportunity to go for a ride in a two-place aerobatic plane with one of the best pilots in the game, the opening loops, snap rolls etc. were cool, but it was insane to nearly black out due to the Gs. Last time I nearly blacked out in the air was not good, and for different reasons. Anyhow, when you're doing a really high-speed high bank-angle turn and holding it for a long time the blood flow to your head doesn't work so well. But if you squeeze your abs, legs, etc. then you can keep blood moving through your head. It's disconcerting to see the blackness creeping in from the sides of your vision, and then squeezing your legs and having it recede. I didn't pass out, and I feel like I learned a lot that could be helpful in that situation in the future...

Knee: I've been climbing and training a bunch, which has been great, but I've had this swollen knee thing going for about six months. Finally went in yesterday and got the bursa on my right knee cap drained, all-time cool/gross experience to get the orange-sized lump taken down to something more manageable! I'm sore today, but I don't have my jiggly Jello friend hanging off my leg anymore!


Kim Graves said...

Hi Will,

Since I’m the one who asked the question about “bolting the crack” let me first apologize to you for pushing that button and getting that wrong. It’s good and reassuring to know that your sponsors don’t and wouldn't ask you to do such a thing.

So, I ask you and others since these things seem to happen with some regularity, why do they happen?

Dean Potter climbed Delicate Arch with a film crew in tow; A Red Bull crew cut trees down at a base jump take off point to get a shot; As Lama tries to free the Compressor Route the film crew puts in 60 bolts; Lama grid bolts to put up new lines. And not just these excesses. It seems like everyone has a camera/video recorder on there helmet. Colin Haley video’s his solos of alpine climbs. Steph Davis regularly posts up video of her base jumps and her 5-10 parachute. A couple of weeks ago there was a new record in the Alps soloing something that I’ve forgotten filmed all the way.

Dean Potter in his “apology” candidly said: “Others have accused me of climbing the arch as a publicity stunt. As a professional athlete, recognition of what I do is part of the job.” Without ‘the shot’, professional athletes don’t have a job. Patagonia denied knowing anything about the Delicate Arch plans, but the film crew was an expense for Potter. Even if he has an expense account from his sponsors, it’s hard to believe that he would spend the money without some assurance that he could get the money back.

So even if Red Bull, Patagonia, TNF, BD doesn’t tell its athletes to “bolt the crack” it’s inconceivable that the athletes are not financially accountable for their expenses. I'm sure RB didn't know about the specifics of putting in 60 bolts to film Lama, but I’m also sure they knew and pre-approved the expenses for the trip. It’s “travel and expense”. And because of this, it is RB’s shoot. It is up to RB or Patagonia to say “no damage” or these are the “rules of conduct.”

Even though you won’t “do it,” Dean Potter and David Lama and others did. It’s hard to say no and to have the situational awareness to know what’s going on at all times. Shit like this happens and will continue to happen until we as a community say “no.” I was there in the ‘72 when Chouinard/Frost brought out their first set of nuts and Doug Robinson wrote his clean-climbing essay. It seemed like overnight - pins were simply not seen at the Gunks and Seneca Rocks where I was climbing.

I admit that I join in on the thrill of the good video and great shot. Renan Ozturk and Cory Richards video of their trip to Tawoche was mind-bendingly beautiful. My wife – a non-climber – would join me to watch every new dispatch.

Let me end this rant by saying the people I admire most are the ones we never hear of. There are rumors of a lot of activity in Nepal and Tibet that goes completely unreported because it’s done without permits which are expensive and hard to get. Those crews go in under the radar and do their thing and then they go home and back to their day jobs - no “shots”; expenses out of their own pocket. Climbing for me is, in the end, a private affair. These rumors, even if untrue, remind me of that.

Looking forward to hearing your further reports.

Best, Kim

Will Gadd said...

Hi Kim, I think we're much more in agreement than not. As a baseline, film crews and/or athletes that screw up natural places are should be held accountable. Cool?

Lama had a pro crew, but every other example you mention was, as far as I know, done by friends shooting friends or themselves. I'll leg it go at that.

Expense accounts etc? Not in climbing, ha ha!

I also wouldn't hold up people poaching peaks in Nepal as a "good" thing. Long story on that, but it's not something I support in general.

More on this later.