Aug 16, 2021 - Sports
How one St. Pete woman wants to make rock climbing more inclusive
Jiar Chiang, head setter at Vertical Ventures in St. Pete. Photo: Selene San Felice/Axios

Have you ever wondered how all those colorful plastic pieces get on the walls at rock climbing gyms? Who designs the routes and decides where pieces go?

  • "People think there’s computers but we just use our stupid little brains," says Jiar Chiang, head setter at Vertical Ventures in St. Pete.
  • And she’s drastically downplaying her role.

Why it matters: Over the last decade, queer women of color like Chiang have brought a new perspective to climbing that is completely changing the sport.

  • "Most of the first ascents outdoors were made by white men of a certain size," Chiang says. "But it’s not just all bulky bearded white guys."
  • She wants a wide variety of people in climbing and setting, so different body types and perspectives are represented.
  • "You can tell in gyms where there’s only male setters. Everything that’s hard is hard for the same reason."

The art of setting: A great climb, Chiang says, elicits powerful emotions.

  • Her two goals when setting up a route are to make it seem inviting and force people think outside the box. So even the most advanced climbers will want to try an easy route if it looks fun and interesting.
  • "Every climb has its own personality," Chiang says. "It’s not just getting from point A to point B. That's part of the artfulness."
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