WICS 2023 Recap
WICS 2023 brought together for the 3rd time an intimate group of top-level managers, gym owners, federation representatives, and other climbing industry professionals from all over the world. The summit featured a diverse range of activities, including insightful panel discussions and presentations, an exhilarating climbing competition with a strong focus on routesetting, a vibrant exhibition room displaying the latest climbing holds and volumes from top brands along with the latest technology in the autobelay devices and flooring systems and was topped off with the “notorious” Walltopia rooftop party. Let’s dive deeper into the key highlights of WICS 2023.
WICS 2023 was the first edition of the international gathering of climbing industry professionals since 2019 and it was a blast. Within the last 4 years, the world seems to have changed so much, marked by quite a few negative events, multiple business closures and fear for the future. However, the climbing industry proves to be on the rise in terms of growth, development and professionalization while still being in its romantic period. Climbing appears to be a sustainable business venture as both business owners and their clientele are passion-driven and their excitement for climbing doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It felt that the international scene had been eager to meet up and share their insights, findings, worries, challenges and solutions. WICS managed to bring so much positive energy and smiles through valuable networking and thoughtful insights!
Participation and Diversity
This year’s WICS was the most international compared to the previous two editions in 2018 and 2019. The summit featured representatives from over 30 countries including US, UK, China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Mexico, Qatar, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia. While the past editions may have felt more Europe- and US-dominated, this comes at no surprise as the markets in western countries are well established for decades now leading to a higher number of climbing gyms and hence, more climbing industry professionals who would be willing to travel the world. WICS 2023’s international appeal was evident, fostering a global exchange of ideas and knowledge. Participants represented various backgrounds, cultures, and climbing expertise made it a truly diverse and inclusive gathering of climbing aficionados.
WICS 2023 participation by region
The conference program of WICS 2023 addressed a wide array of topics crucial to the climbing industry. Sessions covered themes like the market state of the industry worldwide, the importance of introducing youth into climbing, the trends and good practices in route setting and the future of climbing competitions. With renowned experts as presenters, attendees gained valuable insights and actionable takeaways from a range of thought-provoking discussions and presentations.
The summit commenced with “Climbing Industry Research and Analysis” presented by Borislav Stefanov. This session delved into the latest research and analysis, providing a data-driven perspective on the current state and future projections of the industry. Later, “Global State of the Market”, a rather long but extremely curious session painted the big picture of where the industry stands in each region. Seasoned professionals, including Peter Zeidelhack, Mark Sebille, Zhu Haoqin, Paula Horwitz, Yasmin Gahtani, Ged MacDomhnaill, Halil Ngah, Henrik Suihkonen, and Killko Caballero, provided insights into the industry’s status in their respective countries, facilitating a comprehensive understanding of the worldwide climbing landscape.
The program continued with “Creating Generations of Climbers,” a panel discussion featuring Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, Alice Kao, and Remi Moehring. They explored the pivotal role of climbing gyms in popularizing the sport among children and youth, alongside effective strategies for retaining them as long-term customers. “Architectural Design of Climbing Gyms” brought together architectural experts Alessandro Usuelli, Vasil Sharlanov, Frank Bogerman, Jason Kehl, and Simon Brünner to discuss the latest trends in gym design. The session highlighted how space utilization reflects societal demands and interests in the climbing community and showed layout examples commenting on their effectiveness.
“Climbing Competitions” featured industry stalwarts Finuco Martinez, Stefano Ghisolfi, Alessandro Di Cato, Daniel Woods, and Charlie Boscoe, moderated by Danaan Markey. They provided valuable insights into the evolution of climbing competitions and offered their perspectives on the future trajectory of this exciting aspect of the sport.
Day 2 commenced with “Routesetting Trends,” a highly engaging session led by Peter Zeidelhack, Jan De Smit, Nataleigh Bell, Niklas Wiechmann, and Guillermo Burba. This discussion explored the dynamic changes in routesetting practices over the years and their implications for the climbing industry. The level of professionalism displayed on stage along with the client centric way of thinking fired up the audience and the talk extended to the visitor rows and way beyond the panel.
In “The Road from Climbing to Entrepreneurship,” Matilda Söderlund shared her experiences and the challenges of being both a professional climber and a successful gym owner, inspiring attendees with her journey. “Important Metrics to Understand Gym Performance” was presented by Jon Colbert, who discussed key performance indicators that gym owners must focus on to enhance revenue growth over time. With over 17 years of experience in accounting and finance and a background in a Fortune 500 company – one of the largest healthcare companies in the world, he presented a data-driven session that provided valuable insights to help climbing gyms improve their performance.
The last session of the summit brought on stage big gym chain owners with the aim to discuss the challenges they have faced. Facilitated by Walltopia CEO, Ivaylo Penchev, renowned for his provocative yet sincere and open speaking, the session led to unexpected directions and invited everyone willing to express their thoughts on stage over a glass of whiskey.
The summit’s diverse and thought-provoking conference program ensured that attendees gained a comprehensive understanding of the industry’s current landscape, the challenges it faces, and the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.
WICS 2023 proved to be immensely valuable to its attendees, offering an opportunity for networking, learning, and collaboration. Many participants expressed their appreciation for the platform, highlighting how the summit allowed them to forge new partnerships, strengthen existing connections, discuss challenges faced and potential solutions, and gain exposure to valuable insights in the professional climbing world.
``A small intimate group of experienced people who know what they are talking about``
Halil Ngah, founder and CEO of Climb Asia appreciated the quality of the attendees, who were well-versed in the climbing industry, “A small intimate group of experienced people who know what they are talking about”. He acknowledged the industry’s rapid evolution and advocated adopting successful tools from other sectors to propel it forward.
Yasmin Gahtani, head of Saudi Arabia Climbing and Hiking federation valued the networking opportunities and the insights gained from panel discussions. “The opportunity to talk to people with existing climbing gyms and learn what research they had to do to open new gyms” helped her realize opportunities and actionable steps that need to be taken in her country in order to develop the indoor climbing scene.
Jose Sausedo, owner of Adamanta Climbing in Mexico, said an actionable takeaway he’ll use in his gyms is more focus on the younger generation and recognizing their potential impact on the industry’s growth. “A takeaway for me, in particular in the insight from the Creating Generations of Climbers panel, focusing more on kids, because they are the future of climbing and also a big part of the industry’s revenue/profit”
Paula Horwitz, former head of Climbing Wall Association in the USA, found value in understanding various markets and their growth rates. “The focus on executive level, the expertise level at WICS is higher”, she commended about the audience she met at WICS.
Zhu Haoqin – Zac from Banana Climbing observed a distinctive openness and willingness to share among attendees, creating an environment of collaborative networking. He found WICS the most valuable of the recent industry events he has been to and willingly shared his insights about the industry development in China during the Global State of the Market panel.
Simon Bruenner from Blockhelden in Germany appreciated the presence of experienced individuals who were genuinely passionate and knowledgeable about the climbing industry. He particularly enjoyed the presentation of Yasmin Gahtani from the Saudi Arabia Climbing Federation. Simon valued the open and inclusive nature of the event, encouraged by Walltopia CEO Ivaylo Penchev, which stirred up active participation and expression of diverse perspectives.
Climbing holds exhibition
The exhibition at WICS 2023 showcased the latest designs of holds and volumes from eight top brands – HRT, Cheeta, Flathold, Ibex, Sup’R, Agripp, Kilter, Thrill Seeker and Under Blue Hold. These cutting-edge shapes presented exciting opportunities for creative routesetting. Climbing gym owners and route setters found immense value in the exhibition, discovering products that had the potential to elevate their climbing facilities and enhance the overall climbing experience for their patrons.The exhibition’s emphasis on quality and ingenuity reflected the industry’s commitment to continuous improvement and innovation in indoor climbing. The summit’s success was further bolstered by the support of its supplier sponsors – Composite-X, Headrush, HRT, Climbmat and GymRealm. These industry-leading companies not only contributed to the exhibition’s vibrancy but also played an instrumental role in elevating the overall quality of the event.
The kick-off evening for WICS 2023 featured a different kind of bouldering competition – Set&Send. With its was novel format the comp provided spotlight on routesetting as a major part of comps along with the athletes performance. Climbers and routesetters teamed up to work together on setting the problems on three signature Walltopia boulders featuring the latest panel designs from the company – the wooden boulder, the bamboo boulder and the stone boulder. There were 5 teams of a routesetter and a male and female climber, representing 5 different hold brands – Flathold, Kilter, Sup’R, Cheeta and HRT. Every team could forerun their own problems but not the other team’s problems. They could, however, watch them set and forerun, so the climbing was not onsight. Despite a couple of minor organizational flaws, the comp was a fun experience for both participants and the audience which didn’t stop cheering! The competition was also broadcasted live on YouTube narrated by the perfect commentary by world famous commentators Charlie Boscoe and Danaan Markey. The athletes gave a beyond-excellent performance with unexpected outcomes of the climb attempts and the upshot was not clear until the very last send! The final result is as follows:
- Lucia Dorfell
- Brooke Raboutou
- Cloe Coscoy
The awarding for the routesetting was separate and was decided by a gentlemen’s vote between all comp participants – setters and climbers. Each of them voted anonymously for their favorite problem in the following three categories:
Most creative problem (the one that was most difficult to read) – won by Dirk Uhlig – HRT holds
Most attractive problem (the one that was most attractive to watch) – won by Gautier Supper – Sup’R holds
Most aesthetic boulder (the best art piece on the walls) – also the most difficult to decide as apparently all problems looked amazing on the walls. Three setters split the prize – Tsukuru Hori (Cheeta holds), Dirk Uhlig (HRT) and Pierre Broyer (Flathold)
As the World Indoor Climbing Summit 2023 drew to a close, participants were treated to an unforgettable finale at the Walltopia headquarters. The closing rooftop pool party provided a well-deserved opportunity for attendees to unwind against the backdrop of breathtaking sunset city views. Laughter and joy filled the air as people sipped on refreshing drinks from an open bar. The relaxed atmosphere allowed for more informal conversations and connections, bringing together climbing enthusiasts and industry professionals in a casual setting. Some attendees couldn’t resist the temptation of the inviting pool and jumped in for a refreshing swim. As the evening progressed, the party seamlessly transitioned indoors and the celebration continued well into the early hours of the next day, marking a memorable conclusion to the summit and leaving everyone with cherished memories and strengthened bonds.
In conclusion, the World Indoor Climbing Summit 2023 was a resounding success, leaving a lasting impact on the climbing industry professionals. The summit’s international appeal fostered a global exchange of ideas, promoting collaboration and networking among industry professionals. From the distance of time we could conclude that the topics discussed haven’t changed over the years but the major observation is that the level of conversation has evolved significantly in a more professional level. The climbing industry is now a lot more customer-oriented compared to the first WICS edition in 2018 and is highly focused on providing top quality service to the regulars leading the industry to a grown-up stage while preserving its romanticism and passion about the sport. Together, we proved that the unity of climbing is stronger than the cultural differences worldwide as we all share the same joys, excitements, and challenges that come along with being a part of a niche passion-driven industry such as climbing.
WICS would like to sincerely thank all the attendees, speakers, and participants who made the World Indoor Climbing Summit (WICS) 2023 such a significant networking event for the indoor climbing industry. Your valuable insights and contributions during the engaging discussions and presentations were instrumental in shaping the future of our industry. We also extend our gratitude to our sponsors and partners for their support in bringing WICS 2023 to life.