When famed routesetter Jacky Godoffe released My Keys to Route Setting several years ago, the book was met with widespread acclaim. It offered readers a mix of intriguing autobiography (“When I was six years old, a doctor told my parents that my heart was damaged and that I would probably never practice any sport…”) and routesetting insights from Godoffe. Topics explored in My Keys to Route Setting included everything from grades to setting equipment, and the book instantly became something of a definitive text for setters around the world. Consequently, hard copies of the book sold out quickly, which only increased interest and demand—and made the book something of a collector’s item.
Fortunately, Godoffe has authored another book—More Keys to Route Setting—which expands on the concepts of that first book and will likely garner the same attention and acclaim. “I wrote the sequel of My Keys to Route Setting to dig deeper in our field,” Godoffe states on his website. “More keys, more information, more topics (mental process, para setting, prevention of injuries), additionally lots of essays written by women and men setters from all over the world to share our incredible passion.”
More Keys to Route Setting will undoubtedly sell out quickly too, so be sure to order a copy through Godoffe’s website; Godoffe says, “The idea to be connected personally to any person who wants to order the book is very important to me. This link is essential—that’s why the system I use for selling is more human than efficient, kind of the true notion of being an enlightened amateur.”
We caught up with Godoffe to talk more about the new book and routesetting’s never-ending evolution.
BURGMAN: From one book author to another, I have to ask: How was the process of writing More Keys to Route Setting different from the process of writing your first book, Keys to Route Setting? This new book definitely reads like an essential companion book to the first one.
GODOFFE: Strangely enough, I had no desire to write a second book at all until I had a discussion with my friend Mark English, owner of Rock City, in the fall of 2022. I told him that I had already written a lot in my first book and that it would be interesting for others to offer their vision in turn. It was a flash, and I instantly decided to do a sequel and open the door to others—at least in half of the new book.
Everything was not very clear at the beginning, but I also wanted a short enough deadline to make it a good challenge. One year seemed a bit surreal, especially with the experience of the first one (which took five years with my friend Tonde Katiyo). But I was confident because I wasn’t starting from a completely blank page. The idea of conjugating the first [book]…would go faster. I already had the idea to combine it with more keys about the mental process in routesetting and develop lots of new approaches in routesetting. That was a very cool process, even if the result is not one hundred percent perfect. I like the international combination of thoughts, skills, knowledge; it fits perfectly with what I love in our industry.
Yes, let’s talk more about the international aspect of this second book. There are a lot of highly experienced routesetters from around the world who offered mini essays (each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet) for your new book. For example, Jackie Hueftle writes about Flow, Percy Bishton writes about Pure Fun, Kilian Fischuber writes about R’Evolution, Molly Beard writes about Youth, etc.). How did you select people to include in the new book—and did any of the essays you received surprise you?
I didn’t really make a selection. I would say that I asked 35 setters, men and women from different countries, if they would like to play the game of the ABCs, telling people why they are addicted to routesetting. Some of them did, some of them tried and gave up because honestly it’s not as easy as it seems to write something down on paper. So, finally the list was intuitive according to the responses and the deadline. I know personally most of the setters from the list, but not all of them. And I was surprised by most of them, especially by the setters I didn’t know really well.
In addition to the essays, I love that your new book includes a timeline of competition climbing history and some of the routesetting at historic competitions. One of the early routes that seems to have made a big impression on you was at an outdoor competition near Marseilles in 1987. The route entailed many hexagonal EP holds arranged in an “Easter egg” style…and you say in the book that route was really inspirational and informative for your setting, even though you did not set that particular route. Can you explain more about why that route was so inspirational and how it influenced your own setting philosophy?
For the historical part, I decided to use the same basis as the first book, except with some recent topics that have happened during the last five years. It is the link between both books. And about that route especially, I was a competitor at the time and I think it was the first time I saw a metaphoric idea through a route. It is not a mystery to the people who know me that I am not a very rational person. I have more of the ‘creative fiber’ in my mind—for the good and the bad, I guess. Anyway, I never forgot that route with the design of a gigantic Easter egg, using more than 60 holds put on a 15-meter-high outdoor artificial wall of a university. Ten years later, it became my favorite way of routesetting, sharing emotion with people through metaphors.
There’s a section of the new book titled “The first and last down-jump ever,” in which you talk about a 1998 competition in Val d’Isère. I don’t want to give away the story—people will have to purchase the book and read it for themselves. However, in that section, you talk about setting a route in which “the point was to incite doubt with a feeling of fear.” Is there any ethical or moral conflict in a routesetter creating a move or a sequence of moves that they know will incite great fear in the climber? Similarly, is there a figurative line that should not be crossed with setting fear-inducing movement?
That moment was very special, indeed. We decided to play with doubt and the feeling of fear—but not with dangerous moves. It turned out that it was maybe too much because the down-jump was really impressive, even if it was not hard at all.
One week after that comp, most of the athletes complained that it was too much ‘circus’ and not enough about climbing. Then the international federation wrote a rule so that [down-jumps] would be forbidden in competitions, period. But I think that move was a prefiguration of coordinative moves. Too early, too much, probably, but it was worth it. In my opinion, if routesetters never try to push the boundaries somehow, there is the risk of climbing becoming more like a normal sport.
Speaking of the international federation, you created the Speed route that is currently used as the IFSC’s official route—and, thus, the Olympics’ official Speed route. But you are actually an advocate for changing this Speed route (for reasons that people can read about in your new book). What would a new, updated Speed route look like in your vision?
About the current Speed route—I was already an advocate to change it four years after I created it, to make it fit with the evolution of material. But maybe I was wrong because it was never [changed] and the route still exists. Honestly, I don’t have any idea about how it could be. When I created the route, I think I had a little bit of credibility to imagine it because even if I didn’t train for speed climbing, I was very good at it and I won lots of comps. But only Speed climbers and Speed coaches would know more about how the [current] route could be better. For me, it is also a matter of visual effect, and I think this [current] route could be more aesthetic.
Let’s continue down this road of potential change and evolution. How do you think routesetting will continue to evolve in the next five years? Ten years? I mean, what might routesetting look like in the year 2033?
There’s no doubt to me that routes and boulders in five or 10 years will be totally different, thanks to the imaginations of shapers and routesetters and the evolution of climbing walls. It’s up to the new generation to combine new-school while revisiting old-school. There is still a lot to do, and I am not in a good position to define it precisely…as I am an old shark. Just try to watch now a livestream of a competition from 2012; it’s quite instructive about the drastic changes at all levels. So, I am curious to see [the evolution] too.
Well, related to comps from, say, 2012 compared to now…How do you respond to the pushback of the present-day, more dynamic style of comp setting? There are some climbers who criticize the modern style by saying it makes climbing too acrobatic and blurs the line between climbing and something like Ninja Warrior.
It is always much easier to criticize than to act. The fact is, in the past 10 years, climbing has become more electric. It was a necessary evolution because I remember 30 years ago a famous sentence from a journalist writing an article about a lead competition in Bercy: “Climbing is as boring to watch as drying paint.” There is a difference between Ninja Warrior circus moves and interesting dynamic moves. And it is not that easy to find the right dosage without trying and trying again. Probably it’s a bit too much about huge coordinative skate moves…sometimes. But on the other hand, climbing deserves this freedom to push the limits. It’s like a new toy—we have to learn how to play with it.
Great insights, Jacky! So, what’s next for you?
There is always something around the corner waiting for you, if you are curious enough. Definitely I still feel curious to wait for that next turn. I am still crazy about this field. It’s not very rational, I guess, but I have no plans. I just feel ready to play and share with others; that’s my trademark.
John Burgman is the author of High Drama, a book that chronicles the history of American competition climbing. He is a Fulbright journalism grant recipient and a former magazine editor. He holds a master’s degree from New York University and bachelor’s degree from Miami University. In addition to writing, he coaches a youth bouldering team. Follow him on Twitter @John_Burgman and Instagram @jbclimbs. Read our interview Meet John Burgman, U.S. Comp Climbing’s Top Journalist.