The World Indoor Climbing Summit (WICS) 2023 this summer brought together for the third 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 as well as new auto belay and flooring system technologies, and finally the “notorious” Walltopia rooftop party.
WICS 2023 was the first edition of the international gathering of climbing industry professionals since 2019, and the event’s return did not disappoint. In the last four years, the world seems to have changed so much, marked by life-changing world events, multiple business closures, and fear for the future. However, the climbing industry proves to be on the rise in terms of gym growth, product development and professionalization. There was an eagerness to meet up and share findings, worries, challenges and solutions that was palpable at the Summit, and the multi-day event provided an opportunity to do just that, bringing together positive energy and smiles, valuable networking and thoughtful discussions.
Participation and Diversity
This year’s WICS had even more global representation than the previous two editions, in 2018 and 2019. The Summit featured representatives from over 30 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Mexico, Qatar, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavian countries. The diverse turnout was a reminder that, while climbing markets may be well-established in Europe and North America, climbing is growing all around the world. Participants at the Summit represented various backgrounds, cultures and climbing expertise, and the truly diverse and inclusive gathering of climbing aficionados fostered a fresh, global exchange of knowledge and ideas.
The conference program of WICS 2023 addressed a wide array of topics crucial to the climbing industry. Sessions covered themes like the state of climbing markets worldwide, the importance of introducing more youth to climbing, the trends and best practices in routesetting, 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 provided a data-driven perspective on the current state and future projections of the industry. Later, “Global State of the Market” 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—shared insights into the industry’s status in their respective countries, facilitating a wider 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, as well as effective strategies for retaining younger climbers 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 specific interests in the climbing community and showed various layout examples, commenting on their effectiveness.
“Climbing Competitions” featured industry stalwarts Finuco Martinez, Alessandro Di Cato, Daniel Woods and Charlie Boscoe. Moderated by IFSC commentator and sports marketing coordinator at Patagonia, Danaan Markey, the group provided valuable insights into the evolution of climbing competitions and offered their perspectives on the future trajectory of this captivating aspect of the sport.
Day 2 commenced with “Routesetting Trends,” led by Peter Zeidelhack, Jan De Smit, Nataleigh Bell, Niklas Wiechmann and Guillermo Burba. The discussion explored the dynamic changes in routesetting practices over the years and the implications for the climbing industry. The level of professionalism displayed on stage along with the client-centric way of thinking got the audience talking about the applications for their routesetting work in their own communities.
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 perspective on improving climbing gym performance.
The last session of the Summit brought on stage multi-gym chain owners, with the aim of discussing the unique challenges large gym operators face. Facilitated by Walltopia CEO Ivaylo Penchev—whose provocative yet sincere and open speaking style is always a fan favorite—the session had plenty of unexpected twists and turns, and he 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 next opportunities that lie ahead.
Highlights of Attendees
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.
Halil Ngah, founder and CEO of Climb Asia, appreciated the expertise of the attendees, who were well-versed in the climbing industry and who he described as “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.
Jose Sausedo, owner of Adamanta Climbing in Mexico, said an actionable takeaway that he’ll use in his gyms is placing 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, [is] focusing more on kids, because they are the future of climbing and also a big part of the industry’s revenue/profit,” said Sausedo.
Paula Horwitz, former head of the Climbing Wall Association in the U.S., found value in understanding various markets and their growth rates. “The focus on executive level, the expertise level, at WICS is higher,” she commented about the audience at WICS.
Yasmin Gahtani, head of the Saudi Arabia Climbing and Hiking federation, valued the networking opportunities and the insights gained from the panel discussions. “The opportunity to talk to people with existing climbing gyms and learn what research they had to do to open new gyms,” she said, helped her realize opportunities and actionable steps that need to be taken in her country to develop the indoor climbing scene.
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 to be the most valuable of the recent industry events he had 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. He also 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 nine 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 routesetters 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, Head Rush, 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.
Set & Send Comp
The kick-off evening for WICS 2023 featured a different kind of bouldering competition: Set & Send. With its novel format, the comp added a spotlight on routesetting as a major part of comps, alongside the athletes’ performances. 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 five teams consisting of a routesetter and a male and female climber, with holds from five different 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 the problems be 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, who didn’t stop cheering! The athletes gave a beyond-excellent performance, with unexpected outcomes of the climb attempts and the top honors up for grabs until the very last send! The final results are as follows:
Female climbers: 1. Lucia Dorfell, 2. Brooke Raboutou, 3. Cloe Coscoy
Male climbers: 1. Boyan Kirov, 2. Slav Kirov, 3. Shawn Raboutou
The awarding for the routesetting was separate and was decided by a vote open to all the 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)
Most attractive problem (the one that was most fun to watch): won by Gautier Supper (Sup’R)
Most aesthetic boulder (the best work of art on the walls): won by Tsukuru Hori (Cheeta), Dirk Uhlig (HRT) and Pierre Broyer (Flathold), who split the prize
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 picturesque city views at sunset. Laughter and joy filled the air as people sipped refreshing drinks from an open bar. The relaxed atmosphere allowed for more informal conversations and connections to take place, 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 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 no doubt leaving everyone with cherished memories and strengthened bonds.
All told, the World Indoor Climbing Summit 2023 was considered a resounding success, leaving a lasting impact on climbing industry professionals. The Summit’s international appeal fostered a global exchange of ideas, promoting collaboration and networking among industry professionals. In retrospect, we could conclude that the topics discussed haven’t changed all that much over the years, but the degree of professionalism in the conversations has evolved to a whole new level. The climbing industry is now more consumer-oriented compared to the first WICS edition in 2018 and is highly focused on providing top–quality service to the people who gym and brand businesses serve. Together, the professionals at WICS proved that the unity of climbing is stronger than our cultural differences worldwide, as we all share the same joys, excitements and challenges that come with being part of the niche, passion-driven climbing industry we love.
Author’s Note: 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.
This story was paid for by the sponsor and does not necessarily represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.
Walltopia has designed, engineered, manufactured and installed more than 1800 projects in over 75 countries on 6 continents. With +20 years of experience in manufacturing climbing structures and a team of +600 professionals, Walltopia can take care of any gym project needs, from gym design to assembly, flooring solutions (Climbmat), holds and volumes (Holdtopia), maintenance and inspection.
Walltopia is also the organizer of the World Indoor Climbing Summit (WICS), an event started in 2018 that focuses on the business side of the indoor climbing industry. Seeing a need for a more globally oriented industry gathering, and as a global supplier which communicates with industry leaders worldwide, Walltopia decided to bring the world of climbing into one place, inviting C-level executives from the industry to Sofia, Bulgaria. WICS hosts a conference program featuring topics on the business of indoor climbing that are valuable to gym owners and other industry leaders.