Cyclists, divers, surfers, and climbers: this issue celebrates the pioneers of outdoor sports in this country who show us all the possibilities of the great, humbling, joyful world outside.
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“What would your ancestors say about this,” a friend of mine asked as I returned to the ground after a wall climb at an outdoor gym. “They must marvel at the ridiculous lengths you go to just to sweat.”
He was right, if you look at it one way. Outdoor sports are inherently ridiculous in that they’re contrivances—among the luxuries modern life has afforded us is the choice to safely and efficiently climb mountains and rock faces, explore underwater, run far distances, move over the waves. We make sport of these activities, having reduced risk drastically with the use of gear and tech, passed on generations’ worth of lessons on method and technique, and generally made the outdoors more democratic. Outdoor sports are sports because they’ve moved on from the drudgery of the necessary—now they’re just fun to do.
Look at it another way, however, and you’ll remember that outdoor sports are among the purest of active pursuits, because at their core they are practical. As our contributing writer Dru Robles explains, for example, sport climbing was once only about getting from one side of a mountain to another. In “Pathfinder,” he describes the long, hard slog that the climbing community still endures to be able to raise the profile of the sport in the Philippines.
The story is repeated in “The Next Wave,” Camille Pilar’s account of the growth of the competitive surfing scene in the Philippines. The setting is different, but a lot of the themes are the same—the struggle to establish a sporting community from scratch, and without much by way of material support from the government, along with the resilience and the passion of the members of that community.
Fruhlein Econar’s “Between Two Breaths” looks at the nascent freediving community, on the cusp of popularity. But before that, the story goes back to the very beginning, and reflects at the motivations behind it: the curiosity that drives us to interact with unknown environments, the ineffable urge to better oneself, the drive to push past our old limits.
All sports are hard, and all sports push us to dig deep inside—it’s what makes sports so noble and so uniquely human. But we would posit that the outdoors, in reminding us of our place in the physical world, strips us down to the essentials in a way that few other things are able to. Being outdoors has the ability to fill us with humility and joy and existential awe.
Our Outdoors issue celebrates the growing communities that push outdoor sports in this country. These are the stories of the people who have opened the door for the rest of us, showing us the possibilities of the great, humbling, joyful world out there.