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In Isolation - Ep. 11: An Interview with Top Routesetter Tonde Katiyo

© Nathan Hadley

We cover some difficult topics in this week's episode of In Isolation. First, we remember French athlete Luce Douady, who tragically died last Sunday aged 16. We then have an insightful conversation about routesetting and racial diversity with Tonde Katiyo, discussing how he became an international setter and the challenges surrounding this relatively new industry. Tonde also opens up about diversity within the sport, culture as a whole and what needs to be done going forward.

A short excerpt from our in-depth conversation:

'The climbing community seems somewhat in denial that we are actually connected to this wider society and all the problems that are in it - we're not in a bubble. Although I've never experienced overt racial incidents in climbing, I know it's there because it's connected to the world, it can't be removed.

'For me, the biggest problem is that climbers try to ignore the rest of the world - we love this little bubble of safety, comfort and familiarity and we try and barricade ourselves in it. I think it's unhealthy and for me it's counterproductive to the idea of being a climber; the point is to be more open and to travel and exchange and when things get uncomfortable we still try again - we make another attempt, change beta or do something. Let's call it maturity, we lack maturity and we're still a young sport for lots of reasons and we've grown up really fast.

'Acknowledging this doesn't exempt us from doing the work that's required to be more open and inclusive. By and large it is an expensive sport and leisure activity for white people. It's not very accessible. As a sport we're a teenager, we think we're cool but...maybe not so much. There's no parent there - it'd be cool if we could take it on ourselves and grow into it.'

Catch up with Episode 10, an interview with Australian Olympic hopeful Campbell Harrison, below:


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"The climbing community seems somewhat in denial that we are actually connected to this wider society and all the problems that are in it - we're not in a bubble."

Yeah I see that attitude a lot, in these forums and elsewhere. That climbing and climbers somehow exist apart from the world and are not subject to the same problems.

Climbers are just people, and some people are dicks.

20 Jun

That's good to hear.

21 Jun

Definitely the best episode so far - thanks

23 Jun

Thank you SO MUCH for interviewing Tonde.

He is very special to us here in Seattle because his ethos brought a breath of fresh air to setting at the Seattle Bouldering Project and across the community. He brought the circuit system, creative use of volumes, and climbing that was about movement and physical exploration and puzzle solving rather than just pulling hard on small holds, though there's nothing wrong with pulling hard.

You can tell from even a few minutes of the interview that he approaches the world through the eyes of an artist, a designer, a philosopher, a climber, and perhaps most importantly, a thoughtful and empathetic person. It's so refreshing compared to the climber-bro macho culture that can be so toxic.

Beyond climbing, Tonde is clearly a deep thinker who has mature and reasoned perspectives on everything from the state of the sport to the state of society and racism and politics. He is truly a treasure.

I really hope he or someone else will run with this concept of a training school for setters. It's overdue.

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