Pusher Holds – Climbing’s Most Iconic
Pusher's Jared Roth describes the newly remade Pusher Holds and the future of one of climbing's most classic brands
Pusher is iconic. It is an accumulation of classics built for the world’s most dedicated rock climbers. Spanning over four decades of rock-wranglers, Pusher is the original. Pusher is Jared Roth.
According to Roth, Pusher began in an auto-body shop. “In the late 1980’s – early 90’s the first climbing gym in Utah was opened. This gym was called the Body Shop. This gym was a co-op and it was filled with climbers who came from all types of climbing backgrounds.”
“Back in the day there were not very many hold companies out there. After a while, people started wanting something else to pull on. David Bell’s mother is a lifelong professional sculptor, and this inspired young Dave to borrow some clay and start messing around with new shapes. The very first ones had no logos and were shaped from clay, then sprayed with adhesive varnish and sprinkled with sand, then molded.”
“Dave soon came up with the name for the new endeavor, and it was called Pusher. He wanted to create shapes that didn’t exist yet. Dave made tapered slopers, even though he knew the materials they were pouring with would chip. He just didn’t care. He wanted slopers so he could burn off some guys at the Body Shop. Everyone was really good with crimpers and pockets back then, but slopers were new to the indoor game.”
“Dave shaped a sloper known as “The Butt” and it was considered one of the first indoor slopers. As far as Pusher shaping goes, Mike Call and Boone Speed also got in on the shaping action and this was about when they started pressing a (pusher) logo into the clay shape before molding.”
In an indoor discipline now composed largely of slopers, it is almost impossible to imagine a world exclusively built of crimps. Crimps, however, were easy to make, cheap to build, and an excellent training tool. At the time, training was the name of the game.
By the late 90’s Pusher would release their first big hit: The Boss. The Boss was big, significantly larger than every other hold at the time. This Fontainebleau-style climbing hold featured sculpted dimples and enough size to stand apart from all that came before it.
“Climbing on it was amazing. This was a predecessor to the modern-day volume. Now we realize that volumes add so much to the space and the way a climber positions their body in movements.”
Though slopers were significant upon their arrival, The Boss is cited as the most influential climbing hold of all time. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that which is mentioned above. The Boss was finally large enough that if it were fixed to the wall, it would change the shape of the space. It showed the significance of volumes in route building.
Today you can walk into any gym in North America knowing you will find large shapes. Even if you do not find a great many volumes, you will notice large fibreglass grips along with a variety of other large holds. These too are influenced by The Boss. This hold allowed designers to dream big.
One of the reasons that climbing hold design strayed away from large sizes for so long was because of their cost. The Boss was over $100, a significant mark up over smaller holds. Still, the industry bought in. Hard. Brands like Halo and other classic hold designers would begin to step into larger shapes. For the first time, setting was more than holds on a wall. Setting began to alter the wall’s shape.
As hold prices skyrocket, and the industry expands, the budget-pushing Boss has become an affordable alternative to some of the fibreglass megas you can purchase today. The size of these newer holds appears to grow with the popularity of competitive climbing. Together, hold design and competition-style route setting have provided the exciting movement that has made climbing an Olympic-level sport.
All of this pedigree and history is a lot to live up to, but Roth is not new to the climbing game. He is a father to Joe’s Valley.
He said, “Joe’s has been one of my most favorite climbing areas since I first went climbing there in 1997. When I was in elementary school my family would go camping up at the reservoir and I remember thinking about how beautiful all of the boulders were on the drive up. This was before I started climbing. I was one of the first climbers to visit what is now known as New Joe’s. I drew the first topo map of the area on the inside of an empty Mountain Dew box. I did my first V10 there as well with the first repeat of Steven Jeffery’s problem, Freak, in 1998.”
“I think that you can find great examples of every kind of hold in Joe’s. For me, Pusher’s Joe’s Valley line is basically the never-ending line. Some of my favorite FA’s have been in Joe’s. Chris Sharma and I found the Trent’s Mom boulder, and I did the FA of that on the same day in July that I also did the FA of Jitterbug Perfume. I think those two are fairly classic. I also did Sunshine Day Dream, Broke Down Palace, almost everything on a boulder uphill from No Additives, and a whole ton of other real classic FA’s.”
“I’ve spent years scouring the hillsides down there for the best problems. Most of the time you find real cool holds, but they don’t always line up to make a classic. There are an amazing amount of very special rocks in Joe’s Valley. I found the Worm Turns. I found the boulder cluster that now has the Gentleman’s Project, and Black Out on it. Black Out was my super project.”
His experience is not limited to Joe’s either. In Bishop, Roth would become the first person to climb a boulder he would name Rastaman Vibration. Now known as the stand start to Lucid Dreaming, Roth would never grade the problem, but would complete it in perfect style. Never once rehearsing the top of the 65-foot boulder problem, Roth would fire off one of the most difficult moves of his life before carrying on through the finish. It takes a classic climber to know classic holds.
Roth’s 25-year-old relationship with climbing is detailed with numerous first ascents and a unique connection to Pusher climbing. A Salt Lake local himself, Pusher’s history has always meant a lot to Roth.
He said, “I felt like it was important to try to save as much of the classic history from the company as possible. I remember the holds very vividly from my younger days and I feel the need to preserve them. People keep buying them as well… I must get a message about someone wanting a Boss hold every other day. I really just want to give the Pusher fans what they want.”
Though Roth is excited to bring back the Pusher classics, he also hopes to move Pusher further forward. One of the biggest changes is that Pusher holds are, “now made out of the best plastic in the world. Currently, all of the Pusher shapes coming out of Composite-X are poured in the Dannomond Polyurethane. This is by far the best, most durable, longest lasting plastic for climbing holds on the planet. The founder of Composite-X is the chemist. He sat in his lab for years and created more than one thousand different chemical variations of Polyurethane and then tested all of them with various machines that he had built. Out of all of those mixtures he found two that he liked.”
“Dannomond has anti-polishing characteristics that make it about 10X better than the next best product on the market. Each mold is also put immediately into an autoclave while the plastic is still liquid, this is an extra step that takes a lot of time but provides an excellent looking hold. The autoclave is a pressurized chamber that forces all of the air bubbles out of the liquid Dannomond and into the silicone mold itself. This produces a perfect replica of the texture of the original shape without micro bubbles distracting from the texture. Also, texture lasts longer when it does not have bubbles in it.”
“Our goal is to make holds that will last you forever because Pusher holds are cherished like heirlooms. Climbing-hold plastic is not recyclable, and it is in the customer’s best interest to purchase the ones that will last the longest. In a world where we now have bans on plastic straws in some places, as a company that sells plastic, we want to try to do our best to give you a hold that you want to hold onto for a long time.”
This commitment to longevity stands to the brand’s self-awareness. Pusher holds are valuable. There is a reason. Pusher is made from passion. From Roth to Boone Speed to Mike Call to Chris Sharma to David Bell to Steven Jeffrey, Pusher has worked exclusively with people motivated by their love for climbing. This means that they have an attention to detail that is more than clinical, but personal. These holds have weight for Roth because they represent his own history. He simply hopes that his new shapes might add to that history and prepare a future for those new to climbing.
To better position himself about this goal, Roth has brought forth numerous shapes, completing hundred-hold lines for the modern climbing gym. Among these are the newly refurbished and expanded Font lines, Granite lines, Joe’s Valley line and home wall hold designs. Though these each represent different experiences and passions for Roth, he is not fully described by them.
Feeling affirmed in his shaping, Roth looks toward the sleek shapes of modern hold designs as a market he would like Pusher to re-enter. He said, “Pusher was one of the first companies to start making shapes that looked like the smooth modern designs you see today. It was also the first to make Font shapes, Broken Foam Granite, and a Sandstone that looks sort of like a weird topographical map.”
With so much momentum behind the company, from past products and future releases, Pusher is also looking to grow beyond the bounds of climbing hold design. Roth maintains, “I have a lot of ideas and plans for the future of Pusher and it is more than just making holds. I don’t want to talk about it too much yet, but I am excited for the future and it is going to be real fun watching what happens. I just hope I can make a difference in some kids’ lives the same way that people did for me.”
There can be little doubt that the return of Pusher means something in the world of climbing. With vaccines under production, and climbing walls returning to normal, it is exciting to see just what might lay ahead for this reborn company.
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