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The calm before the storm #breathe 📸: @matthewhulet

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On April 3rd, the day of Ashima Shiraishi’s sixteenth birthday, the climber announced her newly formed partnership with Coca-Cola, a corporation yet to fully penetrate itself into the world of rock climbing. On Instagram, some of Ashima’s followers took to criticizing the young climber: “Followers won’t cover your expenses, but you will lose audience in becoming dependent on such a sponsorship. Climbing should remain a representation of freedom,” said one. “It’s sad that a great symbol like you is being sponsored by a shitty firm like Coca-Cola,” chimed in another. Fellow climbers like Conrad Anker, on the other hand, skipped the politics and simply wished Ashima a happy birthday.


At only 16, Ashima has ticked off routes up to 5.15a/9a+ and boulder problems up to v15/8c, making her undoubtedly one of the strongest and most promising climbers in the world. Her list of accolades is long and spans multiple continents, not to mention her continued success in USA and world climbing competitions. Some might say she’s not only breaking boundaries for female and youth climbers, but also pushing the boundaries of climbing itself.

For performing at such a consistently high level, it’s improbable that Ashima is taking her time on the ground to cool off with the chemical delights of a Coke. But a sponsorship is a sponsorship, right? Many of her Instagram followers disagree, arguing that Ashima should be a role model for young climbers looking to advance in the sport, and also an advocate for the ethics and virtues associated with the sport.


Lest we forget, Ashima’s talents on the wall began at Brooklyn Boulders, an 18,000-square-foot facility filled with vending machines, plastic holds, and elliptical machines; quite a different environment from those experienced by novice climbers of a bygone era–venturing out into the wilderness and searching for crags by word of mouth or guidebook. The reality is that a new generation of ultra-strong climbers are emerging in gyms all across the globe, and Ashima Shiraishi serves as living proof that these types of athletes are now at the forefront of a sport that was once as simple as scaling up and down a rock. And the word “athlete” had yet to enter the pursuit’s lexicon.

Climbers like Ashima may be brushing shoulders with the world’s most elite climbers in the near future, considering rock climbing’s recent addition to the list of new sports in the 2020 Summer Olympics, an event sponsored by both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, among other corporations. With the Olympics acknowledging rock climbing as a legitimate competitive sport and Adidas entering into the climbing market, it will soon be unsurprising to find teams of elite rugrats adorned in Team USA Nike tracksuits lapping your gym’s hardest routes in silent unison.

Ashima’s sponsorship with Coke suggests that she’s not the hero that some of the rock climbing world had hoped for–at least not yet. She’s just a kid, and despite her accomplishments, still has a lot to learn about the world, both in and outside of climbing. Maybe sometime in the future Ashima will go rogue, ditching all of her big-name endorsements and head into the woods with a rack of trad gear slung over her shoulder. For now, we can expect Ashima to continue pushing the competitive level, and the endorsements to continue pouring in.


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