I’m not a big fan of the term progression as it’s most often used today; in so-called gravity or action (lets be honest and just keep the word extreme) sports to denote marginal gains in technical difficulty, consequence, or both.  The term, and the human experience behind it, could mean so much given more thorough consideration.

Climbing is a good example.

In some obvious senses it is the case that contemporary climbers are climbing more difficult routes and problems than at any previous time.  The most robust of these senses, that of hypothetical climbers with identical equipment, abilities, and experience climbing the lines in question, is also the one so far divorced from lived experience as to be meaningless.  It is equivalent to Anselm’s second ontological argument: logically valid and completely useless.

Paul Robinson passes within a hair of a better definition in the video above.  Fred Nicole was indeed the best boulderer on earth during the 1990s, and his early v14s were indeed harder than the relative abundance of problems that grade climbed recently.  And not because of technology; that argument works for Gill problems done in hiking boots, but the Miura has been around for a long time, and the red Sportiva shoe which was the father of the Solution introduced radically shaped soles in the late 90s.  Nicole’s problems were harder because he didn’t have anyone else to show him they were possible.

This what progression should mean, the mental development of an individual without which further fitness and skills are orphaned. Better suspension and geometry are good for mountain biking, but won’t be used fully until some person sees the line as rideable. Identical things can be said of skiing, surfing, and any number of others. Given the absurdity of measuring difficulty in these fluid activities, shouldn’t mental growth be our yardstick? After all, it’s the only way in which such activities might help the world at large.