Weekend Warm-Up: ‘Wide Boyz’ vs. Grumpy Old Men in 2012

Twelve years after its release, only two things still stand out about the (in its time) groundbreaking original Wide Boyz climbing film.

  1. Working out is still the best way to increase climbing performance, and
  2. “get off my lawn” guys are out of style.

If you’re a climber and you don’t know the Wide Boyz, you’ve somehow defied the internet and, by extension, the world. Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker are among the handful of most famous rock climbers who don’t have Oscars credentials.

Their journey to fame took place alongside the meteoric popularity of offwidth crack climbing. If you’d ever heard the term “odub” (O-W) before about five years ago, you’re in a small coterie — but if you’ve heard it before this sentence, you could be any one of hundreds of thousands of Mountain Project users.

a man climbing a steep, wide crack

Longtime offwidth climber Bob Scarpelli. Photo: Screenshot


When Wide Boyz came out in 2012, “the wide” was in its relative infancy. To climb a crack wider than the average fist was a burly, fringe discipline. Its practitioners in the U.S. (where most off width terrain exists) reflected these characteristics — middle-aged white men who styled themselves as varyingly grizzled.

One of these is the UK’s Stevie Haston. Appearing in his living room with a prominently displayed bottle of Ardbeg Scotch and a s/medium t-shirt, he discusses his trade.

a white man in a t-shirt sitting at a table with bottle of whiskey and flowers

Stevie Haston. Photo: Screenshot


“If you want to do everything daintily, maybe you should take up ballet, you know?” he smirks.

Into ‘The Cellar’

If two British kids with almost no outdoor offwidth climbing experience wanted to visit the United States and climb all the hard wide it had to offer, they would need to train.

It’s unlikely the two climbers knew they were creating a cult when they bolted dimensional lumber at all angles and widths in the basement of Randall’s house. But they did.

man climbing with a weight vest on a makeshift wooden crack

“The Cellar.” Photo: Screenshot


The aesthetic closely resembled Ben Moon and Jerry Moffat’s dungeon two decades earlier. The style was rough, bruising, close-quarters, and unventilated.

Years later, “The Cellar” would achieve icon status among offwidthers worldwide. Randall and Whittaker were its first true believers, misguided or not.

During sessions, “[my wife] Kim can hear us through the floorboards…bangin’ away until one in the morning. I just absolutely love it,” Randall says in the 2012 film.

Doing bicep curls while inside a makeshift wooden crack

Photo: Screenshot


Whittaker comments on the physicality. “You get really bad pains everywhere. Then after like a year, it all just numbs away. It all numbs into nothingness.”

Directors Chris Alstrin and Paul Diffley spend the film’s second act on the Cellar sessions. There’s a reason for it. When Whittaker and Randall finally visit the U.S., they embarrass the Americans.

Wide Boyz, hard men

The Boyz dispatch Bob Scarpelli and Brad Jackson’s Vedauwoo (Wyoming) testpieces in just days. Then in Utah’s Indian Creek, Whittaker onsights Belly Full of Bad Berries (5.13).

“My mind couldn’t wrap around that being done onsight,” Jackson says in Wide Boyz. He appears to mean it as a compliment, but his hollow-eyed stare looks more ashen than admiring.

Jackson. Photo: Screenshot


If the film has one through line, it’s that discipline produces results. The Boyz constantly drop reminders that they’ve “put everything into this goal for two years,” etc. Scarpelli gruffly likens offwidth to boxing, going as far as to re-apply the “sweet science” moniker.

However tired, the same theme persists: Drop everything, train hard, and you’ll likely produce. (At what cost? Randall’s wife, Kim, constantly feels like an afterthought in Wide Boyz — even though she nets face time and he credits a significant send to her support. Yet she glumly mentions he’s often distant during conversations about anything except climbing. And in a 2017 Luke Mehall interview, Randall said that even when they’re both in the UK, the two often spend time apart.)

If the stalwarts of American 2012 offwidth climbing appreciate Randall and Whittaker’s sacrifices, it fades when the two Brits both climb Century Crack (5.13) — at the time, considered a generally impossible project among people like Haston.

Randall on “Century Crack.” Photo: Screenshot


In the film, they first climb it on pre-placed gear, claim its first and second ascents, and become moved to tears.

Not good enough, say the old men in the yard.

“The style and ethic … is very strict,” Haston explains, alongside the Ardbeg. “You have to put the gear in on lead, and that’s it.”

Scarpelli is beside himself.

Scarpelli. Photo: Screenshot


“The way they set themselves up. You’ve got — you’ve got — you’ve got an obligation,” he sputters.

Spoiler alert: Randall and Whittaker go back to the crack, climb it without pre-placed gear, and fulfill the “obligation.” (They have since climbed many more demanding offwidth routes.)

men outdoors making silly faces

Photo: Screenshot


The old guard quickly vanishes from the film.

Offwidth wars are old news

This conflict arc of Wide Boyz riled me — but it’s hard to pinpoint why it did. It could be because at least until several years ago, the “odub” community still struggled to get out of its own way. Finger-pointing and virtue gesturing rippled through internet channels when a high-profile group of climbers invalidated each other’s ascents and downgraded routes.

Some of the truth remained unknowable to outsiders, beyond the fact that the turmoil allegedly grew reactionary between some camps.

When so much of the rest of the climbing world has resigned itself to mainstream popularity and mainstream ethics, why can’t offwidth? Are these outlaw artists, with their strict ethics and “sweet sciences,” really so esoteric?

And is it possible that if you just train — and keep trying to find new challenges — you’ll stay relatively satisfied?

In all, I’d like to suggest offwidth is, in fact, finally growing up. Conflicts over route specifics have become more civil. The sanctity of pain will remain a hallmark of the sport, but it seems to take up less of the focus among today’s generation — who are also a consistently diversifying group.

If you really want to see the 12-year difference between Wide Boyz and today, watch Girls Gone Wide, in which Mary Eden (a.k.a. Tradprincess) and friends crush Vedauwoo. Randall comments on the sport’s progress and the girls hammer away, profanely and brashly — decidedly not “taking up ballet.”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.