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Brad Gobright was the best climber you’ve never heard of. That’s the unofficial tagline of “Safety Third,” a high energy love letter to climbing through the lens of the aspiring pro climber and his seemingly unconcerned attitude. It tells the rags to… well, rags story of Gobright as he busses tables and lives out of his crappy compact and spends his spare time pushing his limits in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado.
Rock Climbing is an inherently dangerous endeavor. Nowhere is this more apparent than in free soloing. But the film asks us to view soloing—and specifically Gobright’s—as the pinnacle of risk-reward climbing: Not some reckless or irresponsible undertaking, but a calculated and practiced risk. Despite zero margin for error, director Cedar Wright’s film wants us to understand that ropeless climbing is not a death wish.
If the most famous free soloist in the world is Alex Honnold, then Gobright was the least famous. An embodiment of the dirtbag climber persona, the happy-go-lucky climber from Orange County presented an interesting case study. On one hand, he was often the butt of jokes made by his peers. Powered by day-old pastries and working odd jobs to support his climbing, he lived out of a beater Honda Civic for long stretches. He forgot gear a lot. On the other hand, he was incredibly motivated to improve and push the envelope. He was talented, impassioned, and laser-focused on the rock.
“Safety Third“ focuses on Gobright’s stomping grounds of Eldorado Canyon, home of some of America’s boldest trad lines, and crescendos with the first free solo of the Hairstyles and Attitudes (5.12c). The climbing is so impressive, and Gobright’s passion so palpable, you almost understand the jabs that the film takes at ropeless climbing’s critics and hand wringers.
Sadly, Brad Gobright passed away in 2019, in a rappelling accident in Mexico. Given that tragedy, “Safety Third” stands as a powerful final statement by a man that climbing may have not known quite what to do with, but the impacts of whose loss it nevertheless feels at its core.
Watch the full film here.