The Birth of the Crashpad and V Scale

The dawn of the 1980’s brought the arrival of the crash pad, introduced as a tool to protect against injuries.  Though many think that the crashpad idea originated at Hueco Tanks, Texas, it was actually a particularly brutal bouldering session at City of Rocks, New Mexico that planted the idea.


The boulders in that area lent themselves to big falls on gravelling landings.  One day, Donny Hardin and Fred Nakovic found themselves swaggering toward each other, each with a “stiff cowboy gait” and they took one look at each other and dissolved in laughter.  They had shin splints, sore knees and bruised heels from fall after fall.  All they were using at the time were little pieces of carpet to wipe their feet before they started the boulder.


That’s when Fred got the idea to put 2 pieces of carpet with a layer of foam in between and the idea was born.  Their friend, Greg Burns, constructed what at the time seemed like a king-sized pad, 30 inches by 30 inches square, about the size of a welcome mat!


Sherman tried out the design and endearingly referred to it as the “cocktail napkin”.  One had to fall very precisely to land on such a small target, but even that little piece of inch and a half padding was a welcome relief to the sore joints!


Sherman and his pals went on to come up with what would become the standard design of modern crashpads with a nylon sleeve, carrying straps and folding dual density replaceable foam.


In 1991, John “Vermin” Shermann published a guidebook for Hueco Tanks, now a world-renowned bouldering destination.  He also introduced the open-ended V-scale for grading, which is still used to this day.