Perched upstairs in the rafters of the Red Rock Climbing Center in Las Vegas stands a careworn, dusty, boot-rubber-streaked MoonBoard.
This is the main board used—and used—by an enigmatic climber known as Ravioli Biceps, one of the Moonboard’s strongest and most prolific devotees. I stood on the mat below and tried to square the training board above me with what I had seen in so many of Ravioli’s vast archive of ascents. Though tucked away in the stuffy attic like a family secret, the polished 10-by-8-foot surface is a small monument to the craft of climbing.
A text chimed on my phone: Ravioli was waiting downstairs. No real name, please—just the nickname, which started as a gaming handle inspired by Wu-Tang lyrics, but has become ubiquitous among MoonBoarders.
Off and on since 2018, Ravioli’s name has stood atop the MoonBoard leaderboard—an ongoing global competition for king of the hill on the board’s accompanying app. The board has standardized holds, depending on the variation, called sets. Users upload routes, some of which are selected as Benchmarks. Ascents of those routes alone, which are chosen by admin and generally understood to represent different aspects of their grade, count toward a climber’s leaderboard score. Competition is stiff, worldwide and continuous.
Ravioli propelled himself to the top by sending all of the Benchmarks on the 2016 set over the course of a year. (He was the first and so far only person to create such an archive). He has also contributed to a list of stout indoor routes on a level that places him among the best in a super-niche world.
Ben Moon of the UK, creater of the board, says, “I think it’s incredible that he has climbed all the 2016 Benchmarks. The style of the Benchmark problems varies enormously, so it’s a testament to his versatility as much as his strength.”
Ravioli—generously tattooed, with dark, slicked-back hair and a full beard—was downstairs and talking quietly with a friend. Courteous and somewhat soft-spoken, he put out his hand, and, after brief introductions, the two of us ascended back up the small labyrinth of stairs and chambers to the MoonBoard, where, as Ravioli warmed up his usual 30 to 45 minutes, we talked about everything from The Wire (loves it) to Matt Gentile (a fan).
“Sorry this is taking so long,” he said.
At 32, he makes it a point not to shirk in his prep, which includes 100 pull-ups, 100 pushups, and a hangboard routine.
Then we talked about his project to document an ascent on each of the Benchmarks. Ravioli’s obsession with the MoonBoard started in the summer of 2017 when he broke his foot playing with his goldendoodle, Frankie.
“Work had really taken the forefront,” he said. “So when I broke my foot I thought, ‘I can go two ways on this. I can just really dive into my career and put climbing on the back burner’—and it would be easy to do because I had a broken foot and it was the perfect excuse. I did that for maybe a week, then I was like, ‘No, I really want to stay up on this, I want to stay strong,’ then I just started doing a bunch of pullups and pushups, anything I could while I was in the boot.”
The MoonBoard was new to Ravioli, though he’d tried a few problems. But with its low roof, it seemed like the perfect way to get back on his feet without, well, damaging his foot.
Over the course of a year, Ravioli recorded himself climbing all of the original 280-odd Benchmarks, including Daniel Woods’s V13 Black Beauty.
He started climbing in a trail shoe. By the time the swelling receded enough for his foot to fit back into a climbing shoe, he had established a goal: to climb all of the Benchmarks on the 2016 set (in its simplest terms, the set can currently be described as 22 V10s, eight V11s, two V12s and one V13 from among a total of about 390 problems). The Benchmarks were a way to distill the 30,000 odd problems available from the 2016 set into a smaller, more manageable list. They are also the only problems that count toward a climber’s MoonBoard ranking, though Ravioli takes his high place on the leaderboard as a byproduct of his project, not a goal.
“There were 285 or 283 [Benchmarks] when I first started,” he said. “I thought that was like the Best of Bishop guidebook or the Best of Squamish. It’s like someone is making a playlist of their favorite problems.”
After struggling on a certain Benchmark, he sought out a video just to see someone else do it. After finding the video, he decided to document himself climbing each of the original test pieces, and to make them available on Instagram.
So he started ticking them off, nearly in order, starting with V4s and working toward V13. Most of his ascents are on the yellow board where we were that day, though some were shot at another gym. All the videos are meticulously recorded from a fixed perspective (depending on the board), and he held himself to a high standard in climbing style. If he battled through a problem, he’d record it again.
Over the course of a year, Ravioli recorded himself climbing all of the original 280-odd Benchmarks, including Daniel Woods’s V13 Black Beauty. (Woods is one of the best boulderers in the world, with numerous V16 ticks.)
“I remember thinking as I started doing this project that [Black Beauty] is the end-game sort of stuff,” Ravioli said. “I thought, ‘I’ll keep trying and get as close as I can, and then I’ll be done … because I’m not strong enough to do all of them,’ which is totally reasonable.”
But Ravioli was no slouch before his MoonBoard escapades, having climbed extensively in the Red River Gorge, Hueco Tanks and Bishop. He’d sent a couple V13s outside. And he tries hard.
“I really think that’s my only strength, is I will fucking try as hard as I can,” said Ravioli, who is 5-foot 10-inches tall with a +2 ape index. “I will just try and do it and do it and do it.”
Ravioli started climbing in college, when a flat bike tire left him walking home past the local gym. He had run track and played football in high school and was looking for a way to stay active. Climbing fit the bill.
“I learned how to sport climb at the Red River Gorge, and spent a couple seasons doing lots of great, memorable climbs with early climbing friends,” he said.
He regards that time in his life with nostalgia.
“Those first three years you just want to take everything in. I was so into it, I wanted to watch every piece of climbing media. I was climbing seven days a week.”
During the height of his MoonBoard project, when he was recording nearly continuously, he spent the majority of his climbing time indoors. But between Benchmarks, Ravioli used the Moonboard to train for a few outdoor objectives, including Top Notch (V13) in Rocky Mountain National Park. Having climbed on it twice in 2018, he trained for the crux. When he returned in fall of 2019, it still took him several days to send, but the difference was night and day.
“Without that training over the year, I wouldn’t have had a chance,” he said.
As Ravioli approached the end of the original 280-odd benchmarks, more were added, and he has kept pace.
In the gym, I watched as he hiked a handful of newly minted Benchmarks he needed to record — elevated to that status by one of the app’s admins, or Ben Moon himself.
Those first three years you just want to take everything in. I was so into it, I wanted to watch every piece of climbing media. I was climbing seven days a week.
Ravioli’s climbing style is perhaps most distinctive in his control. His ascents are smooth. He easily sent BZ Hyperion (V5) and V4 Gumby (“Nice and respectful to all the people who are just breaking into Benchmarks,” he said dryly), and skipped about half the holds on Monday to Monday (V7).
“Apparently I’ve done it,” he said. “I don’t remember doing it.”
Which was understandable. In total he had sent 1,877 MoonBoard problems, of which 305 were V9s, 125 were V10s, 42 were V11s, two were V12s, and two were V13s. By the end of our session, he had also completed 369 out of 370 Benchmarks, with only Alex Megos’ brutal V12 Project 2 to go. Since our original interview, he has reached 375 out of 394 after being unable to climb during the COVID-19 pandemic—and is still working on Project 2.
Over the course of his quest, Ravioli has become something of a cultural figure in the MoonBoard community. He is occasionally featured in MoonBoarding memes. People around the world record themselves on problems he has established, or even establish problems in his honor. (“That stuff always makes me smile,” he said). He has been featured on the Power Company Podcast, in which the host Kris Hampton referred to him as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Moonpocalypse.”
Kyle Knapp, a prolific MoonBoard routesetter and an admin on the app, said, “It’s almost like he’s this mythical figure, you know? There are people who follow him. And the dude works hard; he works hard all the time.”
And Ravioli isn’t just making a name for himself by climbing others’ routes. His own typically linger on the board’s smaller holds, Knapp said, and incorporate a challenging dose of dynamic movement.
“It’s kind of a big thing if I watch someone else send one of his problems,” said Knapp. “Immediately I’m like, that kid is strong. If you can send one of Ravioli’s harder-grade problems, 7A+ and above, you’re pretty beastly.”
In spite of Ravioli’s growing status as a board climber, anonymity remains important to him and his wife. “We’re just private people,” he said.
In the gym, he tried a few of the moves on Project 2. Its massive span was giving him trouble, but he found a pogo off the top of K7 (a thin vertical pinch, typically used as a foothold) he thought might help.
I asked if he thought he could send the route.
“Today? No,” he said. “In general? Yes.”
It would just take trying really hard.