I live in Boulder, CO and have recently been getting my climbing fix at Movement Climbing and Fitness, a new gym near my apartment. It is a fantastically cool gym with a Facebook page and a huge wall and other things as well, including people. I am an extremely cynical and judgmental person, so I tend to group these people into stereotypes. Hence this article.
This is the guy who has never been taught any technique at all, and is totally cool with that. Not only has he never been taught any technique, but he hasn’t picked up any on his own, a feat that requires no small level of obliviousness. Even without formal training, a fairly simple process of trial and error will make it obvious that wildly throwing your feet at the wall in the hopes that they will stick to something is not an effective strategy. You need good shoes, yes, but footwork is important.
At some point, he will see one such skinny bastard take his shirt off and, with no obvious muscle mass, climb up the wall. The juicer sees this as a challenge (he has a very primitive mind) and decides to step up. The problem is that the juicer has not thought this through. It’s not his fault, really, his brain has never moved past the idea that in order to do cool things, one must have back muscles the size of sea lions. He sets down his man-sized dumbbells and swaggers over, nodding a cursory “sup”—he may even say “bro”—to the real climbers who stand back, smiles barely surfacing on their lips, to watch. They’ve seen this before. The juicer picks a few holds similar in size and shape to the pull up bar he bent earlier and lifts his feet on to a few others. Easy. He pulls up. Easy. He reaches to another hold, just within his reach. He can only get the last pad of three fingers and a thumb on it, and now consternation starts to set in. The climbers watching elbow each other and whisper, now grinning openly. The juicer has encountered the two situations that lifting weights can not prepare you for: locking off and pulling from full extension. His muscles, unused to anything other than carefully controlled and calorie-monitored repetitive motions, fail. He falls, glowers at the skinny bastards, and stomps off to make out with his own reflection.
The truth is that being a really good climber has far less to do with having massive muscles than it does with having fingers of steel and incredible endurance and really good technique. Thankfully for climbers (from a spectator’s point of view), non-climbers with huge muscles will never know that.
I stole the name for this guy from a video about the people you meet playing pickup basketball, but the concept holds. There is never a situation in climbing where you need to take off your shirt, unless you are Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger and need to dive under a sheet of frozen ice to kill a man with a gun that shoots ice screws into rock. In that situation, a shirt would be a grievous mistake. Despite the fact that you generally don’t have to take your shirt off, there are several reasons you might want to. Sometimes a shirt feels confining even if it isn’t, sometimes it gets caught on sharp rock, sometimes there are women present, and sometimes you don’t feel like spending the whole day wrapped in a rag soaked with your own sweat. Some of you just said “eew.” So you understand. Mr. Quick-skins, however, needs no such reasons. His reasons for removing his shirt range from “there are other human beings near by” to “I am wearing a shirt.” He will walk in, strip, and carry on.
Women are certainly the minority in climbing, though their numbers are rising now that they’ve found out that a) climbing gyms are full of muscular shirtless men and b) they can get toned and sexy like from yoga or pilates, but in a way faster and cooler fashion. For some reason, however, rooms full of muscular shirtless men tend to intimidate women who are not as toned and sexy as they would like (most women), so many women opt to take women’s-only classes or not climb at all. As a result, the women that do come to climbing gyms are mostly toned and sexy already, and all self-confident. A side tip here for the ladies: being self-confident is a good thing. Constantly disparaging yourself in the hopes that people will compliment you will make everyone hate you instead. Being one of the men (a loosely applied term) that frequent gyms a lot and are not freaked out by women with a BMI higher than their shoe size, I very much appreciate seeing and meeting lots of fit, self-confident women.
The Climber (almost forgot this category)
-Both. This category absolutely does include the kind of women I talked about above.
-All. I taught a class for 3-5 year-olds this summer and I (a reasonably fit 21-year-old) have been out climbed by humiliating margins by 11-year-old girls and 70-year-old men alike. If you’re dedicated enough, age is really not a factor.
-In shape. Climbers fall across the whole spectrum of build, from the skinny guy in the “juicer” section to hulking man-beasts like Dani Andrada, Chris Sharma, and Daniel Woods (below). There are equally good climbers in all different weight classes.
Also you can’t tell, but his feet aren’t touching anything.
You might need a napkin, ’cause you just got served.
-Climbing. That’s really it. Some of us ski in the winter, some of us ride our bikes around town, but we’d rather be climbing. If I could climb for 20 minutes to get to school, I’d do that in a heartbeat.
– hands become sweaty while watching other people climb, watching climbing movies, talking about climbing, writing about climbing (I just discovered), or thinking about climbing.
– fingertips are hard like plastic. Fingerprints are often faded or gone entirely. Climbers whose calluses fall off in the shower are likely to become visibly upset and spend several hours poking a hot frying pan to induce them to grow back.
– prone to spontaneous pull ups on tree branches, store awnings, the backside of stairs, door lintels, sprinkler pipes, really anything we can pull up on.
– tends to be more comfortable with hands elevated. A climber’s hands will be on the lintel if standing in a doorway, the granny handle in a car, or clasped behind his/her head if there’s nothing to lean them on
– talks about climbing all the time. Says things like “send” and “crimp” and “I’m in the middle of projecting this desperate V7, but there’s a huge dyno to a pinch and I keep popping off and decking.” Do not be intimidated by the long strings of nonsensical words, just smile and say something like “Brutal, dude.” The climber will be temporarily assuaged.
– Irrelevant. Anyone who’s excited about climbing and wants to get into it should absolutely give it a try. The best climber in the world will give helpful advice to the rankest of beginners, and do so eagerly and willingly. Do not be frightened by the picture of Daniel Woods. He is not yelling at you. He is cheering you on. Go for it.
Hope this has been enlightening.