Climbing Gym Staff Personality Types: A definitive guide


This is a follow-on from a scholarly article I wrote almost three years ago about the employees frequently found in outdoor stores the world over. The personality types of climbing gym staff also follow a remarkably strict pattern, which I have observed across the globe during years of study conducted entirely at my own expense (please consider donating to the Zen and the Art of Climbing Dirtbag Research Fund).

My extensive study of indoor climbing facilities, from New Zealand to Alaska and everywhere in between, has identified seven distinct sub-species. An examination of their characteristics, roles and hierarchy is presented as follows. I’ll be listing the types in order of authority, from least to greatest.

The Fresh Meat

Sure, The Fresh Meat might be severely underqualified, but what they lack in knowledge they certainly make up in enthusiasm! They are constantly perplexed by complex climbing jargon like “hands” and “feet” and “rope”, but they’ll be damned if they’ll let a criminally negligent level of ignorance stand between them and their dream job! To prove their worth, The Fresh Meat will take the most abhorrently tedious tasks in the gym and do them with a smile. This will endear them to the remainder of the team and make them an indispensable member for years to come.

Appearance: Often quite young. Well groomed. Fidgety.
Climbing Style: Climbs greens. Once flashed a red.
Common Role:
Endless belay demos
Common Phrase: “Have you heard about that Alex Handhold guy? I heard he free climbs things.”

The Dude

If this guy was any more relaxed, he’d be in a coma. The Dude doesn’t take climbing, work, or life in general too seriously, and neither should you. This laidback attitude often proves to be a double-edged sword – it makes him popular with customers, but attracts scorn from his fellow staff. Although his amiability makes him an asset for public relations, The Dude’s genuine nature and fondness for soft recreational drugs will never be a winning combination for the cut-throat realities of corporate life… and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s what climbing gyms are about these days.

Appearance: Longish hair. Shaved a few days ago. Often leaning on something.
Climbing Style: Whatever’s going.
Common Role:
Front Counter.
Common Phrase: “It’s 5 O’Clock somewhere.”

The Wünderkind

This kid is a fucking mutant and you would hate them for their unnatural talent if not for their inexhaustible stoke. The Wünderkind was introduced to climbing at a school friend’s birthday party when they was 7 years old. Soon afterward, they joined the Spidermonkeys Kids Club, followed by the Youth Squad, and finally the National Climbing Team. Now, they warm up on open projects and bolt lines that would make Wolfgang Gullich weep tears of inadequacy into his moustache. But perhaps their greatest skill is the ability to make others feel like they are killing it too, no matter what level they are climbing at. It’s hard to hate someone like that.

Appearance: Lithe. Huge Grin. Good teeth.
Climbing Style: Futuristic
Common Role:
Common Phrase: “Man, you’re looking strong! You are crushing it!”

The It Girl

The It Girl is a vapid entity with the personality of a dish rag, and despite this handicap, enjoys a high level of popularity because “she’s a bit of a looker”. She is especially well-liked by male members from the upper tier of gym rats, helped in no small part by the fact that she climbs at a Goldilocks level – hard enough to impress them, but not hard enough to challenge their fragile sense of masculinity. Ergo, The It Girl finds a natural ally in The Bro, and together, they lead a clique of fellow bros and bro-ettes on regular expeditions to whichever crags can provide the largest and most rapturous audience.

Appearance: Attractive. Generous presentation of cleavage. Matching chalkbag and shoes.
Climbing Style: Moderate-Hard sport
Common Role:
Floor Staff
Common Phrase: “#crushing #yas #girlswhoclimb”

The Bro      

It seemed as if The Bro’s glory days had ended when his tenure as Vice-Captain of his high school footy team came to a close. But when the team ventured to the local climbing gym for their break up party, he discovered a new sport in which to apply his natural athletic talent and overinflated ego. The Bro purchased a few Patagonia T-Shirts, started to grow his hair out, began climbing with gusto and got pretty strong. As a result of this strength, The Bro now considers himself the Crown Prince of the gym. He spends most of his time touring the kingdom with his shirt off, in order that the lowly serfs may be blessed by the sight of his royal nipples.

Appearance: Long hair. Often shirtless. Often looking down his nose.
Climbing Style: Hard sport and bouldering
Common Role:
Route Setter
Common Phrase: “Who wants the privilege of belaying me on my project?”

The Almanac

The Almanac has forgotten more about climbing than you’ll ever know. They must be some kind of savant, because there is no way that the standard human brain can hold that much information. Want to know what gear you need to protect the crux on Oceanoid? The kilonewton rating of a C.A.M.P Orbit with an open gate? The length of pitch 3 on Sweet Dreams? The Almanac knows all. They don’t actually do much in the way of work, but that hardly matters… they’re part of the furniture.

Appearance: One of the older staff members. Thin. Tall.
Climbing Style: Trad guru
Common Role:
Gear Shop
Common Phrase: “Yeah, you’ll want a pink Tricam for that funky solution pocket about two-thirds the way up pitch 7.”

The Grizzled Veteran

The Grizzled Veteran was a total beast in their heyday, that that ship has long since sailed. After two kids and three ACL reconstructions, they are a shadow of their former self. Nevertheless, they’re happy to pull on some plastic every now and again and occasionally hit the crag when the missus gives them a hall pass. Whilst often quite amiable toward the young go-getters that frequent the gym, they’ll occasionally slip into a Thousand Yard Stare when contemplating their former glory.

Appearance: Middle-Aged. Starting to sag. Salt and pepper.
Climbing Style: Jugs
Common Role:
Common Phrase: “I’d like to see you drop knee when you get to my age!”

I am happy to consider submissions for additional sub-species that may have escaped my attention. Please forward your suggestions, as well as your qualifications as a Dirtbagologist, in the comments section.

Dr Ryan Siacci, PhD DrtBg
June 2018

  1. you seem to have found some beautifully congruent gym personalities, but have forgotten the obvious ones. Like the gym rat

    this climbing fiend has been talking about climbing the nose in under 2 hours, repeating Jeff Lowes Metanoia on the eiger or climbing a virgin big wall on Baffin Island ever since he got his gym membership and belaying qualification 2 months ago. Having spent his entire climbing “career” (as he calls it) inside the gym, the gym rat will often lie trying to convince you of his great exploits at your local crag and somehow saying it while maintaining a straight face.

    He loves proper rock climbing gear and will buy full sets of nuts and cams off the epictv shop. He will also own a couple of 5.10 blancos and waste their beautiful edging potential on the massive jugs of some green problem. Often quoting chris sharma or adam ondra this gym rat owns every reel rock film that has ever existed. His extensive knowledge of legendary climbers and climbs is impressive, if not slightly creepy… and makes you wonder what part of his day is not spent on climbing magazine article archives and impossibly obscure climbing youtube videos.

    Loves to make the point that real rock is where shit happens, not the climbing gym. He only goes to the gym to “get raw campus power” for his project… but then hops on the gyms typical parkour style problem.

    Appearance: Receding hairline despite being in his prime (late 20s), developing a beer belly, insanely disproportionate bicep to calf ratio
    Climbing Style: plastic all day everyday
    Common Role: leaflet creator for outdoor climbing promotion
    Common Phrase: “Some people just need to go on a trip and get out the gym. pfffh i hate gym rats ”

    I love your articles! Very funny especially “climbing fashion through the ages”

    1. Ahhh, I see you know your Judo well. Good one.

      Great submission, you have some raw talent in the field of Dirtbagology, and I salute you for it.

      Thanks, I’m glad you have enjoyed a few of my ramblings. Let’s continue to not take climbing too seriously!


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