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.”
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.”
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: Coach
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”
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 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: Management
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