Rock climbing is a super fun sport and it becomes even more fun when your friends are climbing with you. Not to mention, you can never have enough climbing partners.
If you’ve been trying to get your friends to join you for climbing with little luck, try these (tested) steps and enjoy your new-found climbing partner/friend.
Decide What Kind Of Climbing To Do With Your Friend
If you prefer bouldering then you want to hook your friend on bouldering, not big wall climbing. This is unfortunately, something that I have mistakenly done over and over again. I love bouldering and I wanted friends to go bouldering with me. The gym nearest to my friend’s house was a top-rope climbing gym so we went there for her first time climbing. She loved being tied into a rope and it was hard to convince her to try bouldering.
Learn it from me and decide what kind of climbing you want your friend to join you in the future and consider introducing them to that kind of climbing first.
Scout Climbing Gyms
Introducing your friend to climbing in a gym is much easier than out in the wild. The two main reasons for this is because there is less risk of climbing indoors and it is easier to know where/how to climb up the wall.
As for safety features, climbing gyms have rope anchored for you and usually have safety monitors that walk around the gym making sure that you are practicing safety.
As for climbing gyms making it easy to know where/how to climb up the wall, the climbing holds are sticking out of the wall and clearly marked. In comparison, climbing outdoors you have to feel around and hope that it is the right place to put your hand and feet.
You can’t just pick a climbing gym that is closest to you, however. Every gym feels different and has different facilities.
You should look for a gym that has a “vibe” similar to a vibe you think your friend would enjoy. I’ve been in so many climbing gyms that make me feel uncomfortable and dirty just because of the people that commonly hang out there treat me or even the type of music that they play.
You don’t have to pay to find out what the gym is like. Just ask the front desk if you can check out their facility and they are usually more than happy to show you around.
Pro Tip: Talk to the employees. The way they make you feel is probably how they will make your friend feel too. Plus, it’s usually a good reflection of how the people that climb at that gym are like as well.
Identify Cost And If There Are Any Discounts
Once you find the right gym or when you are comparing what gym to bring your friend to, it is important to understand how much it is going to cost to climb there.
Consider the cost of entry, shoe rentals, and any gear rental such as belay devices or carabiners (if needed).
Often times there are days in the week that are discounted or there are special discounts for students, military, etc. One of my favorite questions to ask the staff is if there is a ladies night with discounted entry for women.
Learn The Best Time/Day To Climb There
Climbing for the first time in an overcrowded gym can be more stressful than fun, especially if you have to wait for climbs or feel rushed to finish a climb. Consider finding out when the best time/day it is to go climbing before bringing your friend to a climbing gym.
For example, sometimes gyms have student nights or special events or tournaments that may make it super crowded.
To avoid the crowds, talk to someone at the gym about how busy it gets and the best times to come. Consider asking climbers and employees to really get a feeling for the best time to come.
Ensure that you have a couple of times/days in mind for climbing so you have options to bring to your friend when you invite them to climb.
Invite Your Friend To Join You Climbing
Now that you have done your homework, you can finally ask your friend to join you climbing. It may even be worth mentioning that you found a climbing gym that you think they’d enjoy.
Provide recommendations for the best days and time to climb to see if they are available and let them know how much it would cost as well.
If They Say No
Most people’s first instinct, when invited to something they’ve been taught is dangerous, is to say no. It is instinct and probably has nothing to do with you (it might, but you’ll find out soon enough if it is you or the activity.
If your friend doesn’t want to go, find out why. Here are some commmon scinarios and possible ways of working through their objection.
- If your friend is afraid of heights: Climbing isn’t going to be something that they will love the first time they do it. Most of my friends that climb and are/were afraid of heights climb because they thought it would help them get over their fear. However, that is usually a decision they make on their own and you “forcing” them to work through their fear isn’t likely to turn out well.
- If it is the time/day: Ask them what time or day would work better for them. If they want to go when it is usually really busy, then consider proposing going a different week and explain why so they know you are trying to make it so they have the best experience possible.
- If it is cost: Consider paying for them for the first time you go climbing. The tricky thing with paying for them is that they may not value the experience as much if they don’t pay for it themselves. This happened to me with my brother. I paid for him to go the first few times and now he enjoys it (a lot, I’m told) but he only goes climbing with me if I pay for it…
- If it is anything else: Consider whether or not additional pressure will get them to come to the gym or if it will push them away from wanting to climb. Remember, sometimes the pressure is good (depending on the person) and sometimes pressure makes them shy away from you.
If They Say Yes
Be sure to tell your friend what to expect when they are at the gym. Without overwhelming them, let them know what you recommend they wear, what to bring and what to expect when you get there.
For me, most of my friends that I invite are women so I usually recommend they wear leggings and a tank top with a sports bra. For guy friends I usually recommend gym shorts or hiking pants if they have them.
This way they wear clothes that they are able to move freely in and we don’t have to worry about them wearing tight leather pants… I have seen that before.
Sometimes if my friend is super nervous, I’ll even wear whatever they plan on wearing, for example instead of climbing pants, I’ll wear gym shorts so they don’t feel out of place.
As for things they should bring, they will need to bring money to get in and a water bottle. I always recommend a water bottle because it not only makes it so they have more energy while they climb (water does that) it also makes it so they can take a breather with a few swigs if they feel like they need an excuse to just chill.
When it comes to what to expect when they get there. I usually just tell them on the drive over or when we meet up that they’ll likely need to sign a release form and then we pay for everything including rental shoes. With rental shoes, I let them know that they can try on multiple sizes to make sure they fit right and it is ok if they climb a little and need to switch them out.
Some gyms require you to watch a video, if that is the case, I’ll let them know so they feel confident and comfortable as things progress.
Before You Start Climbing
Before you start climbing, it is always a good idea to warm up a little. Since you probably don’t want to scare them too much, consider just showing them dynamic shoulder and wrist stretches. This way you limit their chances of getting injured the first time they are climbing (plus it is a good habit to learn)
Then you can take a look around the gym. This will give you a chance to see what routes are available and it gives you a chance to explain the general guidelines of climbing.
For example, it is helpful to show them where to place your hands when you start the climb as well as what handhold or footholds to use.
If they haven’t climbed before, make sure that they understand it is ok to use other handholds and footholds, since it is their first time climbing.
Once they have a general idea of how to get a climb, try and find a route that both of you can do to get started. Without looking like a show-off (it’s all about your attitude), show them how you think they’d be able to get up the route and then have them try it.
Avoid Climbing Jargon
Avoid climbing jargon and only use words that they’d understand so they feel comfortable/feel comfortable and confident. Sometimes when you use jargon or words that you have to explain what it means, they feel out of place and it can make them uncomfortable.
If Your Friend Is Stuck
If your friend is stuck or doesn’t know how to get to the next climbing hold, a lot of times climbers will spray beta.
Instead of telling them where to put their foot, consider asking if there is somewhere else they can place their foot.
Not only does this build confidence that they can figure climbing out on their own, it also helps them learn how to problem-solve instead of how to follow orders.
I made the mistake of recommending moves for a friend of mine and even though she got hooked on climbing, she started to become dependent on my beta recommendations. It was like she couldn’t make it up a climb without asking me what she should do next.
It took a long time for me to learn how to help her without telling her what to do. Of course, years later I read this exact same lesson in Vertical Mind, which made me really wish I had read it years earlier.
Tell Them They Are Awesome
Whether or not they finish a climb, tell them how awesome they are and make them feel good about their current skill (even if it is horrible). I’d even suggest saying that they are better at climbing than when you first started.
Do whatever you can to make them feel good about climbing and make them feel accomplished so they’ll want to climb again. Remember, you want them to feel good.
Limit Your Climbing
Don’t climb too long. Beginners often don’t realize that their hands are going to be super sore after their first climbing session so they frequently climb too long.
That feeling that you can’t use their hands for hours after climbing is a negative experience that you want to avoid.
If you are climbing a lot with minimal breaks, consider only climbing for an hour. If you are taking frequent breaks and are chatting or talking for the same amount of time as climbing, consider doing a max of 2 hours.
This way your friend’s skin and hands don’t hurt and leave them with a negative feeling. Unfortunately, even if they have fun while climbing, the pain after climbing can make it so they don’t want to climb again.
Sometimes your friend may suggest that you stay and climb a little longer. If they do this, then encourage them to stop and explain that you don’t want them to be too sore so they’ll want to come back again.
Encourage your friend to wash their hands with cold water after climbing. I’ve found that most new climbers don’t know that warm water can be painful on soft skin so recommend cold water.
After they wash their hands, they should have a pretty good idea of how sore their skin is. Even if they say it is totally fine, however, let them have some of your climbing salve or lotion just in case.
Pro Tip: Recommend that your friend drinks a bottle of water within an hour of your climbing session. This will help them recover seamlessly and feel healthy even if they are a little sore.
Follow-up with them the next day about how they feel and what they thought of climbing. If they liked it, consider inviting them to the climbing gym in a couple of days. After they have been to the gym with you a few times, it is time to invite them to the crag. You can finally go climbing outdoors with your new-found (newly-made, more like it) climbing partner.
Since you not only want them to enjoy climbing, you also want them to enjoy climbing with you, make sure that you are nice and make them feel nice.
Remember that your goal is to get your friend hooked on climbing so that they will go climbing with you again. The goal isn’t to show off or make you feel superior or them inferior so avoid downgrading or teasing your friend their first time climbing.
The best thing to do is to make them feel good about climbing and make them feel like they want to go climbing with you with positive reinforcement.
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