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Editor’s Note: The following is a humor piece and contains some references to alcohol. If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, find help here.
I turned 30 last year and—practically overnight—became a cranky, achy, Millennial perplexed by 90% of what the gym’s Gen Z-ers are up to. Well, I’ve always been pretty cranky and achy, but the increasing confusion with what the next generation of rock climbers are doing has me worried that I might just be a little bit out-of-touch. I grew up idolizing all those old-school dirtbags putting up hard lines at exotic crags while actively drinking moonshine. The new-school kids only appear impressed by dudes adding weird rose-move problems to the Moonboard app, subsisting on a diet of caffeinated fruit chews and Topo Chico. Now, I don’t want to seem all crusty and old-fashioned, so I’m reaching out to all you spry, youthful climbers out there to clarify a few points of confusion.
First thing’s first: I have been hearing the kids at the gym yell “let’s go” in a half-stoked-half-curious tone with increasing regularity, and I have been dying to know where the hell everyone is going. I politely asked one of the mutant teens where him and his buddies were off to, and he just stared at me blankly. Maybe I didn’t get the invite? Seriously though, where are we going? It’s a constant chorus of “let’s go” echoing across the halls of the climbing gym and I don’t see anyone packing up their gear to leave.
Feeling rejected having never been invited to wherever it is the cool, young cats go after their evening gym sessions, I often scroll around on Instagram in an attempt to feel more connected with the world around me. Alone on my couch late at night, illuminated only by the tunnel of bright light emerging from my iPhone, I become more and more perplexed by the mysterious universe that is the modern era of social media. I look up college kid Kyle from my gym on the Insta, expecting to learn loads of information about where he went to high school, his employment history, relationship status, favorite fonts, etc., and all he’s got in his Insta bio is a very short list of what must be route names and their Euro grades, all next to little green emoji checkmarks. I’ve never heard of any of these climbs, and I don’t think Kyle’s ever been to Europe. Is this some sort of code? Where is Kemal’s Var? Or Kegal Crunch? What’s with all the green checkmarks? I scroll down to find that literally every single post is a video of Kyle cutting feet on our gym’s training board. No friend pics, no baby pics, no dog pics, no cat pics, not even a single selfie or sunset. Nothing. Just lots of grunting and dynos, which in retrospect totally checks out, given that he may or may not actually live underneath that little yellow board in the shadowy corner of the gym I don’t frequent, accompanied only by the miniature bendy tripod he’s always readjusting. In any case, I learned that consulting social media for insider tips on how to connect with the youth is a total bust.
Every once in a while, the gaggle of youth shows up at the local boulder field. You can hear them coming from a mile away. They show up extremely prepared for a backyard frat party—I mean, a delightful afternoon in nature with close friends. They’ve got folding chairs, loads of junk food, cases and cases of young adult beverages, and their Bluetooth speakers project sound so far! As envious as I am with the party vibes they’re throwing down at the expense of my serene nature experience, I really need to know— who got everyone hooked on White Claw? I keep seeing these young* (*but definitely of legal drinking age) guns guzzling it down at the crag and then crushing rigs left and right like they didn’t just un-ironically consume eight raspberry hard seltzers while seeing who could say “let’s-f-ing-go” the most times in 20 minutes. (BTW—it was Connor—Connor said it the most times. I still have no clue where we’re going.) The Internet tells me that hard seltzer sales have grown 800% since 2018 and, based on my personal experiences, I would bet many cases of White Claws that at least three-quarters of that growth is attributable to climbers under the age of 23. This kid offered me one after I stared at him and his buddies in a state of bewilderment for a bit too long and, while it didn’t taste nearly as poisonous as I’d expected, I couldn’t help but yearn for the stale, bitter taste of a good old-fashioned crag beer.
Back at the gym, the next gen is inverted-run-and-jump-double-clutch-paddle-dyno-ing its way through the crux of every boulder problem for the hundredth time. The new lead set has this orange “5.12” with a run-and-jump start that I was sure only Lebron James himself would be able to execute, and this 5’0” punk kid sneaks over and runs and jumps right on up to the first hold placed next to the second bolt, as if it weren’t two full body-lengths off the ground, while a dozen other kids yelled “let’s go” repeatedly with enthusiasm. I had always understood a climbing gym to be a place to build technique and get strong to climb harder outdoors, but after multiple decades of rock climbing at a relatively wide variety of crags, I have never once confronted a paddle dyno in real life, and I would have thought that it would be frowned upon to run-and-jump start most outdoor rock climbs. Where are all these outdoor paddle-dynos? Do I still get points for a rock climb if I jump past the intro crux boulder? Is there some secret, dope boulder field out there that’s just stacked with these problems? Is that where everyone is going?
Maybe I should just accept the fact that I’m old and out-of-touch. Maybe it’s too late to connect with the youth. I’ll probably never properly execute a paddle dyno or consume a White Claw without discomfort. I’m unlikely to get the invite to this super-secret parkour crag or figure out what all those green checkmarks mean. I guess I’ll just ride out the early years of middle age with all the other washed-up Millennials, groaning about back pain, spraying about all the climbs we ticked 1,000 crag beers ago, and forever wondering where the hell everyone is going.