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You know that feeling. You’re somewhere new, and you walk in to be greeted by front desk staffers you don’t recognize. You pay for a day pass or start a new membership, then comes the dreaded interaction.
“It looks like you’re not belay certified in our records. If you’d like to belay today, you’ll need to take our belay test.”
Today we spoke to several seasoned climbing gym managers to bring you some industry secrets. We know how anxiety-riddled belay tests can be, and we’re here to tell you what to say if you want to skip the cumbersome process of the dreaded three-minute belay tests.
1.“I know how to belay.”
Easy. Done. Test skipped.
2. “I’ve been climbing longer than you’ve been alive.”
If you are older than the newly CWA-Certified teenage gym employee, this is your best bet. Tell them stories about your decades of experience belaying off a figure-eight, about how you used to throw bags of poop off the summit of El Capitan. Tell them how you learned how to belay before they were conceived and how you climbed 5.12 before they even learned how to walk. Intimidation is key.
3. “I climb outside.”
We all know climbing outside is the baseline indicator of your climbing and safety skills. Bonus points if you approach the belay tester with 12 quickdraws, a few slings, and a random locking carabiner hanging off your harness. Make sure you tell them about the time you climbed outside three months ago. Even better if you climbed outside earlier that day. Remind them that there is no safety orientation outside; therefore, if you’ve been doing something wrong, there is no one to correct you—you live on the edge. You haven’t dropped any of your friends yet, so that’s good, right?
If this doesn’t work, you are truly dealing with a rookie belay tester. Try asking them if they climb outside. If they don’t, they’re required by law to let you skip the belay test under the Climbing Reform Assessment Partners Act (CRAP).
4. “I’m belay certified at Planet Granite.”
They should know this. If you’re belay certified at one gym, you’re belay certified at all gyms. Rookies.
5. “Did you know I’ve climbed [insert hard climb] before?”
Flex, flex hard. The harder you flex, the more likely it is you’ll skip the test. It is a common misconception that gym employees are all climbers. Most gym employees don’t climb and know nothing about climbing. Tell them you’ve been projecting Ten Digit Dialing or any one-move-wonder 5.12+ at your local crag. That’ll do it.
The seasoned gym managers we interviewed also agreed that some belay tests have silly nuances and arbitrary rules. Here are some real tips to make the test a smoother process.
If you suffer from test anxiety, tell the staff member testing you. They’ll understand and know to do things like make small talk or not to stare intensely over your shoulder as you tie in. Remember that it’s their job to help you and keep you safe—no staff member is out to get you. It is possible to pass the test in one gym but fail it at another; gyms may have different standards, and that is OK. Learn the differences, accept them, and understand why those rules are in place. Some gyms refer to “back-stepping” as the act of putting your leg behind the rope while leading, and others refer to it as a climbing technique where you step through while flagging the other leg. Ask your belay tester what they’re looking for, and clarify your use of terminology so there isn’t any confusion.
“When I say back-step, I mean putting your leg behind rope while leading.”
“Would you like me to show you a stopper knot, or is a Yosemite finish acceptable?”
These three to five-minute belay tests are meant to cover your basics, tying in correctly and knowing how to operate your belay device, whether the good old tube-style device or a fancy assisted-braking device. Think of it as a driver’s license. You don’t walk into a DMV telling their staff you’ve been driving before. They know you have, but they still need to test you.