Not Athletic? No Problem—Climbing is for Everyone!

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By Toshiko Shek.

Last July, I got my 15th tattoo of a mountain range on the back of my forearm; little did I know it would also foreshadow my life two months later when I started rock climbing.

I remember the first time I stepped foot into a climbing gym: It was nearly three years ago when my best friend took me to Dogpatch Boulders in San Francisco (I grew up in the Bay Area). To be honest, I was a bit intimidated…well, VERY. I didn’t even try it—I immediately gave it the death sentence thinking, “Nah, this isn’t for me. No way!”

Life works in such a funny way. I met my boyfriend, an avid climber, half a year ago and on our third date he invited me to join him and his friends out in Malibu Creek State Park. I thought I would just tag along and hike, but there ended up being tons of scrambling and I even had to traverse over water. It was challenging (and scary), but I conquered it and they thought I was a natural (major confidence boost!). I thought, “Okay, maybe I can do this rock climbing thing…”

Fast forward a week later and we were walking right behind Alex Honnold heading into the Free Solo showing at Arclight in Hollywood. After watching the film, I felt an intense rush of motivation and was like, “Let’s do this!”

A few days later I was at Cliffs of Id, but once again I found myself stuck half way on a boulder problem. I had a déjà vu moment flashing back to Dogpatch. I thought, “Wait, why am I doing this? Why am I here? I can’t…I can’t…I can’t…”

My boyfriend thought perhaps I should top rope to get comfortable, so he started showing me the ropes (pun intended). I picked up toproping rather quickly and the next thing you know, I was already belaying, climbing up a 45′ wall, and crushing some 5.10’s (I even finished a 5.10c!). Don’t get me wrong, I’m no expert and have so much more to work on. There are definitely great climbing days and also not-so-great climbing days. From time to time, I’ll get discouraged when I can’t do something. But the truth is, you get better at anything with practice.

I was never the athletic type. Yeah, I might have played volleyball and basketball for three years, but that was junior high! And to be honest, I don’t even work out. Really, like never. But luckily I am not afraid of heights, so I just need to work on my strength and technique. I’ve also come to the realization that climbing is quite mental so it’s important to have a positive mindset.

Anyways, whether you are a beginner or you are curious but haven’t tried climbing yet, I hope I’ve given you some insight, and perhaps encouragement! You are more capable than you think, you just gotta believe it.

Tips for new climbers:

1. Don’t be afraid to fall! In fact, the more you do it, the more you get used to it, and that will also help you make bigger moves and push yourself a little more.

2. Keep your arms straight! Don’t exhaust yourself with bent elbows.

3. Use more legs, less arms! Focus on pushing yourself up with your legs instead of pulling yourself up with your arms.

4. Trim your nails, keep them short! You’ll thank me later.

5. Stay positive and have fun! If you can’t do something, just try again later! Climbing is all about problem-solving!

And don’t be afraid to climb outside! In the past five months or so, I have already climbed in Malibu Creek State Park, Texas Canyon in the Angeles Forest, and even Joshua Tree. It is so fun when you climb to the top and you are rewarded with a beautiful view.

You can follow Toshiko and all her adventures (climbing and otherwise) on her Instagram @itsnotheritsme.