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Height Shaming. It’s a Thing. Let’s Talk About It.

In a sport that heavily relies on its community for support, it’s counterproductive to tear someone down due to uncontrollable factors like height---and that goes for climbers both short and tall.

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“If I was 5’8″ that move would go down easy.” “That move is too scrunchy. I can’t get my foot all the way up there!” “It’s soft V5 from the low foot.” 

As climbers, we all wish we had that “extra inch” or could scrunch up into a tiny ball to complete a certain move. We also all make excuses—height being one of them.

After sending Resident Evil, my first ever double-digit boulder in Joe’s Valley, Utah, a place notorious for its big reaches, my climbing partner ego-checked me.

“Nice, congrats on that V7,” he said, not even 30 seconds after I downclimbed off the boulder. Sure, my 5’9” span made the first move a bit easier, and yes, it felt more like V9… but who cares? I  brushed off the comment, but I was pissed. Half of me knew there was some truth to his words, but the other half wanted to ignore him and bask in the glory of my first ever V10.

On many climbs, tall climbers get “sandbagged” because of their height and short people struggle because of theirs. There’s also a fair share of climbs that reverse these roles. Indeed, I’ve sent climbs above my pay grade because of my lanky limbs. But I’ve also gotten shut down on “moderates” because I wasn’t able to stick my knee in my face to get that high foot. It’s a two-way street, and every size has its advantages and shortcomings (no pun intended).

[Also Read The Height of Injustice: Is Being Tall an Advantage in Your Climbing Career?]

So let’s talk about this phenomenon of height-shaming. In a sport that heavily relies on its community for support, it’s counterproductive to tear someone down due to uncontrollable factors like height. When height is the limiting factor on a climb, it can be frustrating. But discrediting your friend’s strength because they “fit the move” better isn’t helping anyone, and it surely isn’t going to get you up that boulder.

First, tall-shaming: when average- or smaller-sized climbers deduct value from a  taller climber’s achievements because of their height. There’s a right time and a wrong time to tall-shame. Don’t tall-shame: if your taller friend can do a move that you can’t, if they can reach a lower foot, or if they bypass that shitty intermediate that you have to fingernail crimp. Do tall-shame: if your tall friend is being a dick and needs an ego-check.

But how about some love for the shorties? Those of you who have climbed in Joe’s Valley or Fontainebleau know that it’s no walk in the park if you’re shorter than average. Short climbers are often forced to seek alternate beta that usually involves some heinous intermediate. Respect.

The author bouldering in Flagstaff. Photo: Nic Daughtry.

Ultimately, some climbs favor the tall people, and some favor the not-so-tall. But if you’re the latter and you’re bitter about it, don’t be. Consider that some of the strongest female climbers are under 5’3″ and climb V-ridiculously-hard. So there’s hope. And if you’re over 5’8” and complaining about your height, I recommend doing that in private, as the odds are usually in your favor.

Here’s a tough pill to swallow: height does not correspond to climbing ability and excuse-making does not correspond to improved self-esteem (in most cases, anyways). Your ape-index is a better determinant of reach than your actual height, anyways. (Ape Index, by the way, is climber slang describing the length of one’s wingspan relative to their height.) A neutral ape index means that the length from the fingertip on one hand to the fingertip on the other is equal to your height. A positive ape index—when your wingspan is longer than your height—generally helps with climbing. (Side note: you’ll often find climbers comparing wingspans at parties for fun… we’re a rare breed). So if you’re finding yourself in need of some new excuses, talk about your negative ape index, not your height. It’s way more reputable.

(But again, ape index isn’t the be-all-end-all. After all, what’s a +3 ape index without strong fingers, technique and a rugged pair of biceps?)

[Also Read When The Holds Get Far Apart, The Small Start Jumping]

If there’s a “perfect” height for climbing, I’d argue I’m that. I’m just over 5-feet-8-inches tall with long, lanky legs, and a neutral ape index. But even still, I’ve made my fair share of excuses over the years. We all do it. When your height starts dictating what routes you try and how much fun you have on them, take note. Because often, it’s the hard, uncomfortable, and awkward moves that help us grow as climbers. Put in the work, try scary moves, and don’t let your height shape your experience.

So long story short: How do you overcome your all-consuming height complex? Different body types require more attention in certain areas. If you’re tall and lanky, you’ll likely need a stronger core to stay close to the wall. If you’re short and stout, climbs might require stronger fingers or better contact strength to stick big moves. We can all use more of something, so let’s harness our height-induced frustration and turn it into action. This might mean letting out your loudest try-hard noise in the gym or it might mean doing 40 extra pull-ups at the end of a session.

But most importantly, we can all use a justified ego check once in a while. So, to all of you tall folks reading this who think you’re getting strong, you’re probably just tall. And to the shorties pulling hard, you’re probably just light.

Lastly, to my climbing partner in Joe’s, I genuinely thank you for keeping me forever humble. After all, it’s just rock climbing.

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