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Tales of Sickness: Pro Climbing is Neither

Matt Samet gives us pointers on how to sell out in comfort, safety and style.

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This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 144 (September 2005).


Are you a spraylord? Illustration by Jeremy Collins.

Sponsorship: the Holy Grail of the climbing world, the crowning achievement that announces, “Hey, I’m a climber of dubious talent who has so insistently whored myself out that Company X gave me a free pair of shoes just so I’d go away.” Or, in the case of truly gifted climbers, a great way to get much-merited free gear and stay on the road, visiting new cliffs.

Since most of us fall into that middling- to no-talent category, it’s critical that we, in approaching manufacturers for free swag, present ourselves in the best light possible. This may or may not involve telling the truth. Usually it’s best just to embellish or lie. This is accomplished by “fluffing the rez,” aka “padding the résumé,” a time-honored technique for airbrushing your (non-) achievements and generating buzz.

Tip #1

Lie. Congrats—you toprope-beta-flashed The Shocker (5.13a) at the Enormodrome using a quickdraw as an intermediate, but, really, if it hadn’t been smarmy that day, or the chipped jug below the crux wasn’t seeping, or your left shoe wasn’t slathered in yak urine, you would have on-sighted. Give credit where credit isn’t due and upgrade your ascent to an on-sight. No one besides you, or a few basement-dwelling sociopaths prone to verbal ejaculation on climbing message boards, will care anyway. With your on-sight now established, post it to your website (, or your if some douchebag already owns the domain), your scorecard (where you’re ranked 20,957th
in the world), and to any magazine editor who will listen (“Sure, we’ll publish it in next issue’s Small Wires … what did you say your name was

Tip #2

Retro-upgrade. This will save the pesky, time-consuming task of getting your lardbutt in shape and redpointing any new hard routes; it works especially well if you’re a has-been with a semi-credible ticklist. Simply round up the grades of your hardest sends. The difference between 5.13c/d and 5.14a is negligible at best, a quantitative splitting of hairs best left to climbers with integrity. (You don’t want to be one of them, do you?) Also, any boulder problem you’ve done is now V15, the sexy V-grade du jour. If you had to dyno a little, it was probably V16.

If you’re worried about being revealed as a self-promoting charlatan, then only retro-upgrade obscure routes at local pile crags that no real climber
would ever visit. No one will bother to confirm or deny your claims. Southern California, with its multitude of raggy-ass mud cliffs sliding into the Pacific, is a perfect venue, as is western Colorado, where the limestone is more shattered than Princess Di’s windshield and cattle outnumber climbers. If you live in the Midwest, sorry, but you’re f—ked: 5.8 at South Dakota’s Needles equates to about 5.11 X anywhere else, and that’s one of the least sandbagged crags in the region.

Now, post your résumé at your website and “accidentally” leave copies in the johns at your local rock gym or coffee shop.

Tip #3

Minister the information. As in, become your own one-man or one-woman Ministry of Information, disgorging a tidal wave of propaganda,
like Goebbels on a coke binge. You’ll need minions, field operatives and well-placed allies who can preach the Gospel of You. Have these lackeys send occasional postcards or emails about “this rad new climber I keep hearing about … [You]” to gear companies and magazines. Then, strategically post these toadies at the base of each crag you plan to visit and have them whisper, “Isn’t that You, the best climber of his generation?” when you ruck up with your hardboy scowl, kneepads, finger condoms and sticker-spattered stick clip. To keep your followers loyal, promise that you’ll hook them up with pro deals once you’re sponsored. Should they show any signs of disloyalty or attraction to another aspirant, shoot them where they stand.

Now that you’ve jump-started the rumor mill, it’s time to start begging, er, contacting, gear manufacturers. Consider the following real-life sponsorship requests sent to major companies. The names have been changed to protect the overly earnest and/or blatantly dumb.

Exhibit A

Using the Lord’s name in vain. This youngster, unable to afford the equipment to join his local volunteer fire brigade, wrote one company
requesting some basic safety equipment.

“Hi, God bless you. My name is Julio. I am 17 years old. I passed to the twelfth grade of the Marcelino Rodriguez Román High School. Since a child I have been a servant of God. I attend to the Pentecostal M.I. Church … for the glory of God I am vice-president of the young society of the
church. …

“Equipment needed: Rescue Gloves (small), Helmet, Safety Glasses, Headlamp, Uniform Belt …

“P.S. I will be very grateful for your help, and I will be praying for you that God will continue blessing your lives and company.”

Unfortunately, poor Julio didn’t know that goat-sacrificing Satanists ran the company. His request for sponsorship was denied. As of press time, he
had hired on as Richard Ashcroft’s pool boy and was reportedly seen handling snakes and speaking in tongues at an End of Days church-cum-Tuff-Shed outside Dwarf, Kentucky.

Exhibit B

Stinkin’ Linkage. Recalls the coordinator of one major manufacturer’s sponsorship program, “About 10 years ago this guy Magic Al—I think he’s from New York—asked to be sponsored by us, and on his résumé it was just a bunch of linkage he had done on routes but no routes he had redpointed. He would say, ‘I linked between the second and fifth bolt of Scarface,’ ‘I have done White Wedding with four falls,’ etc. I think it
was one of the funniest résumés I had ever seen.”

Do not be disheartened by this jaded coordinator’s callous cruelty. Linkage is totally key, the first step (well, second, after doing all the moves) in any important send. By letting your prospective sponsor know you’re piecing the route together, you’re showing your dedication, nay, passion, for the high art of redpointing. After all, you could have just lied (see Tip #1) and said you’d climbed the stupid thing already. Sadly, Magic Al’s soul focus failed to get him the hook-up.

Exhibit C

Uze Bad Grammer. To let potential sponsors know you won’t be wasting time on such frivolities as education or proper use of the English language, and will focus solely on climbing, pepper your request with Pidgin English and rampant misspellings. Take the following request, for example:

“I am a rising stare in the climbing comunity and I belive I can increase sales of your products. Please consider sponsoring me. My resume is attached.

“Resume:5.12c 8th try etc. [elided]

“PERSONAL INFO: As a result of my rapid progress and achieves in my short climbing career (only 1.5 years), my quest is to become a professional climber. I am climbing with nationally known climbers and … my objective is to climb my fist 5.14 in only my second year of climbing and compete in USAC Nationals!”

The kid, unfortunately, did not stay in the picture.

Exhibit D

Group grope. School groups, church groups, climbing clubs, etc. often seek sponsorship for their members, appealing to a target company’s
public-service side to home in on freebies. It’s worth a try, as these following two queries to an industry leader show:

“I am the Resident Camp and Challenge Course Director for the Girl Scouts of Magic Empire Council and I am sending this letter to inquire about the
possibility of receiving a donation of headlamps from your company.

“During our summer resident camp, we put on an outdoor adventure program for 16 girls, ages 13-17. … In this session, almost all program activities take place in the nighttime hours. The girls who attend this program will be participating in various night climbing activities and making their way through three separate high challenge courses in the dark. … I have had personal experience with [your] headlamps on several occasions.”

Sixteen Girl Scouts, eh, running around all on their own in the woods in the dark … you don’t say. The director should be panhandling for TASERs,
not headlamps.

This same industry leader also received a request for funding to the tune of $1,000 to $10,000 to help a prominent mountain club in their bid to bag
Ama Dablam via cutting-edge 5.6 and AI 3 climbing. In return, they’d receive media and other coverage, and complimentary registration for two (value $295 per person) to the Basic Climbing School. Wow. Athlete bios included such tidbits as the fact that one climber had summited Pike’s Peak at age 11 (there’s a road to the top); another, when asked why he likes to climb, ” … replies by a quote whose author he can’t quite remember: ‘There are three true sports: bullfighting, car racing and mountain climbing. Everything else is mere entertainment.'” (The author was likely one Ernest Hemingway, who said, famously, “There are only three true sports: bullfighting, mountain climbing, and auto-racing. Everything else is just a game.”) This request, for entertainment reasons, was denied.

If any of these half-assed, psychotic tactics have succeeded in landing you a sponsor, you can now call yourself a “pro” athlete. Being a professional
rock climber is like being handed the key to the city … of Sodom. Run wild with your newfound status. When someone is in your way on the warm-up, demand that he “defer to the greater climber.” If a magazine fails to include your name and/or photo in every issue, express your displeasure by penning a diatribe to the editors addressing each perceived “slight.” (Choice phrases include: “Blackballing high profile cutting edge climbers, who are supported by major advertisers, seems like a pretty silly thing to do,” and “By the way, I have also climbed 5.11 at Eldo, and even some 5.12s!!”)

If a route is giving you trouble, kick the rock and drop the F-bomb. Announce future successes and upcoming climbs via press releases, keep your blog up to date, never miss an opportunity to diss your fellow climbers—whether around the campfire or via letters to their sponsors complaining about their lack of performance. And, above all, scam tough: You will be replaced next year by some V-13’ing “phenom” from a rock gym in Omaha, Nebraska.

Matt Samet, dying of Mad Cow Disease, is living out his final days in Barrow, Alaska.

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