You walk up to the wall rope in hand, chatting to your climbing partner about your last climb. You talk about that move at the crux and how you just can't seem to quite pull the move. Your partner mentions a boulder problem at the gym that was just set that has the exact move. You're stoked! You can now practice the move and finally send your project! Your partner ties in gives you a quick nod, and begins to climb, and there you are at the base of the climb quietly holding the rope.
Sound familiar? This is pretty much every single time most people climb with a partner. The belay is often viewed as a "necessary chore". One that most people do because they need to have a climbing partner. The thing is that most people seem to ignore is just how important the belay is.
Everyone has a story about that "bad belayer". You know the one that gave you too much slack, or not enough, or almost dropped you (or did drop you). The thing is no one takes the time to look back at themselves and their belay technique. In everyones own mind their belay is fine. They know what they're doing. The thing is how often do you actively practice belaying? I don't mean how many times have you given a belay. I mean how many time have you actively taken the time to focus your effort on what it is your doing? To notice things you can do better. To read about belay technique and work on improving it? When was the last time you adjusted your belay technique to something that might work a little better? And I'm not talking about changing from an ATC to a GriGri, that sure as hell doesn't count.
Just last week a professional climber decked from 45 feet in a gym while on a GriGri with someone who had been belaying her forever! From every logical angle THIS SHOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED! This is a professional climber! This was her main belaying partner for YEARS! There was no equipment failure. This was purely on the belayer, and it wasn't lack of experience with the climber, lack of experience belaying, fundamentally it was not practicing belaying.
When asked if you know how to belay most people will respond with "yea, I can belay". That's like responding to "Can you climb?" with "Yea i can climb". What does that mean? You know what you can do when you climb. You know where your weaknesses are. You know if you are a 5.6 climber or a 5.15 climber. You probably have a list of things you want to work on in your climb technique or strengths. Have you ever thought about how to give a better dynamic catch? Do you even know what that really means? Do you know how to give one to a climber half your weight? What about twice your weight? Can you lead belay with an ATC or a GriGri or an MegaJul? Do you understand how each device works? Have you studied the different techniques of belaying with each device and the pros and cons of each technique? Do you change devices when you're gym climbing so you can keep your technique clean no matter what device you are using? Do you know how to belay during sport or trad?
Belaying is much much more that just holding the end of the rope. You are responsible for the life of the other end. Treating it so cavalierly is not just stupid its dangerous not to mention selfish. The person on the pointy end is trusting you with their lives. They want to focus on the climb and not have a lingering concern about if they are going to get caught or how hard that catch will be. So be a better all around climber. Practice your Belay.
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