By Kaleigh Bush
Florida gives rise to a fairly ubiquitous vision: flat sandy beaches mopped by the broken waves of the Atlantic; highway medians adorned with strips of sweeping palm trees; and toe headed, heat intoxicated sunbabies riding their ocean Cadillacs to shore dressed to the nines in sunburns and wetsuits. The vision does not yield mountainous terrain. Nor does casting this landscape likely fortify the climber’s penchant for brisk arid climate and good friction. I’ll also go ahead and assume that the last thing you’d reasonably anticipate from the balmy swamps of Florida is the emergence of a laudable rock climbing community fit to foster the kind of dude whose dexterity on a rock face can hold a candle to that of the most championed climbers on an international scale. But chances are if you’ve visited just about any crag or boulder field in the US and maybe even worldwide, you’ve probably met a handful of Florida climbers. There’s even a good chance they were kind of strong. Maybe not the prized heifer at the county fair, but, arguably, we’ve generated a couple of those as well.
The impossibility of local Florida climbing aside, climbing is habit-forming regardless of where the skill is honed be it outside or indoors. But the general consensus among climbing enthusiasts is that the chief purpose of the climbing gym is its utility as a training implement; the concept is appealing in that it lends climbers a facility for training when the option of climbing outside isn’t available due to adverse weather, being too hard-pressed for time by school or work to spend a day at the crag, or whatever. But I’ve climbed outdoors and indoors enough to realize that the rigid dichotomy between the two environments is as apparent as the contrast between the fibers of plastic and of stone. In the face of this realization, reconciling with the fact that I have to drive for at least seven hours to get my hands on some quality sandstone or granite is quite the cross to bear. Consequently, us Florida climbers who are passionate about what we do are left feeling like salt water fish in a fresh water aquarium when we’re giving it the ol’ college try with nothing at our fingertips but a decent training tool. And when we do get to rock climb, our callouses are sturdy as brick houses but quick weekend climbing trips are too fleeting for our tender fingertips to restore any previous durability. So more than a few good burns on an ultra-crimpy problem and our tips are left pink, shriveled, and nearly deprived of sensation. I won’t even get into the dilemma, regardless of how substantial it may or may not actually be, of how indoor grades stack up against outdoor grades as a system for measuring progress. Is it precise to call yourself a V4 climber if you’re a solid V6 plastic climber but have only topped out V2 outside? Or are indoor grades entirely null and void since indoor climbing is barely even comparable to rock climbing? The debate is probably as contrived as the concept of climbing grades to begin with.
So, there are rock climbers in Florida. There are definitely surfers in Colorado. We’re undoubtedly among the unorthodox and would probably rather be somewhere else more conducive to our respective lifestyles, but we all get by finding a way to do what we love. And we love climbing as much as the next guy. I would also argue that being a Florida climber and having friends locally who are pivotal in the greater climbing community fosters a unique brand of pride that emanates from all of us who know what it’s like to have to set aside entire weekends for climbing in order to rock climb at all. Most of us either put climbing on the back burner when real life kicks in at the onset of real adulthood, or we move out of Florida and build our lives around climbing as a priority. Regardless, one day I will move out of Florida and build my life around climbing as a priority, which speaks volumes about the powers of passion. And my parents’ ceaseless wonder about where the hell they went wrong.