To Wobble or Not to Wobble?

Throw a wobbler (phrase):

To get really angry. Have a tantrum. See also screaming fit, berserk, rage.

Perhaps my favorite bit of slang I’ve picked up via the climbing community is the phrase “toss a wobbler.” I can’t remember the first time I heard it used, but I do remember the first time I witnessed a climber in the midst of wobbling. I was clawing my way up one of the few sub-5.12 climbs in Rifle Mountain Park when I heard a hoarse, primitive howl reverberate through the narrow canyon. At first I thought someone had sent their project, but the string of eloquent curse words that followed seemed to indicate otherwise. “That will never be me,” I thought.

Like baseball, skateboarding, and panning for gold, climbing involves a lot of failure and a healthy portion of pain and frustration; most of the time the bear eats you.

In order to succeed on a personal limit climb one must invest oneself in said climb. You gotta psych yourself up for those gnarly crimps, yo. You must put your pain in a box, lock the box and throw away the key. One does not simply earn victory by showing up. There are no half measures. Do or do not, there is no try. You get the idea.

The point is, I used to see someone toss a wobbler and think “get a grip, man.” Climbing is fun and I couldn’t understand how anyone could get so upset doing something so enjoyable. But as the years passed and I focused on climbing as hard as I could, I found that it is not always so fun, not always so enjoyable. Sometimes you rip a flapper, sometimes you pump out at the chains, sometimes you miss the pads, and failure is never fun.

So about investing oneself in a climb… Success at the highest level of your ability takes complete commitment to the end result; you gotta *go for it.* When you’re going for it and you fail, it is natural to be frustrated and, speaking for myself, the only way to commit entirely to another attempt at the rig is to vent that frustration. Enter the wobbler.

My go to is the chalk bag toss (though I’m always careful to close the bag first…leave no trace and whatnot) usually accompanied by a quiet-but-severe expletive or two. Ten seconds or so of venting and I’m good to go. By nature I am not an angry person, and I definitely understand the necessity of respecting other people’s space and enjoyment of nature. This is just my way of letting off steam so that I can pour myself back into the task at hand.

While I find Adam Ondra’s outbursts excessive to say the least, I now understand where those outbursts come from and can appreciate how hard he tries and how much of himself he puts into climbing at the absolute highest level.

Naturally, you are entitled to your own opinion on the matter. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and we can work it out.


2 thoughts on “To Wobble or Not to Wobble?

  1. I like to enter the Rage Cage even before I start climbing. Going into climb with a string of healthy epithets a priori gets me ready for the failure. When I fall, I’ve already taken care of said wobbler and if I send, I get to give my partner a sheepish grin and whimper, “Yay.”

  2. Your title is a bit misleading: it doesn’t seem that whether to wobble or not is a conscious decision. It’s an involuntary response. It’s primal. In the immortal words of Walt Whitman, it’s a “barbaric yelp.” It’s that moment when you know you’ve done something you shouldn’t despite your better judgment. Yes, it feels great at the time, but you somehow know that you have let too much of yourself escape into the public realm. It’s like that time when you got drunk on honey liqueur at your aunt’s Christmas party as a protest against participating in the annual spectacle of communal gift opening. Despite the excellent reasons (at the time) for doing it, you still feel embarrassed and repentant the morning after. I know I get frustrated with myself when I have a bad day of climbing. And I know I wobble sometimes (or rather, since I’m a mediocre climber, pout and complain about my belayer or the setters or the weather or God). And I know I can’t help it. It comes with having high expectations of yourself: if you don’t expect to do well, there’s nothing to be angry at. But it’s precisely that feeling of letting go of control in a relatively controlled environment that makes climbing so spiritual. It’s an internal struggle more than a physical one. It allows you to exit the restraints of reason and release some animal energy, for once to be more a beast than a human.

    PS. Ondra has no excuse 😀

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