We spoke to @reebs.climbs about finding joy in failure and how her persistence, positivity and 'relatable beginners content' have inspired newcomers to climbing.
Rebecca McIntyre doesn't take herself or her climbing too seriously. From describing her ascents as a 'sh*tshow from start to finish' to performing happy dances when she reaches the top, 'Reebs' turns self-deprecation into an art form. When her technique goes 'out of the window', she shares How Not To Do It videos (set to the Wallace & Gromit theme tune). If she's not a 'hot mess' on the wall, she's celebrating small wins with a smile on her face. Failing gracefully is a win. Getting one hold further is a win. Rebecca's motto is: #postfailsnotsends. She aims to show the unfiltered reality behind successful climbs and the journey of a 'below average' climber.
"Is anyone else this happy with failure?" she asked in a post.
"I like to smile even when I know I'm not going to get very far."
Rebecca, 33, doesn't perceive failure as a negative, but rather an essential part of progression. Her down-to-earth videos and funny sketches - such as Classic Bouldering Dismounts - have earned her nearly 8,000 followers on Instagram. Her account is the antithesis of the hype and heroics of high-end climbing on social media, where big grades, good days and 'sends' (US slang for completing a climb) are typically front and centre. For Rebecca, the purpose of climbing is to have fun, and in doing so inspire others to take up the sport and feel confident on the wall, no matter their experience or ability level.
Before the pandemic, Newark-based Rebecca played Roller Derby up to four nights a week. When the UK eased out of lockdown, training wasn't permitted due to its full-contact nature, and she missed her weekly adrenaline highs. She needed a new sport, but wasn't sure which to choose, until a friend invited her to a bouldering session. "The first time touching the top of a wall, I got a similar adrenaline rush to Roller Derby, and that was it, I was hooked!" she said.
Having competed in Irish dancing from age 6-16, Rebecca was typically drawn to more artistic sports. "The more I climb, the more I have come to appreciate the absolute artistry involved in climbing," she said. "The delicate nuances in foot placement and body positioning that allow you to stay on the wall rather than shearing off it!"
A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Rebecca also finds that both climbing and Roller Derby force her to embrace making mistakes. "You absolutely cannot be perfectionistic in a sport where frequent failure is a prerequisite!" she said. "As neither sport comes naturally for me, it generally requires a lot of practising and drilling, and acceptance that my progress is probably going to be glacial."
But progress is not the most important part of climbing for Rebecca – she enjoys socialising, meeting new people, and taking her mind off intensive studies for a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology after working as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist for eight years.
In Rebecca's experience, the climbing community is welcoming, inclusive and diverse. "I have found lots of people to chat to, with a range of abilities, and everyone seems eager to help and offer advice when it is requested," she explained. Rebecca has, however, met certain climbers with 'gatekeeping tendencies', who suggest that climbing is only for those of a certain body type, and that beginners don't have a place in the gym.
"They believe that you're not a 'proper climber' unless you're sending V7+," she said. "I feel sorry for these people, who don't seem to understand the sheer joy of small achievements, like practising a V1 for three weeks and finally sending it on the fourth week."
Rebecca opened her Instagram account in February 2021, just as the UK was in the middle of a second lockdown. "It was deepest darkest winter, much harder to exercise outside and all indoor facilities were closed," Rebecca explained. "I wanted to track my progress so far, post something every day, and have something to look forward to at the end of a work day."
Sometimes I start a route with the best of intentions, but when I balls it up, my automatic response is just to laugh at myself and the sheer ridiculosity of what I must look like and what I'm doing.'
Incorporating a catalogue of filmed climbs over six months from her first steps in August 2020, Rebecca's climbing video diary resonated with others. "People seemed to really identify with it!" she said. "I didn't expect that at all, so it was a massive surprise when the follower count just kept on growing."
Over time, Rebecca mixed in humorous skits (How Not to Dyno 101) and sketches (The Chalk Butler) alongside her progress videos. She enjoys the creative aspects of video production. "Music is my other love, and there is something so satisfying about fitting the mood of the video to a piece of music that evokes similar emotions," she said.
The #postfailsnotsends hashtag came about by accident. Rebecca typically shares videos in their rawest form – imperfect, unedited videos of falling, or failing, or making 'mistakes'. "To me, that feels reasonable, because those are my experiences for most of a session, and I still have a really great time, and sending is only a small part of why I climb," she said.
Rebecca immediately received messages from people who said that they found these videos inspiring. "I was struck by the idea that not everyone feels able to post their failures and expose their vulnerabilities," she said. Sensing a movement, she used the hashtag on her 'fail' posts. "The climbing community ran with it and last time I checked, the hashtag had been used over 4100 times, which suggests that it was needed."
'Fail' videos, in which people fall, slip, miss and generally make a fool of themselves are popular across social media channels. On Instagram, 12 million posts have been tagged with #fail, while on TikTok, the hashtag has received 179 billion views to date.
What does this hankering for slapstick comedy and laughing at failure tell us about ourselves? "I think secretly we all see failing as a massive vulnerability or deficit in our abilities, and by posting a fail and making light of it with humour, we can engage in a shared experience that otherwise might be too difficult to share," Rebecca said. "It takes the sting out of something that actually feels quite painful."
Perhaps speaking to the importance of failure in training and progression, Olympic champion Janja Garnbret has a FAILS highlights collection pinned to her Instagram profile. 'I have many!' Garnbret joked in a post. A fail video shared to her feed earlier this year is one of her most-played videos, with over 500,000 views:
Rebecca believes that people — helped by the transparency shared by high-profile climbers like Garnbret — are coming round to the fact that posts on Instagram are carefully curated for an audience, and not actually representative of a whole experience. Athletes and influencers are increasingly aiming for more authenticity in their posts, she believes.
"Seeing a top athlete post relatable content is something we can all connect to," Rebecca said. Sharing the process and the downs as well as the ups can help to foster transparency and trust on both sides. "From an athlete's perspective, it must be frustrating when people think you came out of the womb able to climb walls, when in reality, that thought process obscures the truth of all the hard work and commitment that athletes put in."
While her content won't necessarily appeal to more experienced climbers, Rebecca is happy to have amassed a following of like-minded beginners who find her videos relatable and her 'Golden Labrador Energy' infectious. "I like to watch people swinging about doing cool things, but realistically I am not going to be at that point for a very long time, so I don't identify with it as much as I would with other beginners at a similar level," she said.
On the rare occasion, Rebecca receives messages from more experienced climbers belittling her progress and questioning her reasons for sharing her story — in addition to unsolicited comments about her body. "These messages say things like; 'You must be desperate for attention if you want praise for sending a v1, which even a kid could do', or even things like 'You are too fat to climb, you need to lose weight to get better,'" she said.
Luckily, Rebecca has thick skin and chooses to share abusive messages anonymously to her feed to start a dialogue about inappropriate comments and bolster the confidence of others who receive them. She once opened a message reading: 'I just started climbing and I feel ashamed to go to the gym because the girls there are slim'. Rebecca posted this message with consent and the outpouring of support from the climbing community encouraged that person to continue climbing, "which I see as a win," she said.
You absolutely cannot be perfectionistic in a sport where frequent failure is a prerequisite!
As a new climber, Rebecca is impressed by the efforts made by walls to be more inclusive, citing specific events and climbing sessions for different groups of people. She has two ideas for making indoor climbing more enjoyable for newcomers. "I wish there were 'height considerate' routes," Rebecca said — something that she believes could be improved by increasing female representation in setting. "A reachy V3 is always going to be inherently harder for me as a 5'2" climber, compared to someone who is 6ft. My technique is generally quite good, but it's disheartening if the only thing that throws me off a climb is that I'm not tall enough."
She also wishes that there were more beginner-focused fun competitions: "Lots of centres hold competitions, but these are graded for people at a higher level. I wish there were competitions for people who climb V3 or lower, where all the beginners could get together and celebrate each other's successes!"
On social media, Rebecca names Shauna Coxsey and Leah Crane as two of her favourite athletes to follow, "due to their personability and encouragement of others." Yet the people who inspire her most are not necessarily athletes, but those who simply "climb for joy":
"@dyno_mike_ inspires me daily, because he teaches me things and is patient. Same for @portlycore, who continues to support me through all types of horrendous comments from people on social media. I also enjoy the accounts of @lowball_laura, @andysclimbs and @boulderingbelles. @the.climb.to.healthy is an inspiring account simply because of the determination to climb despite a number of health conditions. Same goes for @paraclimber_jeantique, the founder of @eds_climbers. I would also like to mention to @_emily_ankers, the creator of @betamagazineclub, which is a magazine focusing on the female experience of climbing, but is inclusive to all. I enjoy the conversations that take place on these accounts."
Although Rebecca has climbed outdoors on three occasions so far, she "hated it" each time. "I kept having repeated visions about cheese-grating my face on the wall, or falling off and hitting my head on a rock," she said. In 2018, Rebecca suffered a significant head injury while playing Roller Derby and is wary of experiencing an injury or concussion again. "I think this is partly the reason for my fear response on the wall," she explained. "It's absolutely fine to dislike that aspect of the sport, because I enjoy indoor climbing so much, and that's fair in my book!'
Rebecca's next climbing goals are to overcome her freeze response, to build endurance and belaying confidence for more top-roping and to tick her first black (V2-V4) at the Nottingham Depot. "Otherwise, I want to keep having fun while exploring different climbing centres, to continue meeting up with different people and having conversations about what it's like to be a beginner in this community," she said.
For those looking to try climbing, or someone struggling to find their way in the sport, Rebecca suggests not going it alone. "It can be very difficult to suddenly jump into a sport by yourself, so my advice would be – find a friend that seems up for trying something new with you, and embrace the journey together," she said. "Follow other beginners on Instagram, and watch as many beginner-focused videos as possible on YouTube."
"And, as always," she added, " #postfailsnotsends to encourage advice and support from the climbing community."
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