I don’t remember my first successful dyno. But I do remember my first dyno-related emotional breakdown. In 2016, I was about to climb a route on top rope at a wall called La Meca outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. I had been watching attentively from a hammock as various members of our party tried out Quimera, an area classic. It was all jugs until a crux halfway up, where everyone was getting stuck. While thoroughly impressed by the climb, I was nervous and fixated on an “easy” dyno lower down. A dyno requires the climber to jump for the next hold so that, for a split second, they’re completely off the wall. This move “wasn’t even the hard part,” I was told. Before I knew it, I was up next.
I tied in and gripped the starting holds, also feeling anxious at how many folks would be watching my attempt. The first few moves went off without a hitch, and then I arrived at the dyno. My next hold looked miles away. I asked for the static beta: was there a sequence of moves that I could link to potentially avoid the dyno by staying on the wall? I tried one alternative offered to me, but the consensus was that the dyno was the easiest means to getting through the section.
I agreed—but I couldn’t articulate that the thought of the dyno was stressing me out. I took a deep breath, prepared myself the best I could with no previous dyno experience, grimaced, and leaped. My trajectory took me about three centimeters to the left before I slumped into my harness and sank heavy on the rope. I could feel embarrassment accumulating in my belly and rising to my chest. The first try felt feeble; I had barely moved.
Right away, onlookers started giving me practical tips to encourage more attempts: “Push off your feet!” “Keep your arms straight!” “Don’t lever too many times. You’ll tire yourself out!” “Hips in!” “Look past your hold!” “Just go for it!” With the last tip, to just go for it, the embarrassment started to freeze my limbs and my willpower. I was going for it! I was on the damn wall, wasn’t I? I had tried and failed ten times by then. As I was lowered, the same supportive folks let me know I’d get it next time.
I wanted to appreciate the good intentions behind everyone’s advice, but I was struggling and didn’t understand why I felt so ashamed I couldn’t get that dyno. While my ego was certainly bruised, I could feel a deeper hurt permeating my body. Something that lived in my chest, that I hadn’t taken the time yet to explore and understand, was aching. I crawled back into the hammock and used my sleeve to quickly wipe away the tears that were trickling along my lower eyelids. I managed to distract myself until later that evening, when, back in bed, I broke down into sobs, feeling all kinds of turmoil and frustration at experiencing such complete failure.
At least, at that time I considered what had happened a failure. I’ve thought a lot more about how dynos can represent some blind spots in the climbing community about trauma sensitivity. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been at the gym or the crag and someone says, looking at a dyno, “I’m not even going to try it.” I can’t blame them. Dynamic moves ask everything of an individual if we really get down to it, and depending on the day, the individual and so many other variables are going to poke at not only physical but also mental, emotional, and spiritual soft spots. Dynos are just one of many moves in the climber’s repertoire, and it might seem silly to focus on this one detail, but the way we deal with this particular move could do with some intentional sensitivity training. It’s a place to unpack climbing culture, explore our own bodies and experiences, and ultimately create more supportive and inclusive communities within climbing.
In October 2018, I volunteered for the Color the Crag Festival. It had been two years and one concussion since my first dyno attempt. On the third day, I sat on damp earth in a circle of diverse climbers, assisting coach Emily Taylor as she led a clinic called Fundamentals of Climbing. We listened as Emily explained the four major elements that are involved in climbing: the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. I think my jaw dropped when, partway through the clinic, Emily asked us, “How is anyone going to ‘go for it’ when their heart center is heavy and weighing them down?” I was surprised to feel my eyes brimming with tears, and I wasn’t the only one. Others in the group, I could tell, were having similar moments of feeling seen.
After that clinic, a lot more became clear to me. I realized that I could no longer separate my climbing self from the rest of me. I do the following things daily: navigate my emotions, field microaggressions, fight and/or internalize sexism, racism, and a whack of other bullshit. When it comes time to execute a move that requires confidence, openness, abandon, faith…well, no wonder I find it more than a little difficult to connect the dots on dynos.
For a while, I contained my climbing to less dynamic, more technical, delicate, balancey routes. I limited my perception of my own capabilities, because I didn’t fit the mold of what I thought a dynamic climber was like. If you would have asked me that day, “Who dynos?” I would have answered, “Strong, confident people,” not me. People who have that special something that gets them from A to B in climbing and in life. They make it look easy! But if you’ve ever tried a dyno, you revere these people, because it is not easy. I finally decided to start fresh and rebuild my climbing practice from a place of mindfulness, community, and trauma sensitivity. When it comes to dynos, I tell myself, “First off, no pressure. You’re doing this for you. Second, no judgments, because only you know your history, body, mood, and mindset on any given day. You know your trauma, and you’re about to attempt something that is going to ask a lot of you. Lastly, you get to have fun and experience flight and falling and the whole adventure. You have a right to be here.”
There is a lot more that goes into this move than the physical aspects we normally talk about. While the group in Oaxaca gave me objectively good advice for how to dyno, they didn’t take into account any of my mental or emotional needs. Maybe for me the point wasn’t even about getting the move before I felt good in my body. That takes encouragement that doesn’t dictate an outcome, like “You’re doing great!” instead of “Just go for it!” I wonder if my relationship to the move wouldn’t have been so fraught if the language around dynos was more inclusive and less overwhelming—if, before even getting on the climb, I could feel that those around me aren’t assuming my objectives but were there to help me on my journey, however it may look. Being more sensitive to others’ needs and handling our interactions more dynamically are key to building strong, supportive communities.
Climbing had put me on the defensive for a few years. Just like in any other sport, gender norms have shaped so many aspects of climbing. Some climbs are considered “better for women,” or if a climb is perceived as too reachy or pumpy, it might deter women, trans, or nonbinary folks from even trying it. That first dyno attempt—I’m just proud of myself for showing up and trying. And thankfully, Color the Crag proved to me what is possible in any body that is surrounded by a supportive and intentional community.
In addition to gender, factors like race, ability, and class (among so many more) inform our point of entry, or lack thereof, to climbing. Our solutions need to be just as intersectional. With enough improvement and any luck, more people of color, cis/trans womxn, nonbinary, and genderqueer folks can enter into a second learning process of figuring out their actual likes and dislikes and shed the roles climbing tries to enforce on different bodies. Anyone who faces barriers to access and inclusivity in gyms will eventually have to face the dilemma of dynos: internalized shame, doubt, and fear. This is about more than ego and the right technique.
What if we reformulated climbing communities to afford the space, understanding, and choice about how we want to engage with the sport? What if we knew when entering a climbing space that it’s just a given for everyone there that you know your body best and can work through your own process and still be as welcome as anyone else? Before you attempt your first or three-thousandth dyno, you need to know that some days are harder than others for the kind of moves that require you to let go and go for it. And that’s OK. Know that you don’t need to climb above a certain grade to be a climber. You don’t need to live in a luxury van or go to the gym religiously. A real climber doesn’t need to crimp hard, campus, or dyno.
What if climbing culture could expand to be that inclusive? If major brands endorsed diverse athletes at all levels and local community initiatives were considered just as profound as first ascents in remote areas? What if the climbing community fully embraced the idea that you are a climber if you climb while respecting the land you climb on, if you understand what intentional community building looks like, if your style of climbing makes you love your body?
Access to information, gear, gym memberships, climbing buddies who don’t trip over your name, and confidence in yourself are all privileges that are taken for granted in most climbing industry spaces. Let’s make it so that everyone feels safe enough to try a dyno. Taking away the shame and guilt around our bodies and replacing it with safety and support would improve the climbing industry as a whole. Climbing taught me that I carry trauma in my chest, and I’ve had the privilege of time to work with that. It was impossible for me to learn to dyno effectively and not consider the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional barriers that I have to navigate as a queer, gender-fluid womxn of color. Let’s reshape the way we talk about this one move in climbing as a gateway to having more of these conversations and ultimately creating profound change.
Four years later, I’m still not fully comfortable embracing dynamic climbing styles. What I do have a lot more of these days is knowledge about my body, my needs, and my boundaries. If I could repeat that moment on my first dyno, I would ask for a lot more quiet and that my well-intentioned peers don’t fixate on an end goal, but instead work with me throughout the experience to leave it on an awesome note. I hadn’t failed. I had begun a deep process of learning and undoing. Dynos can do that.