spray n, v : Self-aggrandizing logorrhea (n). To “elevate” one’s standing in the community by prattling on loudly about one’s skills, connections, and accomplishments (v).
— from Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms, and Lingo, by Matt Samet
As a form of pride, “spray” is a good old-fashioned Biblical sin. In fact, spray is the worst kind of pride: the blowhard, boasting kind. Still, I seek not to condemn ye, for I, too, have sinned. I believe there is nary a climber among us who has not, at some time or other, sprayed about him or herself. The urge to spray is so ingrained in our egos that even when we attempt to consciously restrain ourselves, we still end up spraying in some roundabout way. A little spray squirts out between the cracks in our resolve, as it were, and lingers in the air like a bit of swamp gas that everyone smells, but no one wants to mention.
Spray, you see, appeals to the weakest self. The self that cannot bear to let it go unmentioned how good it is at something, even when it is perfectly clear that no one cares. In that, it is a most natural human transgression. To care about climbing and not spray is, indeed, a rare thing. In fact, to achieve a truly sprayless state, in which one does not even feel troubled by the urge to spray, one must achieve some level of enlightenment. Likely, much meditation and a monastic lifestyle are required.
So do you mean to say that every time I mention a grade, I’m spraying? you might ask. No, I would answer. Don’t be fatuous. Talking about grades is fine if you are genuinely trying to get or give useful information. For example, if someone were to ask you, “What are some good, mellow 5.8s at that crag,” that would not be spray. And if you were to respond, “Well, there’s a really sweet 5.9 called Anemone of the State, but I think it’s soft for the grade, and it eats up gear,” you would not be spraying. But if you then went on to describe the rad crux of your 5.12+ project at the same crag, miming each and every move, you would be spraying, as you would then be serving only your ego-master, and not the needs of the good-natured climber looking for a fun 5.8.
If you have ever described yourself as a climber, you have probably committed the sin of spraying. If you don’t believe me, read through the following list of Seven Deadly Sprays and then reevaluate. If, in the end, you do count yourself a sinner, say a 10 “Hail Mary”s and a “How’s your father” and call me in the morning.
1. Simple Spray - When you are up front about your spraying, you can either seem more honest or more clueless, depending on the circumstance. Most people know that spray is inherently crass, so they try to cover it up or lessen its severity. Simple Sprayers will come right out and start talking grades with strangers and not see anything wrong with it. “How hard do you climb, man?” they might ask, unprompted, across the table at Miguel’s Pizza. Or they might walk up to you at Rifle and simply blurt out, “I did that climb. It wasn’t too hard.” It’s a strange thing when this happens, as you can’t help but wonder if the person is being ironic, like a hipster telling you that he painted a mustache on his fixie before anyone else in Williamsburg. Still, there are those certain persons who haven’t yet understood, or by dint of neurological disorder are unable to understand, that spray is nothing to be upfront about.
2. Self-Effacing Spray - This deceptive “anti-spray” operates on the principles of reverse psychology. The Self-Effacing Sprayer downplays his own accomplishments to a fault, but somehow manages to slip in the spray anyway. “It took me forever to send that route! I’m such a fatass,” he’ll say of some 5.14 crimps-on-a-roof nightmare that no one you know can even hangdog to the anchors. Then he’ll proclaim he’s “so weak” because he “hasn’t been climbing at all, lately,” and then proceed to burn you off your project (see No. 6, below). To add insult to injury, he’ll play down his success with some meaningless platitude like, “Oh man, that was a tough one! I only sent it because it was my style.” OK, thanks. Dick.
3. Off-Hand Spray - This stealthy spray is slipped in as an aside but almost never goes unnoticed. Most climbers are so attuned to the scent of spray that even the merest droplet of the stuff emits an odor like a wombat in heat. An example of Offhand Spray might be, “My shoulder didn’t bother me too much, but I wasn’t climbing anything harder than V8, so I wasn’t really putting too much strain on it…” Or when two people are discussing a particular crag, one Off-Hand Sprayer might mention a notoriously hard route there and say something like, “When I climbed [insert notoriously hard route name here], it felt a little soft. But whatever the grade, it’s a classic!” No bigs… just making conversation.
4. Spray by Association - This is a form of name dropping. The implication of SbA is that you climb with hard-ass mofos, so you must be a hard-ass mofo, too. “Tommy and me were out bouldering in RMNP… I did this one problem that he fell off of! It was a total fluke, totally my style, but still, it was pretty sick.” By Tommy, this sprayer means Tommy Caldwell, all-around super-badass. And by demonstrating his ability to climb something that Caldwell did not, the sprayer is implying that he is a real-deal rock climber. Of course, this Sprayer by Association probably failed to mention that Caldwell had just cut off his index finger and was climbing with a hangover while wearing bedroom slippers. But hey, a send’s a send.
5. Serious Spray - This is the type of spray that two unabashed sprayers engage in when they’ve both decided that spray is fine because they’re just saying what everyone else is thinking, anyway. “So did you think that route was really 5.13?” one guy would say. “No way man, that was a 5.12 — I warmed up on that shit… and I usually have to give 5.13 a couple of tries,” the other would say. Serious stuff.
6. Physical Spray – Also known as giving “the burn off,” Physical Spray requires no words. Instead, a Physical Sprayer watches another climber putting serious effort into a route or problem the sprayer already has wired, waits until the flailing climber is done, and immediately hops on and cruises the route. Campusing someone’s project while they watch or sending it in your Five Tennies are particularly egregious forms of this classic jerk move. To add insult to injury, after engaging in Physical Spray, the sprayer can then proffer unrequested beta (Spray-ta) to the sprayee: “You see what I did there at the third bolt? I don’t cross like you do; I bump. It’s way easier that way. Try that and you’ll get it next time, dood, for shizzle.”
7. Spray Lording - The Spray Lord is like a Serious-Sprayer on meth. He not only doesn’t see what’s wrong with spray, but he also fails understand why he shouldn’t psychologically dominate the crag or gym with his loud, opinionated spray-down sessions, in which he gives people unsolicited beta, name drops, downgrades classic routes, and generally makes sure everyone around him knows how hard he climbs and what he thinks of all the other punters he’s ever met. A Spray Lord is easily capable of ruining your day at the crag, and lives a life of misguided elitism, completely missing the point that the strongest rock climber in the world is still just a rock climber.
There are surely other types of spray. Feel free to add the sprays you’ve observed or perpetrated in the comments below.
– The Blockhead Lord