Proving them wrong: the wisdom of Dave Graham

A number of years ago my son Caleb and I attended the Hueco Rock Rodeo. It’s an epic event, with climbers from around the nation converging on the farthest SouthWest corner of Texas for an outdoor bouldering comp in the iconic Hueco Tanks State Park. Boulders established by many of the legends of our sport and visited by everyone who’s anyone: Hueco Tanks is must experience rock trip.

Hueco is also unique in that it is extremely tightly regulated by the park’s association. The park has a very fragile environment with a lot of natural history, and so to get anywhere, you have to ride a tour bus.

As Caleb and I stepped onto our first bus to the bouldering area, none other than Daniel Woods was also on board. Me, being Mr. Cool, didn’t want to look like some middle school girl at a Justin Bieber concert (although I probably would have thrown my underwear at him if he asked me to 😍). I did, however, notice he was talking to someone (probably a pathetic fan) and so I just turned to the side and acted like I didn’t care (plus I could hear better with my ear cocked just a bit to the right).

What I heard was this crazy ‘fan’ telling THE Daniel Woods how to do a problem: ‘Left hand to micro gaston, right foot to chip at waist level, rock over while flagging left leg and slap the sloper. Hold tight to avoid the barn door, then . . .’

This went on in amazing detail and lightning speed until every single move was described with precision.  I thought: ‘Wow, that takes some balls to tell DW how to climb. I just gotta look and see what this person looks like.’  

It was Dave Graham.  Later that evening he was the key note speaker, presenting a slide show of his own epic climbing experiences and trash talking pretty much every other super star climber he could think of (all in jest of course, Dave is actually refreshingly humble). I literally thought I was going to break a rib laughing.

This past week, Dave was at Bliss.  He really is a fascinating, hilarious, and crazy smart dude (not to mention one of the strongest climbers in the world).  And at 35 years old, he has quite a little wisdom as well.

Now, whether you climb 5.7 or 5.15, one thing you have no doubt discovered about climbing is that failure happens way more commonly than success.  Dave Graham is no different.  During his slide show at Bliss, in front of a crowd that included most of our youth climbing team, he shared how this past year of climbing had started with repeated episodes of not finishing the routes he had hoped he would and was really getting down on himself.  (I personally don’t know what that is like, but I have heard it can be quite depressing😉). Time and time again, projects that he thought would go down this year didn’t.  So what does he do?  He starts celebrating the little accomplishments: making one more move, enjoying the beauty of his surroundings.  And he kept working . . . and progress was made.

In usual Graham fashion, his talk was extremely entertaining and funny, but it was also super motivating.  Just what our team (and even a few of us older folks) needed.

The evening before, I had the opportunity to discover some of the deepness that is Dave Graham. As I shared a burger and a beer with him at the River City Brewing Company, Dave told me the story of his early climbing days. At the age of 17 years, he was one of the up and coming talents in America. A climbing magazine reporter made a trip out to his home crag to interview and hang with him. He was totally stoked, as any 17 year old would be. That was, until he received the magazine article in the mail. The article ripped young Dave Graham apart! He told me he was devastated. He was even too embarrassed to show his dad.

I asked Dave how he responded to the story. His answer: ‘I decided to prove them wrong!’ (honestly, he may have used a bit more colorful language, but we’ll keep this kid friendly). He went on to become a legend in the climbing community.

You see, there will always be people out there telling us we can’t. Dave Graham stepped into the flatlands of Kansas this past weekend to remind us that we can. Thank you Dave!

Maybe that’s why Daniel Woods was listening so intently.

Climb Hard and Follow Your Bliss,


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