07/18/2012 11:52 am ET | Updated Sep 17, 2012

California Climbing With Maria Morales

Maria Morales is an awesome climber and a kick ass climbing instructor. She has been climbing all over the US since 2001 and helping noobs like me get into the sport since 2007.

We met up in Pac Heights with her rescue dog Nathan, drank some bougie tea, and she indulged me as I picked her brain about my new obsession...


Maria climbing Funky Tut (v3) at Bishop, February 2012

ZD: How did you get into climbing?

MM: I was 19 years old at the University of Minnesota... I started climbing with my girlfriend to meet climber boys, haha. Turns out I was good at it!

ZD: I agree! So the hobby turned into a job?

MM: I moved to Philly in 2006. It was a new city for me and I didn't know anybody. I was working at a Stephen Starr restaurant and hated my job. I was walking through a particularly bad neighborhood one afternoon and saw a grimy climbing gym... For some reason it called to me. I walked in, the owner was working the front desk, and asked for a job. He hired me.

ZD: And now you're at Planet Granite in SF teaching classes and giving private climbing lessons. You said your gym in Philly was grimy, are we spoiled at Planet Granite?

MM: We are totally spoiled. As a general rule, climbing gyms are dirty, dark, damp, and bacteria ridden places. Planet Granite is not like that, it is amazing. I mean, it is an indoor/outdoor climbing gym that sits at sea level practically under Golden Gate Bridge. Their route setting philosophy attracts all types of climbers and the setters seem to have an unlimited holds budget. Nothing stays up for longer than six weeks.

ZD: Do some people take the philosophy that new climbers shouldn't be in their gyms?

MM: There are two different views on climbing. You have a small group of old school climbers who basically think that if you haven't been climbing since the 80's you should not even bother... but there is a much larger view that everybody should climb. PG does an amazing job of welcoming new climbers into the sport. They offer tons of classes, have a children's program, and do all the right things to foster a love of climbing. My recommendation to beginner climbers is do not be intimidated, just get in there and start climbing some routes. Nobody is watching you or cares if you look goofy!

ZD: I've been climbing indoors since March, am I ready to take it outside?

MM: Definitely! Just make sure you do your first few climbs with people who really know what they are doing. I would start with outdoor top roping until you are more comfortable with the outdoor environment. Then you can progress to sport and trad climbing (bolted v. unbolted routes).

ZD: Where should I climb?

MM: We are surrounded by world class climbing spots... Tahoe, Yosemite, and Bishop are all just a few hours away if you want to climb something radical. Don't settle for something stupid! Sleep in your car if you have to but get out to those spots and climb.

ZD: Do you have a favorite local spot?

MM: Mickey's Beach is f*cking rad and is one of my favorite crags. Its out near Stinson. The main ledge hangs out over the ocean so you have to boulder at low tide. It's usually fogged out and you get blasted with sea spray. The rocks are slick and there are crabs everywhere. It's incredible.

ZD: Any sage climbing advice you would like to give?

MM: My old climbing mentor back in Philly, Kathleen Walker, used to always tell me "It's not about how hard you climb, but about how good you look climbing hard." People are obsessed about just getting to the top. Stop obsessing. Climb the route like it was intended to be climbed. Learn some footwork for God's sake. Take the time to learn it and appreciate it... it is a beautiful sport.

ZD: You tell me that I climb like a boy... is that what you are referring to?

MM: Exactly! Don't climb it like a boy.

ZD: Okay, okay. I'll practice my footwork. One last question... Who is your favorite student?

MM: Hahaha... You!

ZD: Aww.