You dig through the pile of borrowed gear. This isn’t how you normally spend your weekends, but your friends promised they would show you the ropes and keep it mellow. Regardless of their encouragement, you are very aware of the nervous pit forming in your gut. Being the newbie isn’t the easiest role, it’s intimidating. However, it’s also one of the best roles.

In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Beta, why it’s cool to be the newbie and how to get the most out of being new.

Kook. Gumby. Gaper. Jerry. Every outdoor activity has a not-so-endearing nickname for their newbies. They can easily be identified by their style faux pas like poorly angled helmets, improper ski transportation and other blunders that break the sacred, unspoken rules of our sports.

Nobody really enjoys being the newbie. I’ve used countless excuses to avoid being the newbie, ranging from the gracious (“I don’t want to slow you down.”) to the lame (“I have so much laundry/cleaning/work to do.”). Honestly, I’m mostly afraid of the potential judgement or embarrassment.

But why?

Although newbies are easily identified at the trailhead/crag/lift/break, I have never felt the desire to pass negative judgement on someone based on the fact that they are new to the sport. On the contrary, I actually love the experience of introducing others to the adventures and wild places that I love. I get to watch the psyche build in their eyes and experience the unfiltered enthusiasm for the sport. I think everyone (myself included) should get better at being newbies.

So, I took some time to write down a few tips and tricks for myself and all the other kooks, jerrys, gumbies and gapers out there.

Everyone started at the beginning 

While it’s hard to imagine the heroes of our sports as beginners, there was a time when they were newbies. While many started at a young age, several professional athletes started their journey’s later in life and their ability to learn and desire to train quickly carried them into the upper echelon of their sport.

Everybody had to start somewhere. Every ripper started on the bunny slope and every crusher had to thrutch up a jug haul. All of us have embarrassing stories about our first backpacking trip.

When trying something new, keep this at the front of your mind. Remember how far you’ve come with your other passions. This will help you commit to being new, instead of spending the day fearing judgement from the elder statesmen.

Find a mentor

A newbie is only a good as their mentor. Whether it’s a friend offering a spare mountain bike or the climber at the gym styling up the walls, it’s important to find a good mentor.

A good mentor will not only teach you about safety, but will also be a great resource for community, philosophy and style. To find a sustainable mentorship, make sure you are giving as much as you are taking. This could mean carrying extra weight on the trail, doing mundane tasks (washing dishes or flaking the rope, etc..), volunteering to drive or packing extra snacks or beer.

A good way to find a mentor is by offering mentorship in return. I often take people out climbing in hopes of getting surfing tips or an invite to a ski trip later in the season.

 

Beginner’s mindset/Ask questions

There’s a concept in Zen Buddhism called “shoshin”, which means beginner’s mindset. The concept revolves around the openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions that novices bring to an area of study. As they gain more experience, those practicing shoshin will retain these traits in all areas of study.

So whether you are learning from a class, mentor or from the books, be sure to harness all of your natural “shoshin”. Constantly ask questions and don’t stop until you fully understand the process. Rinse and repeat. Find resources on concepts that your mentor teaches you. Ask your mentor about concepts that you read about. Who knows? Maybe your shoshin will rub off on your mentor.

Hit the books

More likely you’ll surf the web. Part of being new is the excitement and psyche that naturally flow out of a new experience.

When I first got into cycling somebody sent me a link to The Rules. While good natured and partly satirical, I learned a few useful tips that I might not have found otherwise.

While they might not be as comprehensive as “The Rules”, every sport has ample resources for you to learn. Soak up as much as you can. Watch videos. Read magazines. Become a student of your new sport. 

 

Minimal experience means maximum fun

Saying it’s more fun might be a little too strong, but new experiences offer something undeniably different. As a teenager, you could find me smiling ear to ear even if I was climbing on chossy rock on a humid summer day with temperatures well over ninety degrees. Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t even rope up in those conditions.

When conditions aren’t prime, it’s usually the newbies having the most fun. Savor this perspective and don’t let the grouchy old-timers rain on your parade. Renowned alpinist Alex Lowe said that, “the best climber is the one having the most fun.”

 

Stay kooky

Everyone knows that growing up is overrated. So why the rush to graduate from your newbie status? There is a willingness to ask questions and you are getting to climb/surf/ski/hike/bike with people that can teach you and help you improve. You’re also the one having the most fun.

So, next time someone calls you a newbie, kook, gumby, gaper or jerry; take it as a compliment.