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One time I went camping with a bunch of rock climbers. Big deal rock climbers. The kind who are sponsored and have been featured in magazines. I think one of them had been gifted a #vanlife vehicle by some corporation? Because they are such a good climber? Dude, I don’t know. Anyway, that trip was the first time I heard the phrase “send it,” which is what this essay is about.
The climbers, I noticed, seemed preoccupied with doing it perfect. There was one who would scamper up the side of a rock and put the footholds in as he went, setting the route for the other climbers. The ones on the ground timed him while he did this and the goal was to establish the route as quickly as possible (which didn’t seem super safe). And then after the route was set, the game for the next climber was to race up as fast as possible and to not slip or fall in any way whatsoever. Do it fast! Get up there! Fucking send it!
It seemed scary to me. They were expert climbers and I’m sure they knew what they were doing but I didn’t really feel good about the energy of it. It wasn’t about the beauty of the climb, it was just about not making any mistakes. Or that was my takeaway.
But ever since that trip I’ve wondered: What does it actually mean to ‘send it’? To find the answer I turned first to capitalism.
I really hoped brand managers—or public relations “officers” as they are called at some of the big sportswear companies—would jump on this once I tweeted out my request to them, but they didn’t. Even after I followed up later in the week with a jovial, “Where my brand managers at?” I thought this was the kind of shit corporate-outdoors-people who get paid several times more than your average freelance journalist live for. But not one bite.
So, I decided to take a different tact. I visited stores and called climbing gyms, and I began to find some answers.
Chris Celis, who works the front desk of Denver Bouldering Club, says that “send it” does, in fact, originate from the climbing world and means what I think it means. Or at least it did.
“There was a time where ‘sending it’ did mean you did it correctly the first time—look at it, don’t touch it, climb it perfectly without falling at all, make it to the top,” Celis tells me. (In fact, an Urban Dictionary entry claims the phrase is actually just an abbreviation for “first ascent,” which makes sense.) However, nowadays that’s considered a “flash.” Celis says the only time that really matters is in competition climbing, because “the fewest attempts is how you win.” OK, maybe those guys I met were just professionals. I’ll never know for sure, as I was not invited back.
A few days after my call with Celis I’m in downtown Denver at the Patagonia store. Behind the counter I find coworkers and friends Amelia Cary and Ariana Martinez, who are gracious enough to wax poetic for a while. Martinez, a Denver native, launches into a rapid-fire description about cliff jumping that I scramble to get down in my notebook. “Saint Mary’s Glacier. Lower level. Pure blue water. Now or never. Are you gonna jump into the alpine lake or are you not?” She says something else and then she mentions something about, “28 degrees and just booked it.” Cary adds that in moments where somebody is sending it, “There’s no ‘three, two, one,’ it’s just—go for it.”
Martinez also recalls how the other day Cary was preparing to go on a date after work and was feeling anxious about it. One of their other co-workers said to her, “Just go. Send it. Go.” Like, be yourself. Show up. Send it.
“It’s an adrenaline rush—whatever it is,” Cary says.
But what about when someone loses big time and they still use “send it”? I recently met a Denver native who injured his leg and when I asked how it happened, he said, “I fuckin’ sent it on some stupid shit.” Turns out he was snowboarding and did a big jump and wound up with a pretty serious ACL injury.
Celis knows about this usage, too. “There’s the non-esoteric term, the non-climbing ‘send it.’ That’s true, too.” He offers up many hypothetical examples of how it might be used but this one is my favorite: “Yeah, get on the jet ski—send it! Just do it without dying.”
It appears that to “send it” means both to do something perfectly and to fail massively, and in fact the outcome doesn’t quite matter. The only thing that matters is avoiding the wishy-washy middle ground. No half-assing. If you fail, fuck it. At least you sent it.
Despite the lack of love from corporate accounts, Twitter user @ColoRodighiero, a self-described “ColoRADo Native” wrote, “To Send it means to really go big on a board, skis, climbing, etc…knowing that the consequences of failing will be painful, but the joy of following through outweighs the risk.” Twitter user @Kaufmanwithak, whose bio says he manages apartment complexes “but you know me from my ski biz career” wrote a dictionary entry that I’ve reproduced here in full:
Verb. Popular among outdoor enthusiasts since 2015.
To summon one’s courage at the outset of an attempt
To launch a risky effort with low chance of success
I’m glad @Kaufmanwithak brings up “get sendy.” I have, from time to time, heard that particular iteration, which, I must admit, creeps me out. When I follow up, he says 2015 is when he recalls the term getting into heavy rotation but he does not have data to support. So I dig deeper.
I turn to the world of academia, specifically Hannah Haynie, assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Haynie, a former climber, has traced the cross-pollination of “send it” from the climbing world to those of other outdoor sports, which she says happened around 2010—the year “send it” started appearing in online forums related to skiing and snowboarding. (The “send it” merchandise line for ski industry blog Jerry of the Day, which launched in 2011, supports this timeline.)
“It started out pretty much parallel to ‘ascend’ in a lot of ways,” she says, which makes its evolution linguistically relevant because it went from being what’s called an intransitive verb to a transitive one. “In climbing you can ask, ‘Did you send?’ And you don’t have to have an object, whereas when you start seeing it used in skiing and snowboarding, it’s typically used with ‘it.'”
Haynie has the same sense as the ski biz dude from Twitter that “send it” has, in the last five years, extended into other sports and beyond. “You’re hearing people say ‘send it’ who probably have never been involved in some of the sports in which it came into common usage,” she says.
But to what degree is “send it” a Colorado term? We sure hear it an awful lot here, but then again, there are a lot of climbers and snowboarders here. Some on Reddit claim that “send it” originated from a Canadian with a jean jacket and a snowmobile named Larry Enticer, whose viral YouTube video in which he crashes into a snowbank makes prominent use of the phrase. (It’s worth a watch.)
But no. “Send it” is an American term. According to Matt Samet, author of The Climbing Dictionary, a book about climbing lingo, the phrase “made its first big public appearance at the 1988 International Sport Climbing Competition, held on the outside of the Cliff Lodge in Snowbird, Utah.” California climber Steve Schneider was captured on tape “encouraging fellow competitors to ‘Send it!’ while they climbed,” Samet writes. He adds that Colorado climber Bobbi Bensman, who also competed at the Snowbird event, couldn’t recall where she heard it first but she said, “For sure it was an American thing.” Oregon climber Brooke Sandahl told Samet he heard “send it” at Smith Rock in Oregon in the mid-1980s.
Haynie has a theory that Colorado might be responsible for the spread of “send it” from climbing to other sports. “My intuition is that a lot of climbers, especially in places like Colorado, spend their summers climbing and their winters skiing and snowboarding. If you live in Colorado, you probably know somebody who does that,” she says.
So, I started searching for a winter sports person to interview. Before long I hear about a Denver-based dude who got Breckenridge Ski Resort to print his name on his ski pass last season as Sendy McSenderson. I knew I had to talk to this mythical creature. When I get him on the phone he lets me know the pass actually reads Sendy McSendersend. “There’s an extra ‘send,’” he tells me.
Mr. McSendersend is Dean Vaganos, and he says his definition of the phrase is simply to go for it. Whether you’re about to drop into something off a chairlift, book a ticket for a big trip, or down tequila shots with your dad at a restaurant, it’s about commitment. There’s an aspect of community, too. Vaganos delights in making the people who check tickets at the ski resort smile when they see his pass. He also regularly makes a practice of “screaming it at other people and other people will scream it at me.”
“It definitely makes you commit more when other people are telling you to ‘send it,’” he says.
Finally, I email a local writer I admire to ask his take. This guy writes about the outdoors a lot so I figure it’s worth a shot. He writes back that he’s going to pass but thanks me for the compliments I gave him about his work. I would have loved to hear his take, and maybe if I were a bigger-deal writer he would have engaged more. Or maybe if I hadn’t misspelled the word “skis” as “skii’s” in my email to him. My bad on that. I should have proofread. But fuck it, at least I sent it.