Editor’s Note: The following essay was originally featured on THE ROCK FIGHT podcast and is available to listen to in the player below.
Today I’m picking a fight with: Being Hardcore.
Because if you’re actually hardcore, you don’t even know it. But if you tell everyone that you’re hardcore, you’re just a giant poseur.
As someone who didn’t really start doing outdoorsy adventurey type activities until I was an adult I’ve bristled with both embarrassment and FOMO when something or someone was described as ‘HARDCORE’.
For most of my 20’s and 30’s I felt like I was running to catch up.
I didn’t grow up skiing or backpacking. Aside from a handful of boy scout camping trips, going outside largely meant playing in the woods behind my house or running around the backyard or meeting some friends to play football. Biking was a means of transportation betweens friends' houses or to the minimart to buy candy bars and gum and only until I could get a license and drive there.
And while most outdoorsy folks you meet don’t completely judge you if you have a thin outdoor CV, there are plenty that do. And being seen as not worthy of an invite because I’d only backcountry skied a handful of times instead of my whole life was a real fear.
Now maybe I should have sought out new friends or maybe all of this was self manufactured and not real, but I doubt I’m the first person that wanted to attain ‘HARDCORE’ as a personal status or at least be perceived as being ‘HARDCORE’.
And if I’m being honest, being perceived as ‘HARDCORE’ was likely a solid 40% of the reason I pursued events like adventure racing and ultramarathons.
If you don’t enjoy that little dopamine hit you get when you tell a non-runner that you’re running an ultra you’re lying. The only way that moment gets better is when the person you’re talking to doesn’t know what an ultramarathon is. You then get to inform them of what one is AND tell them that you’re running one.
Is this a healthy thing to take pleasure in? No way. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good though.
Now this all sounds pretty frivolous, but if you look back to when our sports started to get attention, ‘HARDCORE’ was probably the best word to describe it. Snowboarding, mountain biking, surfing, skateboarding all were forms of rebellion, of embracing a lifestyle based on personal exhilaration in a baby boomer world where the adults in charge had made soft suburban lives the goal for everyone.
I grew up being told that as an adult I would need to get a job, a house, a wife and have a family. There’s nothing to be mad at there, that’s just kinda the way it was. So basing your life around living in a ski town or at the beach and chasing waves was pretty hardcore.
The patron saint of this rebellion is Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi. A status he earned when he offered us this classic line in Point Break:
“It was never about the money for us it was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something to those dead souls inching along the freeway in their metal coffins. We show them that the human spirit is alive.”
To those living a nerfy life, all of these activities were definitely ‘HARDCORE’. But that was then. These days we’ve learned that it’s actually just a better healthier existence to prioritize getting out into nature on two feet, boards, two sticks or your bike.
And within our community it’s become supremely uncool to describe yourself as ‘HARDCORE’. Those who do are the ultimate poseurs. Attention seekers whose self confidence is tied to the validation of their choice to do an activity.
Eventually through aging and the acquisition of experience chasing the ‘HARDCORE’ dragon became less and less enticing. In fact I think the notion of considering outdoor stuff as ‘HARDCORE’ is completely antiquated at this point.
And yet, the allure of being perceived as ‘HARDCORE’ is just sitting there waiting for us. Long time listeners of THE ROCK FIGHT have heard me lavish praise on my rigid mountain bike and isn’t there a touch of being ‘HARDCORE’ built into that?
I’ll admit it, yeah there is.
When I pass another biker on a trail and see their eyes pop open basically communicating ‘whoa, that dude is riding this trail on a rigid bike?’ my heart flutters…and it absolutely reinforces my stance for riding my rigid bike.
The quest to be ‘HARDCORE’ while also learning that trying to be ‘HARDCORE’ is incredibly lame is definitely a worthy conversation. And to help guide that conversation here are the rules for what constitutes being ‘HARDCORE’ in 2023.
Being active without commenting on it. This means:
No captions or explanations on your social media posts. Let the photos and videos stand on their own.
And add nothing that could be retrofitted with #humblebrag.
You can use something like Strava for tracking purposes, but don’t engage or repost screen captures on instagram.
You do other stuff too
Don’t let being outdoorsy define your life. You know what else is hardcore, learning to play an instrument or heading into the city for an awesome meal and a baseball game. If you’re defined by one element of your life, that could be seen as hardcore, but mostly, it's just sad.
You can ignore the ‘fuck that guy’ judgey voice that we all have
Be the person that welcomes everyone in, not rejects people for not being as hardcore as you.
If your character is what you do or how you act when no one is watching, that also dictates how hardcore you are. Do you go about your outdoorsy business simply to be fit and enjoy going outside with no validation needed…well then, you’re pretty hardcore.
So who is going to struggle the most with these rules? That’s easy. Skiers and mountain bikers.
Because is there a less interesting video than the POV shot of someone skiing or riding? And yet they continue to pump them out by the minute. And with all the snow we’ve gotten this past winter I feel like my Instagram stories and reels are cursed to be nothing but corn skiing and Tahoe shoveling shots until Labor Day and I know first hand when you move to the Pacific Northwest that you automatically get a GoPro to record ripping around lush forests and ferns and pop those babies on YouTube.
Guys, they just can’t help themselves…and unfortunately, that’s just not very ‘HARDCORE’.