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Adventure / January 10, 2018

Meet Brendan Leonard: Colorado’s mountain jester

Written by: Matt Minich

Brendan Leonard is not the sort of adventure athlete you read about in most magazines. He doesn’t fly wingsuits or put up new routes in the Karakorum. To this day, he’s yet to win even a single bike or ski race.

Leonard is more into the everyday stuff. He rides his mountain bike to the ice cream parlor. He holds the middle of the pack in local trail running races. He climbs 5.10… but sometimes that scares him.

As he puts it, Leonard is “crushing it, sort of.”

Outdoor industry cognoscenti know Leonard as the creator of Semi-Rad: a humor blog that explores the trials and tribulations of far-from-professional outdoor athletes. In a world dominated by top performers, Leonard’s blog serves as a welcome reminder that it’s OK to be just OK.

“Everyone gets passed at the gym, or can look across the gym and see someone climbing harder or better than them,” Leonard told Shoulders of Giants. “I think we all deal with a little bit of Impostor Syndrome out there, and probably not that many people are at the crag or on the trail thinking ‘I’m the best in the world at this,’ so maybe that’s why [Semi-Rad] resonates.”

A post shared by Brendan Leonard (@semi_rad) on


When he launched Semi-Rad in 2011, Leonard was earning his living as a copywriter and selling articles to publications like Climbing and Backpacker. He first started the blog to house content he felt was too offbeat for those publication in those outlets.

Then it took on a life of its own. The blog found its audience when industry titan Steve Casimiro (a close friend of Leonard’s) syndicated its content on his own blog, Adventure Journal. That insider endorsement helped springboard Semi-Rad into a sponsorship deal from Outdoor Research, which allows Leonard to make “a partial living” from the blog.

Leonard has also published five books, performs speaking engagements, and works as an editor for Climbing, Adventure Journal, and the Dirtbag Diaries. Crushing it, sort of indeed.

oh this old thing? it’s just getting broken in

A post shared by Brendan Leonard (@semi_rad) on

The site’s content is a blend of self-deprecating humor, inspiration, and sometimes biting parody of the politics and pretensions of the outdoor industry. It serves as a sort of funhouse mirror for Leonard’s home state of Colorado, where climbing 5.12 and running three-hour marathons are considered basic social requirements.

Semi-Rad.com is updated with remarkable frequency, and Leonard posts doodles all week on the blog’s Instagram page. So to get a solid idea of the site’s content, we recommend you just look there. Pay special attention to the blog’s Friday Inspiration roundups, which feature worthy stories from around the web.

I’ve rounded up a few of my personal favorite Semi-Rad posts below. Most are just plain funny, but a few strike a more serious tone. All are imbued with a sort of jester’s wisdom about the wild, often ego-driven world of outdoor sports. Give them a read, and they might help you remember why you decided to head outside in the first place.

Or, if this article has already maxed you out on reading for the day, check out the video below. It was written and narrated by Leonard, and pretty well captures the essence of the Semi-Rad philosophy.

Have any questions or comments about this feature? Email them to [email protected]

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about the author

Matt Minich

Matt Minich is Editorial Director for Shoulders of Giants. He has spent more than a decade writing, editing, and curating content about outdoor sports and adventure. As an adventure journalist he has climbed peaks in Patagonia, rappelled waterfalls in Colorado, B.A.S.E. jumped in Moab, and sampled fermented horse milk in Kyrgyzstan.

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