Over the last weekend I took the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with the American climber Daniel Woods. Just shy of his 24th birthday Daniel is a veteran of the Bouldering World Cup circuit and 7 time winner of the ABS Nationals in the U.S.
When you first meet Daniel you are struck by his fine boned wiry physique. From his fine, pronounced cheek bones to his slender snakelike hips the diminutive American has a body sculpted by years of hard climbing in much the same way as many of the world’s best like James Kassay, Nalle Hukkataival and Alex Megos. All shoulders and upper body strength Daniel moves with a grace and fluidity on rock that is born from years of hard climbing.
Since turning professional in his mid-teens Daniel has traveled the world seeking the hardest lines, the most physically challenging problems on rock, and as such he was perfectly placed to ask about the current trend of grade compression and its impact on bouldering culture.
Sitting down in the cabin he was sharing with his wife Courtney in the small village of Wartook in the Grampian ranges in Australia’s south east, Daniel was happy to discuss his evolution as a climber and the current state of hard bouldering from the perspective of a full time professional at the leading edge of the sport.
The following is an excerpt from the interview that is scheduled to appear in full in the second issue of The Circuit.
Daniel, there seems to be a real trend at the moment to cap the upper end of bouldering around the 8c boulder level. Whenever anyone does an 8c at the moment someone will come along and propose a personal grade of 8b+ or even lower. There seems to be a big squash of hard grades internationally.
Is this because bouldering has reached a plateau? Or is it because people are keeping each other pegged and pushing down each other’s achievements until there is a clear progression in difficulty?
There’s a lot of parts to this question I think. (Daniel goes quiet while pondering an answer)
We had icons back in the day like Fred Nicole, Bernd Zangerl, Klem Loskot, Toni Lamprecht, Chris Sharma for the U.S, Dave Graham… Those six climbers are the ones who were going and establishing 8b+, 8c on a daily basis. And that was ten years ago.
Our new generation which is us presently (gestures around as the surrounding cabins are filled with some of the world’s best boulderers) , Myself, Paul, Adam Ondra, Alex Megos and others, we’re coming into a new wave and it’s weird because the previous generation of Fred and Dave and those guys proposed the magical number of 8c back in the day. Now 10 years forward we still have the same grade of 8c, but it’s weird because now there’s more people climbing hard than a decade ago. There’s more resources. There’s more media resources to get information on beta and stuff to do things faster.
Back in the day, I never watched climbing videos (YouTube and Vimeo clips). They weren’t out there. I would read a magazine, see a photo and be like “I’m travelling to Switzerland to try dreamtime!” Because it looks amazing from the photo, I don’t know the beta.
I think people are doing things faster these days because they’re training more. There’s more gyms. There’s more techniques being developed. There’s more information out there. More knowledge to prepare yourself before you go try the climb.
So then you just have to be strong enough to do it!
So why haven’t we improved this generation, from the past generation?
It’s kind of a diss to the past generation saying “you didn’t even know what you were talking about” (the rapid increase in grades over the late 90’s early 2000’s) because we’re going and repeating their problems. They’re still hard but I think we’re capable of pushing the limits to 8c+ and 9a. It’s just that people are too scared to propose that and to commit.
It’s like kind of a competition of who’s going to get the first confirmed 8c+.
So you’re putting your reputation on the line if you propose a higher grade?
Yes, and I think there’s like 7 or 8 climbers out there fully capable of climbing 8c+ at the moment, and a lot of them are right here in the Grampians Like Dave, Nalle, Paul, Myself, Carlo, Alex…
So it’s just funny to see this stagnant plateau that we’re sitting at right now. There’s honestly things that I’ve done that I think are 8c+ but I want to repeat other things (at the 8c level) before I can push those things and say “Ok, these things are definitely a step above the past generations test pieces”. That’s when it’s right to say “OK, they’re harder” you know.
And if people flash 8b+ and stuff it doesn’t surprise me, or 8b even, it’s just saying that we’re way more prepared than the past generation.
Yes, there’s something like 13 people who have flashed 8b now.
Yeah, like 10 years ago that was unheard of! If you flashed 7c+ years ago you would be in magazines and people would be like “I didn’t even think that was possible!”
From outside looking in, I think is very similar to what happened in Fontainebleau the 80’s where no one wanted to be the person that did the first 8a. So everyone says in Fontainebleau the hardest grade is 7c+ because a lot of the 7c+’s are 8a or even 8a+. No one was brave enough to take a step of giving the 8a grade for the risk of someone coming along doing it in a day and saying that it was only 7c…
That’s the thing though, I like to base difficulty off of how many repetitions a climb sees. So you might put up something hard, something really reachy for you that some freak tall person is going to come and do it really quick because the moves aren’t so big. But does that mean he can also do the roof problem on small edges or this, this and this?
It’s one of those things when you establish a rock climb, you just think of how a really tall person is going to do on this? How is a really short person going to do on this? What is the climbing like? Is it tension climbing, is it robotic climbing, is it thrutch climbing? What are the grips like?
Basically if you’re a climber and you have this giant pyramid, that’s like your resume for qualifying to give something 8c+ if you establish something.
A lot of the group here, we’ve gone and done some of the hardest boulders established in the world. So if Nalle goes and puts up 8c+ there’s a good chance going to be 8c+ you know. He knows what he’s talking about, same with Paul, just because of all the other problems they’ve repeated. If I went and I did it, I feel like I’m capable of the 8c+ so it doesn’t mean it should be downgraded to an 8c. These climbers are fully capable of grade, don’t downgrade it. Maybe if someone else comes along that hasn’t had that resume and just freakishly does it, maybe it’s not 8c+ you know? Maybe we missed a sequence or…
(Courtney) I mean that’s kind of what happened with The Game. Daniel did it in his sequence that he thought was 8c+ and then a year later Carlo comes and finds different beta and uses a different hold and one of the holds had got a little dug out and now it’s 8c. So still hard but now Daniel’s 8c+ is gone. But his eyes he still climbed 8c+
So you consider it was 8c+ the line you climbed.
Honestly I don’t think I was qualified to give something 8C+ back in the day I had only done like five 8c’s. I think I was young and I was like “yeah this sounds cool”. Now I feel like a more qualified having done the majority of 8c’s out there with the exception of a few so if I find something that is the next level compared to all these then I’ll throw the 8c+ grade out and be like “its good!”
(Courtney) Yeah I’ve counted and he’s done 17 8c’s.
That’s not bad.
Do you think it’s Tribal at the top? There seems to be a set of you, and a lot of you are here now that have very similar dynamics and work well together. Like Nalle and Dave seem to work well together and Paul and you. So you circulate the globe repeating each other’s problems. Is that important to survive as a professional like yourself, chasing each other’s hard problems? Do you always come across the same people?
Yes, I guess, well, we’re all friends… Definitely when Paul, Nalle or Dave establishes something that’s a big attraction for me to go and try it. If they’re going to an area it’s an attraction to go with them because you know you’re going to be looking for similar things, you know you’re going to be climbing on similar problems, it’s always good to have pads and it’s cool to be part of that action as well.
I was in the US last year and Dave and Nalle were establishing everything in the Grampians I was looking at it saying “I’m going next year because it looks amazing!” and I want to do these lines that they put up.
I mean that’s why I rock climb, to push my limits and to climb on really cool new boulders that will test me.
So it is natural that you guys will follow each other around because you push each other along. It must be challenging with different sponsors in different obligations but they all want the same thing which is hard climbing.
Yeah hard climbing, good photos, good media, good stories! I think that if I go on a trip as long as I’m taking good photos or producing good photos for the sponsors and good video coverage and the story that they can sell to the general public then it’s good!
And it has been good! Over the month or so that the international crew have spent in the Grampians this winter we’ve seen some fantastic climbing. Indeed, although the weather has done its best to spoil the show there has been a heap of cutting edge ascents, both repeats and first ascents that showcase the amazing Grampians sandstone.
Most, if not all of the international crew here this year have committed to returning to test themselves again next year, and I know several of the top World Cup climbers are keen on joining them. Will the first confirmed 8c+ or 9a be in the Grampians? We’ll just have to wait and see.
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Hitting your head against a wall is pretty much a common occurrence when writing. Or at least it is for me.
Over the weekend I’ve been writing one of the editorial pieces for the first issue of The Circuit. It starts great and goes strong for about 600 words then it just… So I’m stuck at an impasse where I know where I want the piece to go but struggling with the tone of the closing paragraphs. It was all in my head but by the time my typing caught up…
I find when I’m writing this is my biggest bugbear. My mind is in one gear, flying along, churning out dialogue while my poor fingers struggle to keep up. By the time my fingers paw their way to the end of a sentence my mind is already paragraphs ahead, a distance that becomes insurmountable as the words fade before they hit the page.
I often work around this by keeping what you could almost call a back up memory. A corner of my mind that stays on a loop and holds the concepts of what I’m writing in check while my fingers plod along at a far more pedestrian pace. I would say this works for me four times out of five. Unfortunately the piece I recently started writing was a number five. The one where my envisaged content fades as my fingers drop to the keys and I’m left frustrated and dissatisfied with the limitations of the written word and the speed with which it frees itself from my mind.
Of course it’s not just working on the magazine where the limitations placed on the written word frustrates me. We now live in a world where short bursts of communication via text, email and facebook are replacing conversation with its tonalities, nuances and inflections. The written word has enormous potential but try squeezing that potential into a 160 character tweet or a text message and its limitations become abundantly clear. Littering conversations with emoticons to convey underlying emotion is now such a common action it’s all I can do to keep them out of my blog and magazine writing. Indeed how long till you see an interview with an athlete or a news piece that is closed with a 😦 or :)?
Are we training ourselves out of writing emotively through our sound bite culture? To me it seems like this might be the case and it saddens me greatly.
I’m trying to convey an emotion, a longing, a driving passion for climbing in the piece I’m writing for the magazine at the moment but the words have escaped me… Running down the hallways of my mind they are nestled in the dark corners, taunting, whispering, just out of grasp. But I will get them. If not today then tomorrow or the day after! I will wrestle my subconscious into submission and do everything in my power not to finish the article with a 🙂
So what’s coming up for the magazine this week? Well I’ve now completed two of the four main editorial pieces and the third is 90% written (the piece described above). This weekend I’ll be heading out to the Grampians again, this time in the company of Australian World Cup boulderer James Kassay, his girlfriend Claire and her sister Amy.
Hopefully we can catch the Team America crew as I’m looking to complete at least a couple of interviews after last weekend’s rain out had me ducking back to Melbourne to wring myself out.
So lots more photos after the weekend to make up for the dearth of photographs from the weekend.
I’ve also locked in the page count and content list for the first issue which is starting to look great. Seeing how much there is still to do is like standing at the base of a mountain but when I look at how much content is completed already I know we are well on track.
Last weekend on the way to the Grampians modern technology came to my aid and I was able to watch our European correspondent Natalie’s first comp climb back from the carpark of a supermarket in the middle of nowhere basically (a wee town called Ararat, search it on google maps if you’re curious). Nat climbed great before running out of steam high on the climb. This weekend we’ll be watching again from the warmth of the Log Cabins at Mt Zero in the Grampians and again we are wishing her the best of luck!
This weekend’s World Cup in Briançon will also be the scene of Climbers Against Cancer’s second major donation in the fight against cancer so tune in to watch CAC founder and all round inspiration John Ellison handing over the huge novelty check right before the Men’s finals.
The World Cup will be streamed live at http://www.ifsc-climbing.org/ 🙂
The last couple of days have been properly big here at The Circuit. Coming off a huge weekend in the Grampians I settled in to work from Melbourne with lots on the to do list.
I’ve had the chance to go over the initial transcripts for the Slovenians feature where we speak to the legendary Klemen Becan and his fiery young countryman Jernej Kruder. These two climbers are chalk and cheese and the interplay between them displays both their personalities and their love of climbing. Combined with the already transcribed Mina Markovic interview this gives us a great section of the magazine focusing of the Slovenian powerhouses and the culture that has produced so many World class climbers.
I’ve also spent time on the Chris Webb Parsons interview, which at nearly 30 minutes has some absolute gold but does need some refinement. Bringing it down to 5 pages (give or take) is going to prove a real challenge! I still need to interview Tom Farrell on his return to Australia and James Kassay when I get the chance (he lasted a day in Melbourne before fleeing to the crisp winter climbing conditions in the Grampians!)
In other happenings The Circuit has passed a major milestone this week with confirmation that The Circuit Climbing Media is now a listed business in Australia. This will encompass the operations of both The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing Magazine and eddiefowkephotography.com which is the commercial platform for my photography work. Registering as a business may be a formality but it was an important one and I’d been waiting almost a month for the registration to come through. Needless to say I was chuffed to get it.
The other cool undertaking this week was the production of The Circuit promotional stickers to spread the word. These are looking great and I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished product!
Moving forward it looks like poor weather in the Grampians this weekend which means I’ll be holed up in my tent crossing my fingers and hoping the rock dries out. On Saturday there’s a track work day to restore the tracks to some of the Southern Grampians areas as bush fires did massive damage to the area earlier this year. If you’re going to be there come say hi, I’ll be there in a blue CAC tee doing my best to repair the damage.
Lastly, the European Championships are on this weekend in Chamonix, check out the time and stream at http://www.ifsc-climbing.org/index.php/news/latest-news/item/321-european-championship-2013-lead-speed-chamonix and be sure to support The Circuit’s European correspondent Natalie Berry as she steps up to represent Great Britain in the Women’s open lead competition on Friday. (I don’t know what time she climbs but will update this when/if I find out)
I’ll be sitting in my tent on Friday night (Australian time), in the rain, surrounded by Roo’s and watching the stream on my laptop. What a world we live in…
When you think about it a weekend away bouldering in the Grampians sounds like a perfect excuse to put The Circuit on the back burner for a couple of days, chill and get lots of climbing in. Of course anyone that knows me will be able to tell you that wouldn’t be the case. And this weekend at least they were right.
After meeting a good friend on Friday evening the plan was to head out and meet the American climbers where they were staying to introduce myself and talk about The Circuit before climbing with my friend for the weekend as she had never been to the Grampians and I was excited to show her the amazing rock and let her experience the incredible bouldering for herself.
Dodgy weather put pay to that plan and before I knew it we were hiking into the Kindergarten, an area sheltered from the rain but almost devoid of moderates… While this somewhat limited the climbing opportunities of both my friend Nina and myself it gave me the opportunity to start shooting the visiting climbers straight away, and with Daniel Woods trying the desperate V12 Giada photo opportunities abounded. One thing I love about shooting great climbers is that athleticism on display when they climb and Daniel fits the bill here perfectly. The play of light and shadow against a climbers body as they move through the amazing curls and swoops of the Grampians sandstone is a photographers (or indeed an anatomists) dream.
Of course it wasn’t just Daniel who was out being photogenic. When you get a big crew of super fit, talented boulderers in action there are times when two cameras and four arms would be quite beneficial. Wherever I looked it seemed there was a photo waiting to be taken and by Sunday afternoon I almost had to be dragged from the crag as the Sun finally broke through and the rock turned that amazing red gold that it is renowned for.
I had the pleasure of discussing The Circuit at length with the Team America crew and it was great that from the get go they understood where I was coming from with my vision for The Circuit and sounded happy to get on board. Now with photos rolling in I need to work on the direction of the interviews and ensure that I’m asking the right questions. Pertinent questions that will bring out the stories and personalities of these world class climbers.
One boulderer whose story fascinated me this weekend is the young American Nina Williams. Her climbing gracefully blends technique and power and is taking her to greater and greater achievements. As she progresses in the sport she is caught at a crossroads in life weighing up priorities and ambitions. There is definitely a story fit for the telling there.
Aside from my trip to the Grampians I received a very positive email from Nina Gallo, the talented Sydney writer I had engaged as a sounding board early in the project. Having worked with Nina previously I know that she has a great grasp of not only the English language but also how to compose and structure interviews and articles. Nina recently listened to and transcribed both my interviews with Chris Webb Parsons and the Slovenian duo of Klemen Becan and Jernej Kruder and came back to me with a raft of questions and recommendations. These are food for thought and it’s great to get such positive input into the creative process. Indeed, it grows and evolves The Circuit before it even goes to press.
In conclusion, thanks so much to the team for working with me on this. Nina for the input and the work she’s put into transcribing. Dan for the awesome looking website we hope to have live before long and Natalie… Well Natalie’s living her own dream shooting a movie and getting ready to compete in the lead World Cups at the moment but her time will come conducting interviews for me in August! Also thank you to all those that have contacted me through firstname.lastname@example.org to offer support and assistance, it’s great to see my vision as a shared passion.
So behind the scenes I’ve been working flat tack on The Circuit over the last week.
With my Web designer Dan Mackay, we’ve been forging towards having a working website that will fairly represent The Circuit and keep people excited about the high quality content we’ve got landing soon.
With Nina Gallo, a talented writer out of Sydney we’ve been throwing around ideas on interview structure and how best to format them once transcribed from audio to the written word. And behind it all I have been liaising with some of the athletes I still want to interview making sure that we can get the pieces on them written in a timely manner.
Oh, and I’ve been planning a trip to the Grampians (leaving tomorrow) where I will be spending my weekends climbing and photographing some of the world’s best boulderers before heading into Melbourne for the weeks to maintain my day job as a Quality Assessor. So not really hectic at all…
In my spare time (what spare time?) I’ve been working on the layout and looking at the current and anticipated content to ensure that the finished magazine has a cohesive feel. And photo editing. And climbing. And running. And Jetting to New Zealand to visit my sick Father…
I’m happy to report that the magazine is coming together nicely. All the elements are syncing and the test pages I’ve created are getting a great initial response from viewers. This is great as pouring your heart and soul into a project sometimes leaves you a bit blinkered and honest feedback really helps maintain perspective.
I have locked in the themes for the first two issues of the magazine.
Issue one deals with the origins and evolution of the sport and the way it’s changed the lives of the climbers out there chasing their dreams. Through insightful interviews with some of the greats behind the sport like Udo Newmann who co-authored Performance Rock Climbing 20 years ago and currently manages the German Bouldering World Cup team, and Jacky Godoffe, the master of the Bleausards, ex-competitor and current World Cup route setter we can see how the sport has evolved from the early competitions on chipped routes on natural rock through to the colourful, spectator friendly sport it is today.
Through interviews with some of the best climbers on The Circuit we also get the athlete’s perspective and their personal stories of where they came from and why climbing means so much to them.
Mix this with some great photos, editorial articles and comp reports. Stir gently and what you’re left with is the first issue of The Circuit. Issue two also has a theme locked in but more about that in a later post.
A couple of notes to finish off this post. As I said in an earlier post my European correspondent Natalie is currently on a huge adventure travelling France, competing in the Lead comps and filming for an upcoming climbing movie. Well she now has a blog as well at http://natalieberry.wordpress.com/ make sure you check it out to follow her adventures.
Lastly thanks for the support you’ve shown through the blog and the new facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheCircuitClimbingMagazine
Please keep spreading the word, The Circuit is coming!
Those who know me will be aware that I’ve been struggling to deal with some bad news since I landed back in Australia. While I was away my Dad went for some blood tests (which my parents get every 6 months) and the news wasn’t good. My Dad had cancer.
I knew something was up while I was in Europe but my folks were playing their cards close to their chests and it wasn’t until I got home I got the news.
So where does this leave the magazine? Well to be honest it doesn’t affect it at all, or shouldn’t at this stage. The project is rolling along nicely and I really hope to get the first issue out while my Dad is still here to enjoy it. In fact it really helps motivate me as for my whole life my Father has been my biggest hero and I means a massive amount to get it out for him to see.
I have been amazingly lucky to be brought up by parents who have aways believed in chasing your dreams and when I look back at the extraordinary life that they’ve shared they’ve always gone for it. In fact theres another post that I’ll put on my eddiefowkephotography.com blog at some stage soon talking about their adventures but needless to say they’ve always supported me in chasing my own dreams.
The doctors have only given my Father a few months before Pancreatic cancer takes him from us. It is already the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with and I know it will get harder… In the mean time I’m going to release a kick ass mag dedicated to a great man.