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Life for me at the moment is traveling. Traveling and that inherent uncertainty that comes with being self-employed.
I get asked if I travel well and I guess the answer is yes. Yes in that I am resilient and hard to stress out. I also have a generally open chatty demeanor which quite often gets me onside with people whose job it is to make life inconvenient (maybe not on purpose but through their actions.)
Of course it’s not always that easy and in some ways I’m a terrible traveler. My grasp of foreign languages is fleeting and frustrating which can get to me when things aren’t working out. That coupled with my near total inability to sleep on public transport can lead to a red eyed grumpy, solution based version of me (which is a bad thing as my decision making suffers with fatigue.)
But on the whole it’s not the lack of sleep or the frustration of communication that is the hardest part about traveling, it’s saying goodbye.
I am immensely lucky that people appreciate my photography and writing enough to want me around documenting the IFSC World Cups and outdoor climbing. My passion and commitment have taken me to where my climbing ability never could and I get to travel the World with the best climbers on the planet. However at the end of every trip comes the goodbyes, those fleeting conversations that happen while you try to allay the sadness of leaving through handshakes and hugs, convincing yourself as much as anyone else that you will see each other again soon to rekindle the friendships formed while on the road.
Everyone knows that although they will probably meet again there are always uncertainties. Everyone beneath the top dozen or so athletes is faced with the reality that if they don’t perform the opportunity to represent their country could disappear. The next hot young climber is always waiting to take their place in the traveling elite.
For some climbers the motivation goes and they fade from the competition circuit to focus on outdoor objectives. This year several strong competitors are transitioning from competition to rock and you know the goodbyes from them will last that little bit longer.
Then of course there is my situation. I gave up the security of a full time job for this life, I rented out my room and car and hit the road. It is a wonderful existence but it comes at a cost. Over the coming weeks I will engage with prospective advertisers for issue 2 and if I don’t generate enough interest it will be me saying goodbye for a while and working on issue 2 from the other end of the world while holding down a day job to make ends meet.
When you’re traveling you get used to goodbyes, that sadness that comes with them is a sign that the people you meet add value to your life and it makes every goodbye worth it. If you didn’t travel you wouldn’t face the goodbyes but you wouldn’t share the fun and excitement of living with such a diverse and wonderful bunch of people. That said, I still hate goodbyes!
Not everyone is designed to travel but everyone should try it. You may sleep through every flight like a baby, you may gain proficiency in every language that you come across, and you may get frustrated and angry when things invariably don’t work out. However you will learn to say goodbye and through that you will realise the world is full of special people. If you never leave home again travel is worth it just for that realization.
Without a shadow of a doubt Grindelwald hosted the best IFSC World Cup of the year so far.
China put on a great event but the great firewall of China really hindered the viewing pleasure of the broader audience and saw it slip into second this year. So what did Grindelwald have that made it so much better? For me, it had 3 things.
Grindelwald had a great field with every (currently uninjured) big name in bouldering present including those who sat out the first 2 flyaway rounds. We welcomed back Tito and Melissa Le Neve from France, Sean McColl from Canada and a whole swag of Europeans making their 2014 debut including super strong Italian, German and of course Swiss teams.
Grindelwald had amazing setting. With great angles and a plethora of holds and volumes the setting team created a diverse range of problems including dynos, the now seemingly standard on wall run and jumps and compression masterpieces. Although some did question the jumpy nature of the problems they did a great job of separating the field with every round having 3 star problems that really allowed the climbers to put on a show.
Lastly Grindelwald had drama! For an athlete to have such a stellar run through semi-finals as Jernej Kruder did, only to miss isolation and not be able to compete in the finals was huge. Jernej looked devastated and understandably so. Fighting his way through the pain of a shoulder injury he was lucky even to be competing in Grindelwald, to see him sat disconsolate at the back of the stadium before finals was heart wrenching.
So what did Grindelwald give us as a competition? From the qualifications onwards it was a gripping event. Straight away there were upsets with a fit and psyched Sean McColl left outside the 20 and looking in. Indeed it was said, and rightly so, that you could have made a worthy finals field of the athletes failed to make Semi’s. On the women’s side it was much the same with several strong competitors like Britain’s Mina Leslie Wujastyk and France’s Fanny Gibert watching helplessly as some great performances lower down the starting list saw them slide from contention. Unfortunately women’s qualification also saw an injury to strong young Italian Annalisa DeMarco which could sideline her till Munich.
In the semifinals we saw some athletes who had put on amazing shows in qualification fade from contention. Struggling after looking superb in qualifications Swiss star Petra Klingler dropped down the order leaving local hopes pinned on young Rebekka Stotz who squeezed into the finals field alongside the big 5 of Anna, Akiyo, Alex, Jule and top qualifier for the finals Shauna Coxsey of Britain.
In the men’s Dmitrii reasserted himself after a relatively poor qualifying by his standards. His co-leader in the overall Jan Hojer who had looked great in qualifications just snuck in as time ran out with success on the last problem moving him to 5th and pushing resurgent veteran Gabriele Moroni out of the finals into 7th. It was also a strong round for the Japanese with Rei Sugimoto and Tsukuru Hori joining Austrian legend Kilian Fischhuber in making the cut. This left only Jernej Kruder who had looked strong in qualification but made the semifinals his own. And so the two fields of 6 were set.
As previously mentioned drama in Grindelwald was spelt with a J. On arrival to the hall to check the problems I was shocked to see a disconsolate Jernej walk in and sit at the back of the hall. What had happened? Had his shoulder finally given up on him? After a chat with the Slovenian manager it became apparent the Jernej had missed the closing time for Isolation by 6 minutes. This meant Jernej would not be able to take any part in the final round. This put a dampener on the finals as word spread around the crowd that unbelievably the star of semifinals was out. Of course in climbing competition everyone knows you must make Isolation, what was done was done.
About the finals? Well to begin with all I can say is WOW! The problems were visually spectacular putting the climbers into scary positions well off the deck. Seeing judges quietly slip into positions they can spot a falling climber if required brings home how on edge these problems were. Of course the climbers were over big, high quality mats but committing moves equals big falls as Germany’s Juliane Wurm showed slipping from the finish hold of the women’s last problem.
For me there were two stars of the final round and one of them didn’t even make the podium!
Rei Sugimoto set the crowd alight with his entertaining climbing being the only climber to top men’s problem one then putting on an incredible show working out how to top men’s 3. Indeed, it was probably one of the slowest single problems to complete in World Cup History with 3 of the 5 climbers going significantly over 4 minutes. All this however only brought Rei to 4th place, one ahead of his countryman Tsukuru.
The men’s podium reflected the overall standings with Kilian climbing to 3rd overall after his second consecutive final, behind Dmitrii whole is on nearly twice as many points and also slightly further behind Jan who after squeaking into finals has edged slightly ahead of his main competition with 3 tops in 7 attempts.
The biggest standout of the weekend was young British climber Shauna Coxsey won her first IFSC World Cup. After being cruelly denied by a dab last week in Baku there was all the pressure coming onto Shauna as she came out to do the last problem. Throughout the final she had once again been up against the legendary Anna Stöhr and she had to top in 5 attempts to win! Everybody waited with baited breath, Shauna is very popular on the circuit and everyone has known a win was coming for a long time, would today finally be the day? Even her two biggest competitors Anna and Jule sat on the mats and cheered her on, showing the close bonds that tie so many in this sport.
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now Shauna did take the victory sealing it on her 3rd attempt and finally getting to stand on the top step of the podium. It was a fantastic final where the boulders were hard, they split the field and only Anna who has been dominant for so long was able join Shauna in topping every problem.
Grindelwald stood as a fantastic IFSC Bouldering World Cup. Full credit needs to be given to the organizers who managed such a big field with very few hiccups and to the routesetters who gave us the World Cup we’ve been waiting to see.
This weekend, Innsbruck. Tune in to see how the climbers manage such a short turn around and if the famous Austrian energy can match last weekends Swiss precision.
The IFSC Bouldering World Cup series has arrived in Europe for two competitions before jetting off once more to North America.
For many of the athletes this is the start of the season with a far bigger field entered than in either of the two flyaway rounds. Indeed from the start list this could be the biggest field ever at a Bouldering World Cup, in fact any World Cup ever! For those athletes that toured to China and Azerbaijan the return to Europe signifies a welcome return to normality after two weeks of interrupted training schedules and long hours traveling. While I can’t speak for anyone else to get this far has already taken over 65 hours of travel time which is a lot for two weeks!!!
This season so far has seen the consolidation of the top five ladies on the circuit with a significant gap to the chasing group. How these ladies have pulled such a gap on their opposition is unclear but it must certainly be demoralizing for the chasing pack.
Anna Stöhr appears to be climbing as well as ever with victory last weekend in Baku but the weekend before showed how tight it has got with a couple of difficulties in the final seeing her off the podium altogether. It is highly unlikely Anna will be able to emulate last year’s domination with the others so strong right now.
Akiyo Noguhi has seemingly come into the season very fit reaching the podium twice already, her fantastic consistency will be a huge threat to the others in the quest for the overall. Dropping points against a competitor like Akiyo could prove insurmountable.
Shauna Coxsey is looking fantastic this season, more composed than in previous years and she’s climbing with a real sense of self-assurance. She should have won last weekend in Baku and needs to take confidence from that performance. I also think representing the supporters who got in and crowd funded the Brits gives an extra sense of meaning to this year’s campaign.
Alex Puccio is another looking stronger than I’ve ever seen her. Indeed seeing her do three one arm pull ups the other day makes me wonder if she is the strongest female boulderer ever? Alex was under the weather last weekend and it’s uncertain if she will be back to 100% for this weekend… Fingers crossed!
Last but by absolutely no means least is Germany’s Juliane Wurm. Coming off a victory in the opening round in Chongqing Jule didn’t have quite the comp see would have wanted in Baku and will be looking to get back on top of the podium this weekend. A change of training situation for Jule appears to be paying dividends with here looking more confident and comfortable than ever before.
Below these ladies are several strong competitors, from Japans Momoka Oda to Slovenia’s Mina Markovic and a host of strong French athletes looking to crack the top six. Based on what we’ve seen so far it’d be a brave guess for that last finals spot but based on her form of the last fortnight I’d say watch out for the young French star Marine Thevenet.
Moving to the men’s field now and no such demarcation appears between the climbers. There are realistically 30 climbers with a chance at making finals meaning some top echelon climbers won’t even make the semifinals let alone the main show!
The standout athletes so far have been Russia’s Dmitrii Sharafutdinov and Germany’s Jan Hojer, both even at the top of the standings with 180 points for the season so far! Close behind them though is a huge pack and that’s before we add the climbers who have waited to the European season like Sean McColl, Thomas Tauporn and Gabriele Moroni.
Dmitrii is looking strong this year, easily the most composed climber in both of the finals this year. However he still has some weaknesses as exposed on the run and jump in Chongqing. When the problems suit him though his mistake free style puts huge pressure on the others.
Jan has dropped some weight over the off season and is looked more conditioned than last year. After taking time off the sport completely a while ago to go play basketball he has come back as enthusiastic as ever and clearly ready for a big season! While he may have lacked the consistency of some of the top climbers in previous years Udo seems to have done a great job in his emotional and psychological preparation and we are seeing a more consistent, balanced Jan.
No preview would be complete without mentioning the legend that is Kilian Fischhuber. Coming off a poor event by his standards in Chongqing Kilian bounced back to be just off the podium in Baku. Indeed he was the only athlete that came close on the final problem and that would have secured 2nd for him… Kilian is most likely training towards the World Championships this year but will want a good showing in the European rounds to confirm his place at the top of the sport!
James Kassay of Australia sits third in points currently, just ahead of the mega experienced Jorg Verhoeven. This may come as a surprise to some but as James had acquitted himself well in his limited seasons over the previous two years with no specific training it is no surprise that after some dedicated training for this season he is sitting where he is.
So there’s what we know going into Grindelwald. What we don’t know is the level of those who have been waiting in Europe for the season to come to them. Sean McColl is sounding psyched to be back, Strong Aussie (James training partner quite often this summer) Thomas Farrell will be back in action, as will Italy’s Michael Piccolruaz who looked so impressive in the European Champs in Eindhoven last year.
Check Facebook and the IFSC scoring app for updates through Saturday and enjoy the stream on Sunday!
The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing magazine is available now and gives a unique insight into the lives of the world’s best climbers. To keep getting all the competition reports and photos you can support us by purchasing a copy of Issue 1 through http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy (worldwide excluding North America) or http://store.madrockclimbing.com/thecircuit.aspx (North America)
Issue 2 is being researched and written currently for release later this year.
For My Baku review I am going to look at the event first and then discuss the athlete’s performances second.
Yesterday I read that Baku was hoping to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2016. This both surprised me and amused me in turn. Anyone that knows Formula 1 knows of Bernie Ecclestone the legendary boss of the sport.
The simple truth is Bernie would not tolerate a fraction of what the IFSC tolerated in Baku this previous weekend. Here is a man that grew Formula 1 from niche sport to where it is today by expecting a high level of professionalism wiIth every event organizer contracted, one not afraid to walk away if the event didn’t meet the standard expected as a top echelon professional sport. The onus is on the IFSC to exact the same high standards of organizers of World Cup climbing events to ensure the growth and development of competition climbing.
I didn’t say this at all to readers, Facebook followers etc. while I was in Baku (because http://www.cnbc.com/id/46471155/page/3) but it needs to be said. The event organizers in Baku failed to provide the basics at an acceptable level. There was intermittent bursts of enthusiasm but no consistency of effort and very little cohesive direction from above and the result was an IFSC World Cup that didn’t present the sport to the wider viewing audience in a favorable light.
The majority of the athletes, coaches and family members that travel to World Cup events have only partial funding or none at all, when they invest in traveling to a World Cup they expect to be representing their countries at a professional run event. The climbers train for years to get to a standard where they are good enough to compete in front of a global audience and the expectation is the events will have an equivalent level of professionalism. They want the best routes on the best walls in front of the best crowds and with clean, professional coverage. Sure mess ups can happen like the rainstorm interfering with qualification at Innsbruck last year but that needs to be the exception, not the rule!
Baku gave us an amazing venue but then things went south fast. When the setters arrived to start setting the problems the only holds they were given would be suitable for a kids wall, thus began an urgent race to bring holds in from Europe in time. The mats weren’t finished for them and within days the large roof designed to protect the athletes from the blazing desert sun had buckled under the relentless wind (Baku means Windy City in Azeri) and had to be removed on safety grounds, exposing the athletes to the elements.
The Speed wall was also beset by difficulties and at one stage I watched open mouthed as a local soloed up the outside of the scaffolding to hang one of the topropes. Completely unprotected 15 meters up… What a look it would have been for the sport if he had fallen…
In short the IFSC needs to give the organizers a Bernie Ecclestone level shellacking and let them know that to have a World Cup again they have to seriously improve at their end and put in safeguards to ensure it happens.
So, how was the actual climbing at the event? What did we learn and how has the season evolved from a week earlier in Chongqing?
Starting with the Women’s field the first thing we saw in qualifying is that France’s World Champion Melanie Sandoz is continuing to struggle, narrowly missing the semifinals cut. Is it that the French are arriving to late on the fly away rounds? Other performances in the team would indicate this isn’t the case so maybe Mel just struggles with travel?
On the flip side one thing these fly away rounds have given us is the opportunity to see some of the up and coming athletes who are rapidly establishing themselves in the sport. From France both Marine Thevenet and Fanny Gibert have climbed extremely well with Marine making finals in her first attempt and finishing one place out in 7th at Baku. The established pros Melanie and Melissa Le Neve will have their work cut out staying ahead of this pair.
Also making a superb showing in the ladies have been the two I call the little Americans, Grace Mckeehan and Claire Bresnan. Both had competed at the highest level domestically and it’s fantastic to see them getting international exposure at such a formative period of their careers!
The Women’s field is different from the men’s though as now, barring a huge upset, we have 5 ladies I’d expect to see in every final. The quintet of Anna Stöhr, Alex Puccio, Shauna Coxsey, Akiyo Noguhi and Jule Wurm have all come into the season looking fitter than ever and ready to win! Last year Anna dominated in finals but this year it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw 4 or even all 5 atop a podium at some point. It was devastating for Shauna to lose on a dab this weekend as she looked totally at ease on every boulder. In saying that so did Anna and the setters will have a tough job ahead ensuring the problems are really hard enough without resorting to party trick problems like the run and jump last week.
The men’s field has also thrown up its share of surprises with two of the legends of the sport Rustam Gelmanov and Kilian Fischhuber not making the first final in China. They quickly showed their professionalism and put themselves back in the leading pack for Baku though which is great to see. Keep an eye on Kilian this year, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the World Champs in Munich is his last event as a full time competitor on the circuit so savour those few comps we have left seeing the master at work!
Dmitrii Sharafutdinov and Jan Hojer are looking like the absolute form pair this year with Dmitrii scything the problems in Baku and Jan fighting his way to victory a week earlier. It’s great to see as with very different body types they show how diverse body types can be matched at the highest level.
Of course there’s no room for complacency with Climbers like James Kassay and Jorg Verhoeven always threatening and the likes of Sean McColl and Adam Ondra coming out to play over the next few weeks! On top of that we have some superb young climbers in Alban Levier of France and Vadim Timonov of Russia working their way into serious contention!
Tune in to the IFSC stream this weekend to see all the action from Grindelwald in whats looking to be the biggest IFSC Bouldering World Cup turnout ever!!!
German star Juliane Wurm has been tearing it up lately on her very successful trip to the USA.
After winning last weekend’s Hueco Rock Rodeo in Texas against a packed field including pros Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, Courtney Woods and Nina Williams, Jule is looking like one of the favorites when she makes a guest appearance at the ABS Nationals in Colorado Springs starting this Friday.
The event will be streamed live by the Louder Than 11 crew and features a stellar line up in both the Womens and Mens fields. Check the trailer here for streaming details.
Dedicating herself to full time climbing for a several months by taking a semesters break from her studies is paying dividends for Jule. Click on the link below to read a short interview from The Circuit for an insight into what drives this talented athlete.
The Circuit Climbing Magazine Jule
The Circuit is available to order on-line now from The Circuit website and will be available climbing gyms very shortly!
So… The last few months…
How do I describe them using positive words? It all seems to have been grim never ending toil intermingled with moments of heartbreaking grief and despair.
Sure there have been highlights but for longer than I care to remember now the world has weighed heavily on my shoulders.
Starting The Circuit from scratch has been the hardest, most brutally stressful undertaking of my 39 years on the planet and to be honest I’m not sure I the potential rewards have been worth the hours, the days even of mental anguish that I have gone through. I’ve had to learn so much and quite often the act of learning can only take place when you realise what you don’t know. And needless to say this realisation never seems to come early when there’s a gap in the calendar and a few days to learn a new skill.
Starting The Circuit had been a goal of mine for some time, ever since a chat with a climber from the Blue Mountains started to give shape to an idea of creating a purely performance based, high end climbing magazine focusing on the aspirational stars of the sport.
From my work as a photographer I knew several top professionals in the sport and so I decided to go to Europe, follow the IFSC World Cups and get what I figured I’d need for the magazine.
Of course I had no idea of the complexities of the mission I was undertaking or I may well have hid under a rock and avoided the concept altogether. Fortunately for the magazine, but maybe less so for me I had no idea and so blundered around Europe, taking photos, reporting on the competitions and getting to know the athletes so I could get the interviews I needed. At that stage everything was going great and the more people I spoke to about my vision the more enthusiasm I received from the climbing scene.
I was not to know, I could not know then how much my life was about to collapse on my return to Australia. On the day of my return I was given the news that my father had pancreatic cancer and soon it became apparent that he had only months to live. The same months I had planned to write The Circuit in. I was committed to the magazine by this time but suddenly the timeline started to slip. I had to go back to New Zealand on several occasions to spend time with my family and to be honest, even though I was working hard on The Circuit my father’s illness was a far greater priority in my life.
So it was the expected completion of the magazine slipped from late September to October, then November then finally to December. Tragically my father passed away in Mid-December and would never see the finished item, although he did get the final proof in time to read over it and get a good idea of the finishing product. And I know that through all his pain and suffering seeing the magazine come to life helped keep him going that little bit longer as he waited for every update.
“If The Circuit was printed in December where is it?” I can hear people ask. The simple answer is that while I grieved I needed to step back and breathe, to re-centre myself and get back on my feet. And to be completely honest I’m still not there yet.
The first thing I realised was I lacked the emotionally capacity to deal with all the work I’d taken on. Freight was turning into a nightmare and as I had no idea what the processes were, things were taking much longer than they needed too. In fact freight to the US has now been delayed 3 times due to my lack of knowledge around the cryptic paperwork requirements and instead of having already landed in the US as it should have I’m still trying to sort it out. By now I’m paying storage fees in China and twice have had to step back and stop myself from telling the freight company to destroy the lot of them as I just can’t seem to make headway with it and I’m failing to deal with the bullshit bureaucracy at an emotional level.
Now finally I am (hopefully) one single form away from the US shipment getting underway on the 28th which will be a huge load off my shoulders.
I hope the magazine will sell well. Pre-orders are ok, not where I wanted them but reasonable and interest seems to be growing in the wider climbing community. I need to really push now and over the coming weeks to get things moving with stock arriving in Australia late next week and in the UK and Europe a few weeks after that. All the pre-orders worldwide will be filled from the initial shipment to Australia so at least they’ll be getting their copies soon. (pre-orders are still available at http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy until the end of January)
The simple truth is if I don’t get The Circuit selling my World Cup season this year could be very short. I’ve poured not only my heart and soul but my savings into this and currently only have budget till the Innsbruck round of the 2014 IFSC Bouldering World Cup series. I am sure the return on investment will come but needless to say, while still grieving the loss of my father, the added stress has really beaten me up and I need to lift myself up and start pushing sales, both to individuals and gyms.
The only bright spark has been that initial reaction to the first copies of the finished product has been extremely positive. Graeme Alderson from The Climbing Works in Sheffield was impressed enough by the finished product that he immediately put in a big order for the gym and the initial feedback from the reviewers I’ve gotten copies to is that they are extremely impressed with the magazine.
Of course all the pain and frustration I am enduring this time will make the next issue that much easier to produce. I don’t need to learn the same lessons twice and without the background of personal tragedy it’ll be much easier to run to schedule.
I want to finish this out with a huge thanks to everyone who has supported me over the last 6 months or so. I know I’ve been insufferable, distracted and extremely intense at times. My friends have really kept me going and helped me battle my demons. I’ve leaned on them immensely and can’t thank them enough. Life is still overwhelmingly intense at the moment with the combination of grief and stress but my friends have been helping me through it all.
So sometimes you are working hard, making inroads on a huge project then you just get blindsided by life.
This blog was supposed to be a regularly updated ‘Making Of’ for the first issue of The Circuit but as life has gotten progressively more topsy turvy and intense the last few months something had to fall by the wayside and blogging was it.
I guess it stands to reason that when you are transcribing then editing down over 40,000 words of interviews, recreational writing is low on the list of priorities. Normally however I do enjoy pontificating on subjects, making people think about topical issues, and occasionally just baiting the trolls. You see this sort of fluid, off the cuff writing is so different to interviewing that it’s almost like taking a break… Almost.
So here I am again to discuss The Circuit, to talk about where we’re up to and what has caused so many of the delays that led to the blog being shunted to the periphery.
The good news is that issue 1 is printed, it is bound and it is to the best of my knowledge waiting to be freighted to the corners of the globe where I have worked hard to establish a team able to post the magazine out to purchasers. Working out postage and distribution turned out to be the single most difficult element of the whole process as I wanted to keep the magazine affordable yet living down here in Australia I was quoted $14 per copy to send it to purchasers around the world… Needless to say, that couldn’t happen! The solution has been to ship the magazine in bulk from the printers to separate hubs where orders can be mailed out at local rates. A logistical nightmare in some ways but a necessary evil to ensure worldwide retail of $20 AUD delivered. Of course now we are just waiting on the ships.
Apart from the logistics the other main factor delaying the release of the magazine was the fading health of my father. While in Europe this year following the World Cups I got the news my folks had left the secluded area they were living in and had travelled to Auckland (New Zealand). This was unusual as my parents had left the rat race years earlier to a semi-retirement looking after remote area camps in the New Zealand wilderness.
On the day of my return home from Europe I found out that my dad had pancreatic cancer and soon enough our worst fears were confirmed and we were told he had months to live. I worked my butt off to ensure that he got to see the magazine but in many ways the stress and emotion pulled me back and I had to go back and rewrite parts of the magazine several times to get them where I wanted them to be. That combined with time lost to trips to New Zealand to spend time with my father really started to put me on the back foot and there were times I questioned my ability to complete the Magazine at all.
It was during this time, indeed, the whole time I’ve been back from Europe that my friendship with the irrepressible John Ellison of Climbers Against Cancer (CAC) was cemented. In the midst of his own battle with cancer John was able to give me great insight into the battle he was facing which I could relate directly to that of my father. John was also an amazingly inspirational figure as how could I be considering giving up when someone in John’s position could do so much.
I talked at length with my father over the last months and we decided to donate $1 per copy sold to CAC to help in the battle against cancer. After all every little bit helps!
In late November I finally got the magazine finished and the proof back from the printers. I was able to get it to my father as soon as I had checked it for colour accuracy and he had the chance to read it in his final days.
At 6.20am on the 12th of December my father, Tony Fowke, passed from this earth. He was cremated that same day holding the magazine.
Now here we are a couple of weeks later, still deeply grieving but getting on with things, getting the word out about the magazine and getting ready for it’s release.
Pre-orders are doing well and the first customers should have it in their hands mid to late January. Unfortunately with the length of time it takes the ship to reach Europe and the UK they will be waiting for a bit longer than the rest of the world but everyone who pre-orders will get theirs well before the rest as we will be sending a few boxes by air to make sure their faith in pre-ordering is rewarded.
For all the hardship I’ve been through making this happen I still believe it’s been totally worth it. To bring a new magazine to the market based on the high performance climbers, the stars of the sport both in competition and on rock, is well overdue. 100% pure inspiration for both the aspiring superstars and the armchair supporters of the sport! (Pre-orders are still available at http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy)
So it might seem to some that all gone quiet with the production of the circuit. The truth of the matter is quite the opposite, the last few weeks have been super busy and although primarily rewarding there has been some obstacles to overcome.
Starting with the good news I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon climbing with the German rising star Alex Megos. Already having photographed him in the Grampians I was excited to catch up and get his thoughts for the magazine. While he was in the Blue Mountains he took the opportunity to come down and sample Sydney bouldering which gave me the perfect opportunity to sit down and have a chat. Alex’s achievements in the sport over the last couple of years have really gotten the attention of the climbing community and seeing him in action all I can say is that he lives up to the hype. Chatting to him though you really get the feeling theres more on offer and I’m comfortable saying that along with Adam Ondra, Alex will rewrite our understanding of human potential in climbing.
Every generation there are a couple of climbers who push the boundaries of the possible and in both hard roped climbing and hard bouldering Alex and Adam are leading the way.
Also in the good news section is that I had the opportunity to sit down with the legendary Chris Sharma for an interview on his philosophies and his aspirations for the Psicobloc comp circuit he is so heavily involved with. Unfortunately there were a bunch of aspects of the Psicobloc comp he was unable to discuss but talking to him and seeing the enthusiasm light his face when he is outlining his plans you know something big is on the way.
Chris was in Australia at the invite of ICP and he gave slideshows in most of the main cities. It’s great to see the industry in Australia getting behind top level climbers and making them available like this, seeing the adoration and excitement it generated in the young climbers who managed to attend is extremely rewarding and if they take away that psyche and turn it into results the future of climbing here will be in good hands. A huge thanks needs to go out to the team at ICP who made this rare event (for Australia) happen.
On the flip side there have been some definite logistical hurdles that have risen up in front of us over the last few weeks. As we get closer to publication I’ve been working hard on finding a viable delivery method for people who purchase the magazine.
From the outset the goal has been to have a high quality, bi-annual magazine in print form that is collectible and will capture where the sport is at the top end currently. This means in the future subscribers and collectors will be able to look back at a snapshot in history, similar to when you pick up the iconic Heinz Zak book Rockstars which captures the sport in the mid 90’s and gives insight into the major players and their achievements and aspirations.
For those wondering we will make a softcopy pdf version available to all who purchase the magazine online as well so they can put it on tablets and laptops to have some portable psyche when the magazine is safely stored at home.
The hurdle that has risen in front of us is that of freight. Domestically the price is reasonable but to ship from Australia internationally costs more per unit than the magazine will retail for. Therefore we need to explore different distribution channels to ensure that the cost of postage doesn’t overwhelm the magazine. At this stage we are looking at freighting stock to the U.K and U.S as well as Australia to distribute but there are still logistical barriers doing things that way. If anyone reading this has a background in freight or publishing and has any advice drop me an email at email@example.com. This issue may delay the release of the first issue but not by much, we were initially hoping to go to print in September but it is now delayed till October for other reasons and the distribution is just another bugbear.
Some hurdles are to be expected when working on a project of this magnitude and the end result will be worth all the frustration of getting the magazine out, now it’s just a case of chasing up loose ends to get everything together for issue 1!
Cancer. Possibly the worst word you can hear in the world. It can spell a death sentence and reflect agonizing pain and physical Deterioration.
This year, more than any other, cancer has pushed into my life and impacted those I care about. From the beginning of the year when I found a young friend of mine was battling thyroid cancer through to the discovery on the day of my return from a two month European road trip that my Father had pancreatic cancer. A cancer we were soon to find out was terminal.
So what does this have to do with The Circuit I hear you ask?
During my European trip my friend and European correspondent Natalie introduced me to John Ellison, a man she’s known for much of her life as a young British climber. John found out last year that he had prostate cancer and that it was terminal. Facing such horrible news it would be easy to turn in on yourself and wallow in self pity but John railed against the cancer. Seeing cancers impact on people’s lives he decided he was going to fight it through the avenue he knew best. Climbing and climbers!
John founded the charity Climbers Against Cancer (CAC) initially just selling tee shirts to raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer. Over the course of the last year, through John’s tireless commitment to the cause and his belief that cancer can be beaten, CAC has grown into a major charity raising a great deal of money which is being donated to research facilities around the world battling the disease.
There have been two major donations already, the first in Australia at the National Lead Champs and the second at the IFSC Lead World Cup recently held in Briançon. Through these donations and the many to come, CAC is channeling the efforts of climbers in the fight against cancer and it’s great to see the extent the climbing community is uniting behind the cause.
So wanting to contribute more into the fight against cancer myself (and already owning several CAC tees) I decided the The Circuit was going to do its bit and we will be donating $1 for every copy sold to CAC. I’m excited that I can be in the position to help raise awareness of this amazing cause and would urge you all to get behind CAC, check out the site http://www.climbersagainstcancer.org/ and do your bit in the fight against cancer!
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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