Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Finals vs Finals: The Epic Showdown

By my count, over the past two months, I have been involved in exactly 11 finals of both the climbing and engineering variety. This includes 7 competition finals (1 Blackout Boulder Brawl, 1 Regional Championship, 2 Dark Horses, 3 Pan-American Championship finals) and 4 engineering final exams.  Now, who's to say which one was more challenging? There are certainly some interesting parallels between the two. Now that I am on break from school and the competition circuit for a bit, I now have the chance to reflect on my first semester of college experience and look back on how balancing a full competition load was on top of that.

Let's start back at the very beginning. When I was deciding on an undergraduate engineering program that I wanted to enroll in, I knew that climbing still had to fit in somewhere. My final decision to attend Northeastern University in Boston arose out of Northeastern's stellar engineering school and extensive co-op opportunities that the school is renowned for. I also liked the study-hard/play-hard atmosphere of Boston and the fact that the climbing community was extremely welcoming (not to mention the fantastic comps they put on). I assumed that my time at school would mainly be centered around my studies and that I would not have enough time/be motivated enough to actually get myself to the gym. Boy was I wrong.

Looking back, not only did I have the time to climb, I found myself more motivated than I ever have been in my whole life to get as much climbing in as possible, usually spending 5+ hours at a time climbing in the gym or outside at a New England crag. Instead of becoming a mindless training cycle, (as it had felt like in high school) climbing became my release from the many hours cooped up in my dorm or in class studying or taking notes. It felt natural, not forced, to have both my academics and my passion for climbing as the two center-points of my life.

Anyways, now on to what I was getting at. Finals. After completing quite a variety of them in close succession, (as described earlier) I have noticed many similarities (and a couple major differences) between competition finals and the final exams that I took at the end of my first semester of college.

Firstly, it is important to understand that not everyone makes it to finals. Finals are an event bound with exclusivity in both cases; qualifying for finals at any major climbing competition is equally as challenging as sticking out a class for a full semester. It is a given fact that some kids just won't make it, either by dropping the class, or not having the best day of climbing. It is also important to understand that it is OK to sometimes not make finals, and if you don't, to take it as a learning experience and to put even more effort into next time finals roll around. I haven't had to drop a class yet, but I almost found this lesson out the hard way in the Dark Horse competitions by qualifying in the very last spot into finals on two separate occasions.

Secondly, finals are all about knowing how to prepare yourself for exactly what you about to face. In my climbing experience, training on the IFSC speed wall before I went down to South America was essential in keeping the route beta fresh in my mind and retaining the necessary muscle memory for the route. The same lesson I applied to my training for Dark Horse, by practicing delicate slab climbs, huge dynos, and crazy Josh Larson-esque beta that only he would be so daring as to come up with. When it came time for my final exam in CHEM1151, (my general engineering chemistry class) I did a huge amount of practice problems that I knew were going to be similar to the material on the test, and I believe it helped enormously in my overall grade.

Finally, the most indispensable element in order to succeed in finals is adaptability. There is no way that every formula you memorized or every training move you executed will be handed to you on a silver platter (unless of course you are very lucky). Doing well in finals or on a final exam is 99% mental, since most finals are intentionally designed to bring you outside your comfort zone. When the problem looks too daunting to even approach, DO NOT PANIC. Think about what the creator of the problem is trying to get you to do. Then, take a step back, close your eyes, and take a long, deep breath. Once you have done so, break down the challenge (be it a boulder problem or calculus problem) into small, manageable steps that you believe will eventually lead you to the finish. Once you have decided on the manner in which you will attack, be confident in it, and proceed. If it fails, be adaptable and try a slightly different tactic (maybe it's actually a rose move! or maybe I should integrate by parts!) and try the process over again. Being adaptive to your surroundings will give you a huge advantage over a strategy of bashing your head into the wall by using the same approach time and time again.

That will pretty much do it for the similarities I found between my academic finals and competition finals, but there is one major difference that I would like to point out: In climbing finals, being the underdog in a comp is a good thing. There is way less pressure on you, so if you are a lower-seeded competitor in the finals, it feels as if you can make no mistake that would harm your current position. In my experience, being an underdog in a comp generally correlates to a much clearer mindset and a much better performance in the final round. This is absolutely not the case in academic finals. DO NOT be an underdog heading into the final by having a poor grade. Try to have the best grade possible beforehand to give yourself an extra point cushion should the final prove to be more devious than expected. Usually, grades in classes are cumulative, which means that even a good performance on the final does not guarantee you a good grade in the class, and it also puts a lot more mental strain on you at a time when you need your mind to be clear and stress-free. This seems like a very obvious statement to make, but I just wanted to show that there is indeed differentiation between the two types of finals that were previously mentioned.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dark Horse #1

Is the Dark Horse the most epic bouldering competition ever created? Absolutely. For the past couple years, I've been watching videos of bouldering competitions on the east coast, (namely Dark Horse and Heart of Steel) fantasizing about one day being able to travel out there to compete.

Although the Heart of Steel has since been cancelled, the Dark Horse is still in full swing in New England, put on every year by head setters Josh Larson and Dave Wetmore. Watching the highlight reels made the events look insane - big dynos, drop-down moves, backwards mantles, swinging on non-climbing holds, you name it, it was probably there. It looked awesome.

And now, I'm here, going to school in Boston. These are now local competitions for me. PSYCHED.

From the very first day of classes, I found myself counting down the days to the first Dark Horse competition in Everett. As the weeks, then days, then hours ticked off until go time, I got more and more excited to see what Josh and Dave had in store.

On the morning of qualifiers, I headed over to Metrorock with my friends Alex and Keila (also freshmen at Northeastern). The qualifier problems were hard - I barely ended up squeaking into finals with the strong field that showed up. However, I could already tell just from the atmosphere in the room that finals were going to be intense. People came in from about 10 different states, and even a van with some french Canadian climbers drove down for the event. We never used to get that big of a range at any competition back home! Coming from the west coast, where bouldering comps are laid back and finals are sort of a mystical idea that is rarely put into practice, it was exhilarating to know that my efforts in the qualification round could potentially move me on to finals.

After qualifiers ended, I waited around to see if I had made the top six male spots that would move on to finals. However, Dave and Josh decided to let in two extra spots to bring the finals total up to eight. This turned out to be extremely lucky for me, since my score put me in seventh. Also qualifying for the finals were Nick Picarella, Vasya Vorotnikov, Ben Hoberg, Mike Feinberg, Andrew Kim, Sebastien Lazure, and David Bain.

As I warmed up again in isolation for finals, I came to realize how much more amped up everyone was for the event. Even my roommate Isaac came out to watch the comp! Right before I climbed, I could hear the roar of the crowd as competitors worked their way up the problems behind me. The energy that I felt was on a completely different level than most competitions I've ever competed in, especially back home. I popped in my headphones, switched on the "get psyched" playlist, slipped into my trusty Team 5.10's, and chalked up. Before I knew it, "climbers begin climbing" echoed around the crowded arena from the PA and I turned to face the wall.

In a word, the finals problems were INSANE. Problem 1 consisted of a huge Dark Horse volume to start, followed by several large cubes that you had to carefully balance over before dynoing around the corner to a ring jug. The next move tripped nearly everyone up, as you were supposed to do a big sideways dyno to standing position on top of a giant ball.

Going for the jump move on #1

Video: Linda Lee

Number 2 was short and powerful with another huge dyno to start, followed by crazy finish match. I was able to get the first move with about 30 seconds left, but I had used most of my energy trying the first move so many times that I ended up falling while going for the next hold. Only Mike Feinberg sent this one by throwing a bicycle on one of the lower volumes.

Problem 3 was by far my favorite of the entire finals round. It started with your back to the wall, then was followed by a huge double-clutch dyno past a mediocre sloper to a jug. I attempted the dyno for most of my allotted time, trying to get the right body positioning before finally sticking the hold. From there, the climb went back onto the sloper that you initially dynoed to, then up onto a huge star feature before cumulating in one last hard move to the top. I fell trying to reach the hold on the star, which ended up being the 2nd highpoint on the route. Later in the comp, Vasya was able to pull through and was able to reach the finish. Inspiring!

Video: Linda Lee

Vasya bringing home the title. That's how we do it in Boston!!

In the end, I came out in 4th place after Vasya, Mike, and Ben Hoberg. I believe Ben and I tied, but I had many more falls, (especially on #2) so that countback factor brought me down one spot. Nevertheless, I had a blast at my first big east coast pro comp, and I can't wait for the next one! DARK HORSE!

All photos courtesy of Natalia Boltukhova

Dark Horse 2013 Series 4 Round 1 Highlights from Louder Than Eleven on Vimeo.

IFSC World Cup Atlanta

Earlier this month, the IFSC Lead World Cup kicked off its American debut of the season in Atlanta, Georgia. I qualified for this event by making the finals at the SCS Open Nationals a few months ago, making this my 3rd World Cup appearance. Having performed well enough to qualify for the semifinals the year before, my hopes were high in terms of improving my result and potentially having a shot at making it into finals.

Training for this year's World Cup required a much different approach than I was normally used to, considering my full engineering courseload at Northeastern University I had to balance at the same time. However, the people over at Metrorock are awesome and I was able to catch some belays from friendly folks who were kind enough to let me run some laps on their project... Kinda felt bad about that. Oh well.

Heading into the competition, I felt decently strong given that I had just gotten over a severe cold brought on by my first midterms of the year. Nevertheless, my last training session on the "treadwall" that we have in our campus rec center proved to be a valuable asset, and I felt as prepared as I needed to be in the few days before flying down to Atlanta. Luckily, one of the youth climbers from Atlanta, Jeremy Heit (and his family), offered to let me stay at their house for the competition, so I didn't have to go through the trouble of booking a room and trying to pick up rides over to the gym. Thank you, Heit family!

When I walked into isolation for the competition, I felt right back in my element. The cool thing about competing in World Cup competitions is that the atmosphere is much more relaxed than any youth competition, which is crazy because you can look around at any given time and the person on both sides that you're warming up next to was on the front cover of that one climbing magazine last month. In total, there were about 65 competitors, which made for a small-competition ambiance. One of the cooler aspects was being able to chat with Jakob Schubert (reigning World Champion, nbd) on his recent win in Paris, and also got his side of the story on his even more recent disqualification in Puurs, Belgium. He felt that it was an unfair call and that he should have been awarded a yellow card, but that all he needed to do was perform well in Atlanta to move on.

When I finally stepped onto the wall in qualifiers, I felt a little nervous, but climbed decently well on the first climb, making it past the overhanging portion of the wall and onto the very technical slab. On qualifier 2, I didn't climb nearly as well after I made a poor rest about halfway up, but still was able to take the very last spot into semifinals after an two revisions of the scores and an appeal had me one spot out (lots of anxious waiting and deep breaths ensued).
Qualifier 2
Photo: Emily Taylor
Semifinals! After making it to this stage of the competition in Boulder last year, I was beyond psyched to have made it again. This time, my goal was to improve upon my placement from the year before, where I placed 23rd. After a quick preview, I set out on the extremely overhanging climb, making sure to climb quickly through the bottom section. My tactic worked well through some big holds and a sick campus section, but I tried to rush a tenuous section after a rest without taking time to breathe and assess the situation, and I fell while trying to pull a gaston. In the end, I placed 21st, my highest at a World Cup yet! It definitely pays off to go first in an onsight round - there's way less pressure.

After grabbing a bite to eat at the famous Little Cuba restaurant next to the gym (try their Cuban Sandwiches or Lucy lunch special), I headed back for finals with a bunch of US athletes, including Ben Tresco, Noah Ridge, Kyra Condie, Thomas Pitzel, Carina Claassen, Delaney Miller, and Michaela Kiersch. Finals were fantastic as usual, and it was amazing to see the world's best climbers come destroy routes on the walls that I know so well. Especially amazing was Jakob Schubert's climb, as he nearly fell off one section, only to calmly continue on and send the climb. Huge congrats to Ramon Julian and Jain Kim for winning the World Cup as well.
Jain Kim, World Cup Champion!
Inspiration from the competition now carries me through school every day. Whenever I find myself drifting off in my calculus lecture or doodling in my engineering design course, I often find myself thinking of how I could be training to compete on the World Cup circuit along with the climbers who I just witnessed. This dream needs to be realized! If there's a will, there's a way. Perhaps after I earn my degree I will pursue this course to the fullest. Until then, Dark Horse competitions will have to be enough I suppose...

Monday, September 17, 2012

High School Climbing Clubs in the Newspaper

In my junior year of high school, I helped create a rock climbing club at my local high school entitled the Fremont Bouldering Club. At first, our membership drifted between a couple of kids per week and only committed members showing up to meetings, but over time, we started gaining momentum which eventually led up to over fifty active members attending multiple events per year.

Because of our success, we were able to organize more events, including climbing movie nights, club trips to competitions all over the Bay Area, trash cleanups, and even a club trip to Bishop! Other high schools from around the district joined ours, and pretty soon we had kids from all over Silicon Valley with no prior experience in climbing trying it out for the first time and loving it. An article about our club was featured in our local newspaper recently. Here are some photos of the event:

Yann De Bleecker, Cory Ibanez, and Keith Batryn
David Gray, Cory Ibanez, Aaron Welch, and Ryan Merril

The crew.

All photos: Jacqueline Ramseyer

My dream is to share my passion for climbing with as many people as are interested, and also to inspire the future generations of high-schoolers that if you are enthusiastic about something, you should go full steam ahead with it, regardless of what is "mainstream" or not.

These days in the climbing community, we hear this word being thrown around an awful lot due to our bid for the Olympic Games in 2020. With climbing gaining a lot of press centered around the IOC's observation of the World Championships in Paris last week, we need to be putting our best foot forward in order to present ourselves as an organized group of smart, capable, and passionate group of people.

I believe getting climbing more focused on the youth is the next step. With youth prodigies springing up from what seems like EVERYWHERE now, (see my friend and teammate Mirko Caballero for example) it is essential for kids to explore their passion for climbing while they are young. We need this next generation to become a strong group of individuals, ready to represent their respective countries in eight years when the Olympics will hit either Madrid, Istanbul, or Tokyo. Kids should not be forced into climbing, like so many parents try to do to their kids in gymnastics, baseball, etc., but I feel that the opportunity is not quite there yet for kids who are interested in it to pursue it.

With the development of high school climbing clubs, I hope that this step towards the youth will facilitate more interest in the sport as something that anybody can do, regardless of age, gender, or ability. Today's goal is to get climbing incorporated into the education system not only at the collegiate level (CCS) but also into the high school, middle school, elementary school, and club sports level. As we have seen from younger kids these days, and also with the inclusion of paraclimbing in the World Championships, (see the video below at 2:06:00 mark - blind climbing!) climbing is truly the sport for anyone in the world to experience.

What can you do now? Get active in your community! Take your kids climbing, take your grandparents climbing, get out of the house or in front of the computer and go experience life the way it should be - vertically. Let's get this sport off the ground and into the future - where you tell people you climbed in high school and they ask "Varsity or JV?".

Maybe climbing's not your thing. Whatever. My point is, take what you love to do, and pursue it. That's all.

Ok, enough ranting for the moment. Thanks for reading, please leave any feedback you have below. Check back soon for trip beta on one of the world's best crags: Tonsai, Thailand!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thai Smoothies, Cuban Rice, and Singapore Slings: The Many Tastes of Summer

I am currently typing this from my new college dorm room in Kennedy Hall at Northeastern University in Boston! As my summer draws to a close, I figured I might as well share my many adventures before my engineering class schedule becomes too difficult to manage. Hopefully this will tie you over until then!

My summer started out in June with a trip to the Teva Mountain Games in Vail for the annual Bouldering World Cup. Vail is definitely one of my favorite competitions of the year. Besides having some awesome boulder problems in the comp itself, Vail is one of the most scenic locations in the United States, and boasts a wide array of outdoor sports. It’s not every weekend you get to experience kayaking, BMX, slacklining, dog jump competitions, and climbing all mixed into one. In the competition, I missed out on making semifinals by one hold on the second qualifier, but I felt strong on the two slab problems, flashing both of them. Looks like I need to work on more overhanging problems for next year… I guess slab is more of my style now? Weird. The rest of the weekend I got to hang out with Tris Sampson, Alex Johnson, Addison Kim, Elise Sethna, and a bunch of other friends before heading back to California.

Team USA.
Chillin' in the North Face store

During my short week at home, I graduated high school! My time at Fremont High School was certainly a blast, and I will have friends and memories that I will keep the rest of my life. I also received the High School Senior of the Year award from the city of Sunnyvale for my volunteer work with the Fremont High School Bouldering Club trail cleanup and participating in climb-a-thons for my coach Stacey Collver, who received a double-lung transplant. However, life is all about moving on to encounter new things, so later that week I left for Atlanta to train for Nationals in the beginning of July.

My parents and I at the Fremont High School Senior Awards Night

My first climbing coach, Stacey!
Nationals training camp has always walked a fine line of out-of-control summer camp and the most intense climbing training you can fit into a single day, and this year was no exception. With around 50 other youth athletes, I trained at Stone Summit Climbing Gym for a solid 2.5 weeks leading up to the competition. After countless laps on the 60-foot wall, enough speed training to give us all bloody fingertips, and too many Lucy’s (see photo below) to count, I felt ready for Nationals.

The infamous Lucy. You can't go to Atlanta without having one.
Smiley faces in blood- the Stone Summit speed tradition.
Photo: Faith Sullivan
The Crew!
Side note: during our training, our coach, Scot Jenerik, did some mental preparation talks with us all to get us fully ready for the competition. One of the questions he asked us was if given the choice, we could magically skip all of the climbing and already be selected for the national team. After leaving the question hang in the air for a moment, it dawned on me that I would never give up all of the life experiences with friends and the thrill of competing for any kind of reward in the world. That’s how special this sport is to me.

At the competition itself, I placed a respectable 5th in difficulty (barely making the US team) and 1st in speed. I was especially excited about this year’s speed event, as it marked my 10th consecutive National Championship title. It was great to see the level that all of the competitors were pushing as well, with most finalists pushing the sub-six second mark. Impressive! On the difficulty side, my routes this year were fantastic, with the final climb consisting of mantles, rose moves, ball presses, and (my personal favorite) a wrestling match with a giant boob-feature that cumulated in an all-points-off dyno towards the finish moves. I had a foot slip and fell underneath the boob, but still had a blast on the climb.

Photo: Sydney McNair
Photo: Sam Wolff
Photo: Sydney McNair
Because of my performance at Nationals, I received two invitations to the Youth World Championships in Singapore! I have been fortunate enough to qualify for this competition for the last five years, and have always appreciated the challenge of qualifying for such a prestigious event.

After Atlanta, I went north to Boston with my family to complete my freshman orientation at Northeastern University and took a side trip to NYC as well. When I finally arrived home, I had a short few weeks to pack up all my belongings and ship them out to Boston and hang out with my friends in Sunnyvale for the last time. Some of the more fun activities I did was setting up a 20-foot highline in Ortega Park near my house with my friend David Sarver and Keith and putting in some solid mini-golf sessions with Omer, David Cordero, and Vishesh.

Brooklyn Boulders with my Ecuadorian friend Christian!
Photo: David Sarver

Before I left for Asia, my friend Charlie Andrews and I went out to Reno to train on the only official IFSC speed wall in the country. We put in some solid work sessions with a huge amount of help of the CommRow staff, especially from manager Brian Sweeney, who donated hours of his time to help us belay and time each other. Below are some videos of some of our speed attempts and some outdoor climbing shots at Donner Summit. Also, if you have the chance to go train on the Reno wall, definitely hit up Golden Flower, one of the best Vietnamese restaurants I have ever eaten at. They serve a bunch of different types of noodle and meat dishes for reasonable prices, and are open until 3am every day!

Running a lap on Short Subject (12a)
Photo: Charlie Andrews
Donner Summit!
Before I knew it, I had packed up all of my belongings, sent them off to college, and I was off to Asia! The multi-day trip to Thailand involved flying through the Singapore airport, which is by far the coolest airport I have ever visited. It contains free massages, movie theaters, x-box, a rooftop pool and jacuzzi, and even the world’s tallest airport slide (4 stories). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do any of these fantastic activities as I arrived at 12:30am when they were all still closed. Oh well.

The next two weeks in Thailand passed way too quickly. I stayed in Tonsai Bay with Charlie and his sister Emily, and each day we started our routine of eating a casual breakfast on the beach, then walking around 50 feet to climb the amazing stalactite/tufa routes that scattered the ocean vista. During our time there, I climbed two 13d’s and a slew of other 5.13’s, did my first multipitch, chilled with the Canadian National Team, and went DEEP WATER SOLOING. Yes, it was awesome. Be jealous. We also enjoyed Thai smoothies, pad thai at the famous Mama’s Chicken Shack, fried rice in pineapples, and siestas on the white-sand beaches. I will be posting an entire blog post detailing the trip there and beta for you to go visit, so stay tuned!

Kayaking expedition!
Asia Shadow Play (8a+), Tonsai Beach
Photo: Emily Andrews
Photo: Emily Andrews
Cara Cangreso (8b/+) Tonsai Beach
Photo: Emily Andrews
Deep Water Soloing on the Spiderman Wall
Photo: Charlie Andrews
Fried rice. In a pineapple. Yeah.

Enjoying some delicious Thai smoothies on Tonsai!
(mine was banana-mango-pineapple)
Photo: Emily Andrews
The final stop on my trip was the 2012 Youth World Championships in Singapore. I felt at the peak of my strength coming into the event, and put together one of my personal best competition performances by coming within the last two holds of the second qualification route. However, I overestimated the bottom half of my semifinal route and overgripped most of the moves, causing me to pump out quickly and fall about halfway up. In speed, I hit a personal best time on the 15m wall (8.66 seconds!) and placed 11th overall. However, the most memorable time at the competition was during one of the many times the event got rained out. (Monsoon season in southeast asia... figures) Instead of going back to our hotels, all of the competitors decided to hang out around the wall and participate in a spontaneous game-palooza which included a long-jump contest, swimming races, sand-castle building competitions, and (my personal favorite) cricket with the South African National Team. Ahh, good memories.


Canadian sand beaver

Qualifier 1
Photo: Garick Bay
Qualifier 2
Photo: Garick Bay
Qualifier 2
Photo: Garick Bay

Speed Finals
Photo: Garick Bay
So now that I’m back into the flow of school, reflecting on my summer seems like a lifestyle long forgotten. I can only await my next adventure, the Lead World Cup in Atlanta at the end of the month! So long until then, and thanks for being such dedicated readers.

Final note: from now on, I will be switching my approach to my blog from a mostly reflective view to include more climbing area beta. Besides, who cares that I went to all these places when you could go too?? Peace out, climb hard, enjoy life.