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.

2nd Annual Castle Rock Cleanup

First of all, as cool and catchy as the name sounds, the title of this event is actually misleading. Last week, a group of over 50 high school students, all part of rock climbing clubs from the Fremont Union High School District, headed up to Sanborn County Park to do a trash cleanup around Indian Rock. I decided to bill the event under the name Castle Rock Cleanup to try and promote awareness about the potential closure of the park, as well as the simple fact that it just sounds better.

Indian Rock is across the street from Castle Rock State Park, which is one of the best local crags in the Bay Area. If you haven’t been there already, Castle Rock has been billed by many as the “Mini Fontainebleau” of the United States. With thousands of perfect sandstone boulders scattered across acres of wilderness in the Saratoga hills, it’s a wonder people don’t flock in from around the world to sample some of America’s best bouldering.
Hannah Donnelly on the ultra-classic The Swim (V5)
However, recent state budget cuts have nearly doomed Castle Rock as well as many other state-operated parks. Thanks to a multi-thousand dollar fundraising effort spearheaded by the Sempervirens Fund and backed by the Planet Granite Climbing Gyms, Castle Rock was saved from closure for at least one more year. The video below shows just how delicate the balance is between maintaining and losing our state parks, which really capture the essence of the beauty of California. Watch it.

No seriously, watch it.
Did you finish watching it? Ok, good.

The fact that such natural beauty in California has been given a number value has inspired my fellow classmates and I to take action. Last year, I organized a trash cleanup at Indian Rock in order to promote the conservation of the area and also bring together the Fremont High School Bouldering Club in one last community service event. We picked up almost 70 pounds of trash, had a huge raffle, ate a bunch of bagels, and went climbing afterwards. This year, we looked to better that.

Early Sunday morning, after setting out from Fremont High School with about 10 kids, I was skeptical about how big of an event it would be compared to the year before. I reasoned it didn’t really matter, as long as we all had a good time and contributed back to the community. However, when we arrived at the Indian Rock parking lot at around 9:30, I discovered it to be almost completely filled with high school kids already, way more than I was expecting. In total, we had over 50 kids from 5 different high schools there for the cleanup. Even my good friend Hannah Donnelly from Sacramento made it down just for the event. It was way more than I had ever anticipated, much thanks to my friend Yann de Bleecker, president of the Cupertino High School Climbing Club. His efforts to promote the event at his school as a community service event helped ensure the huge turnout.

Yann De Bleecker and I giving instruction
We started the event at 9:30, and everyone immediately started picking up trash around the base of Indian Rock, working with bags and gloves donated by Orchard Supply Hardware. The most common items people found were broken pieces of glass and shredded rubber pieces, mostly due to a combination of idiots chucking beer bottles off the top of the cliff and exploded shotgun targets. Some of the more interesting things that were found included unopened beer bottles, a vintage 1984 Coca Cola can, an intact 75-pound porta-potty, and a discarded tent.

Hannah Donnelly and I found quite a few of these...
All in all, we collected 349 pounds of trash in just under 3 hours. Not too bad. Also included in the event was a raffle for all participants, sponsored generously by REI, Sports Basement, Five Ten, and Planet Granite. The team of two guys who found the porta-potty were dubbed the “winners” of the event (in total, they picked up 109 lbs by themselves) won a half-day of professional guiding at Castle Rock with Rick Picar, all gear provided. Needless to say, when I presented the award to the two ecstatic guys, their faces were priceless.

After the raffle was finished, we all enjoyed some complimentary bagels for lunch (provided by Noah’s Bagels) and went bouldering across the street at Castle Rock State Park. Everyone who stayed had a blast trying out some of the entry-level problems around the Magoo’s, as well as giving the ultra-classic Spoon (v1) many burns late into the afternoon.

253 bagels! Think we have enough?

From my perspective, seeing my project come to fruition was an inspiring experience. To see kids actively getting involved with their community out in nature is something you don’t get to see every day. For most of them, it was their first time climbing outdoors as well, and by the time we finished climbing nearly all of them had started making plans to come back to finish off their projects. However, the best part of our event was the friendships that came out of the experience, especially between kids from all over the district. There’s nothing that brings people together better like sharing a common passion for climbing and the outdoors. Unfortunately, as I am graduating high school, I will not be on hand to participate and organize the event next year. I can only hope to inspire people around me to continue the event into the future.

All photos courtesy of Cole Carter.