Articles - The Climber Interview: Chris Sharma
Andy McCue - Posted on 16 Dec 2009
Sharma has been a very busy man - the world’s most famous rock climber has spent the entire summer away from climbing fixing up a new house he has bought just north of Lleida in Catalunya, Spain.
Sharma was last in the climbing headlines in July after putting up Pachamama (F9a+) but since then it’s been a builder’s life, with 7am starts every day doing stonework and putting in a new kitchen and bathroom at the house, getting the place ready for the winter.
The proximity of top sport climbing was the key factor in Sharma’s choice of house. He’s within walking distance of some of the best sport climbing in the world near the likes of Margalef and Oliana (where he did Pachamama).
“If I’m going to be in one place I need to have access to unlimited first ascent potential basically, because that’s what really motivates me. Everyone’s coming from all around the world to come climb here and it’s really turning into like a centre for hard sport climbing. There’s like over 10 F9a+s just within an hour’s drive of my house.”
And Sharma’s already got his eyes set on several new projects – the main one being a short, hard and technical bouldery route in Margalef called First Round, First Minute that he reckons feels like “really hard F9b”.
“It’s just a really bouldery route on slopey pinches, super epic and totally different style to anything I’ve ever tried. That’s what I’m psyched to do right now. It’s just like 12m and 30 moves and it’s cool because a lot of the other routes I’ve done recently have been really long so it’s always cool to mix it up. Some of the sequences on this route are 8b sequences for sure or even 8b+, “ he says.
It’s easy to think of Sharma as a veteran because he’s been climbing at such a high level for so long but amazingly he’s still only 28 years old.
Born in Santa Cruz, California, Sharma started climbing aged 12, winning the Bouldering Nationals competition aged 14 and then putting up the hardest climb (at 5.14c) at the time in the US a year later. He’s since put up numerous classic hard routes including the likes of Realization, Jumbo Love and the spectacular Mallorca deep water solo Es Pontas (reckoned to be F9b), the 65-foot arch with a seven-foot dyno featured in the King Lines film.
That route, in particular, helped Sharma reconnect with a climbing life he had begun to get disillusioned with.
“Es Punta is perfection. For me, deep water soloing was when I really got re-motivated on climbing and found a new passion for climbing. And taking sport climbing and bouldering it’s like a fusion. And that route just expresses that perfectly. “
But it’s not always been that way and Sharma admits he struggled to accept his life as a professional climber.
“It took me a while to find a balance with that. There are so many things in life to explore and having started climbing so young I went through a period when I wasn’t totally sure if I wanted to just be a climber. For now I’ve accepted that and realised how much I love climbing and how fortunate I am and I’ve embraced the whole thing.
In fact Sharma’s whole approach to climbing is light years away from those who put themselves through rigorous training regimes and starve and dehydrate themselves to the limit. Sharma maintains he doesn’t train in any traditional or structured sense – that his training is just working routes. He points out that he didn’t climb for almost two months this summer yet still came and took third place a big international competition.
Even though he’s in an elite class almost of his own it’s clear that Sharma climbs for the pure enjoyment of it and there is something zen-like about his approach to both climbing and life.
“That’s what’s always motivated me about climbing that I can just do my own thing and not necessarily be trying to play this competitive game but just go and look for lines that inspired me that were at my limit. It can be your own personal expression.”
That might comes across a little like a stereotypical hippy Californian surf dude but he was brought up by parents who were lifelong students of eastern philosophy and traditions – even Sharma’s middle name Omprakash means ‘light of Brahma’.
“Try to find a balance with life that you can enjoy your life and push yourself climbing and be healthy because you do hear about people for the World Cup losing like 10kg to 12kg that’s just totally unhealthy. You only have to suffer so much and climbing would stop being fun and, for me, climbing has been fun. I do work really hard but it’s in a different way that’s why it’s hard for me to train in a systematic way. I just get inspired when I find a route and I start working on it that’s what gives me the motivation to climb.”
That doesn’t mean Sharma’s going to be taking it easy any time soon or relinquishing his place at the top. The fact he now appears to be more settled in his life than recent years means he’s aiming to go even harder.
“At the moment I’m still improving. I feel like I’m getting better and refining what it is I’m looking for and go after it in a more focused way.”
And he see’s not just himself but the new generation of hard sport climbers such as Adam Ondra et al pushing the boundaries even further.
“I can definitely see 9b+ and even 9c. I just see in sport climbing a huge room for improvement and as far as the difficulties because the moves don’t have to be that much harder to really make a huge difference. There’s a lot of room to play with.”
Five top Chris Sharma first ascents
Necessary Evil (5.14c)
Climbed aged 15 and then the hardest route in the US at the time.
The Mandala (V12)
A virtually hold-free house-sized boulder now only V12 because the crux holds have broken since the first ascent, when it was reckoned to be nearer V14.
Claimed to be the world's first climb at that grade when done.
Unrepeated and speculated to be F9b, this 65-foot rock arch features a seven-foot dyno that took Sharma more than 50 attempts to nail.
A 50m endurance route up the outrageously steep wall of Oliana.