Articles - Andy Earl interview: World Bouldering Champion
Andy Earl. Photo: Steve Crowe
by Kate Burke
How did you get into climbing?
Through my Dad, John Earl, who would drag me out from the age of four. I still go out every now and then with him. It’s nice that we can still enjoy it together.
I grew up sport climbing in the Yorkshire Dales, but ran out of routes that I could do at the weekends. In Spain and France there are an endless number of sport routes, but not in the UK. I got into bouldering because being based in Newcastle there was more that I could do closer to home.
I’ve always been very competitive and much as I love climbing out on the crag there wasn’t enough of a challenge for me. I managed to get that from competitions. I was in the junior team but then had a big break from competing when I was 18 as was frustrated at how badly organised it all was back then. Mountain Boot Company eventually persuaded me to get back into it though. Competition climbing is the weirdest part of the climbing world-it’s a totally different environment.
How did you get involved with coaching?
I did a degree in sports science at Sunderland and after graduating didn’t know what to do. I toyed with the idea of being a PE teacher but had heard bad stories about some of the kids you find yourself teaching, so got involved with coaching the junior climbing team. I found it really rewarding and felt able to relate to them, and the fact that I had previously been on the junior team myself helped me to understand what it was that they needed from a coach. I guess one of the reasons that I got involved coaching them was partly because of the bad experience that I had with how it was managed when I was in the team. I was fortunate though when I learned to climb as my Dad was able to give me advice, but not everyone has that. There’s so much pressure on the junior team as a lot of them are juggling A Levels with training and competing.
I also coach the senior bouldering team, which is getting a lot more professional.
How have things changed?
Over the last five years the structure has got a lot better. There’s still a big problem with funding though, in that there’s not nearly enough of it. Because climbing is not an Olympic sport the funding is far less than for other sports. We’ve got a lot of talented kids; we just need to look after them. The problem with the system in the UK is that you’ve got to prove you’re good before you get the funding, but by that stage it’s too late. There’s more than enough talent here, but you’ve got to invest in it from the start. It seems in Britain that unless you play football you’ve got no chance! We’re obsessed with English football – no other sport stands a chance! It’s ridiculous, five years ago Reebok sponsored the climbing team, and now nobody sponsors it! The teams definitely have the ability, and their results show that, what more do they have to do to get funding and support.
Some people feel that competitions are not what climbing is all about
Everyone has their different opinions, but I don’t see why there isn’t room for all types of climbing.
Do comps take away the fun of climbing for you?
If I’m not climbing well then it can suddenly feel like a job. But then it can all fall into place and you’re climbing well again and you feel very fortunate. However fit you are, sometimes you just have bad days.
Who do you train with?
I train with Gaz Parry, which works really well. We’re both competitive but good enough friends not to compete against each other when training. This has happened in the woman’s team from time to time though, that people become too competitive and can’t even train together. I still love climbing outdoors and having fun with my mates, but indoors is a different style of climbing, so you do have to train indoors. It’s like the difference between climbing on slate or gritstone etc, you need to train on that terrain. There is a breed of climber who just stays indoors the whole time, but that’s fine by me, it leaves more room on the crags for the rest of us!
How long do you reckon you´ll carry on competing for?
Well the world champion right now is 38 years old so I’m not done yet. It’s very personal – in order to do it you really have to want to win. Bouldering comps are a lot physically harder than leading comps-you tend to fall off a lot more! I guess I’ll just keep on doing it until I’m not motivated or enjoying it any more, or till I begin to get injured. So far I’ve not had any injuries (touch wood) but that can really knock you back if it happens. It took Ben Moon a couple of years to get back to form after he did his shoulder. I guess that’s another reason why I’m doing the personal training, so that as I begin to compete less then that side of things can slowly take over.
Favourite spot to climb?
In the UK it has to be Northumberland-it’s so quiet and beautiful there. Over seas I’d have to say Cresciano-the weather seems to be predictable. I always get rained on when I got to Fontainebleau.
Mountain Boot Company (Scarpa), E9, Camp and RockWorks. I do a lot of product development with Scarpa, working with the guys in Newcastle and also with the guys who make the shoes in Italy.
Probably my Dad, John Earl, and Jerry Moffat. I would watch them climb when I was younger and see them do things that I couldn’t. I also saw the lifestyle they lead and how much they enjoyed it. I used to always get referred to as John Earl’s son, but recently someone came up to him and said “you must be Andy Earls dad” – he didn’t like that!
Since writing this interview, Andy has gone on to win the World Bouldering Cup at la Reunion, beating a strong field including Austria Kilian Fischhuber, number one ranked boulderer, and French hot shots Jerome Meyer and Daniel Dulac. This is Earl’s first World Cup win, surpassing his previous best result of Silver in the European Bouldering Championships in Lecco in 2004 and bronze in the Fiera di Primiero World Cup in Italy in 2005. Andy (30) from the North East, is now ranked 10th in the world and 12th in the 2007 Bouldering World Cup.
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