Recent competitions in the Netherlands have seen a new and foreign face taking a podium place: André DiFelice has been making quite the name for himself in this small European country recently. Who is this down to earth Canadian?
André has been living in Holland for a couple of months and has recently picked up the idea of climbing Boulder World Cups again. While he was still an 18 year old youngster living in the epicentre of bouldering in the USA, Boulder, he represented his home country of Canada at three World Cups. After completely quitting climbing for some years he is now planning his comeback!
During your previous period as a competition climber you participated in three World Cups. How did you end up there?
Ever since I was eight years old I’d been climbing outdoors, pretty much until I was seventeen years old. I hadn’t really planned on climbing in competitions but I just couldn’t motivate myself anymore to climb outside. Slowly but steadily I started enrolling in some local competitions in Boulder and around the US. I wanted to see what I was capable of on a larger scale. The perfect opportunity came when a World Cup was organized right in Vail, Colorado.
Although I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, I’m Canadian by birth. This meant I had to qualify for the World Cup in America by reaching the podium in a national competition in Canada. Luckily my third place was just enough to qualify. Funnily, many of my friends didn’t know I’m Canadian. It was kind of a shock to them to see me come out wearing the red jersey during the World Cup! This competition was in 2009. I was in pretty good shape and did fairly well; I made semis and ended up in 18th place. A lot of the guys who were competing back then are still in the circuit now: Jonas Baumann, Daniel Woods, Kilian Fischhuber and Rustam Gelmanov, amongst others.
Boulder Colorado is the perfect environment to be in if you want to level up. Many of the top climbers (Daniel Woods, Paul Robinson, Tyler Landman, Alex Puccio etc…) have come through CATS, which is actually just a gymnasium where gymnasts train. There’s a small climbing area where some of the hardest bouldering moves in the world may have been done. There are V14, V15, maybe even V16 problems there. Your perception of what’s hard is totally changed in such an environment.
After the first World Cup in Vail I lost interest in competitions until a year after. Team Canada members are in the team for two years by default, which meant I could start competitions again. This time around it didn’t go so well, I got 26th place in Vail and 29th place in Canmore (Canada). During qualifications here I could only top one boulder. Jacky Godoffe was the head setter and he’d delivered some really tricky boulers, using volumes. In Vail the problems involved more power and jumping. They were more American problems. Godoffe’s style wasn’t that well known yet in America.
After these three World Cups your competition results show a major gap?
Following the World Cups I trained at The Spot in Boulder. During climbing I used a heel hook and tore my ACL. This prompted me to stop climbing entirely, it was the final push. I was only 18 then.
Instead of trying a different sport I started online poker. I was lucky and got 9th place in a 20,000 player tournament, earning me $10,000. After this initial success I had put quite some time and energy into poker. My brother Alex is still playing poker, he’s kind of a well known player online. He’s also a climber now and then. It’s incredible, he can go a year without climbing, come back and do 7C. At some point online poker became illegal in the US, forcing players to move to Canada or Mexico. I decided to stay and get a proper job.
Eventually, love resulted me pulling my climbing shoes back on. Through a friend I met Kelly (Sierra), who was also a climber and asked me if I wanted to join her some time. This girl listened to techno music and she climbed, wow! Climbing became a great excuse to spend time with her.
How do a Canadian and his American girlfriend land in The Netherlands?
At this point I had a job at a marketing agency in the US. It was a good job but I just wasn’t learning anything more. I’d talked with Kelly about moving somewhere I could play poker and she could find a job as a soil ecologist. Eventually, Kelly found a job in Wageningen (The Netherlands) as a researcher at an institute. The plan was clear: I’d play poker, she’s do science. We arrived in Holland in May of 2014. After some time though, poker turned out not to bring in as much money as it should. This was hard, since I had a genuine passion for poker and it was hard to accept defeat. I’m still glad I tried poker though, since I wouldn’t have found my way back to climbing otherwise, and we wouldn’t have ended up in Europe. I truly believe that if you follow your passion it’s going to lead you to a good place in life.
In July I started looking for work and a hobby. We lived very close to the Sterk Bouldergym in Utrecht and met a lot of nice people there. Up till then we didn’t have much of a social life in The Netherlands yet. A climbing gym is a great place to meet new people. We feel at home here now and have a large group of friends. I’m now working in Amsterdam as a software tester for a startup company. They’re making a kind of LinkedIn version of Tinder. I had zero experience as a software tester and didn’t really see myself as meticulous and organised, which were explicit requirements for the job. But I wanted to give it a go anyway and it turns out, it fits my personality quite well.
Please tell us your top secret master plan for your comeback
After not climbing for a long time it was hard to start again. When I was climbing I’d feel weak, all my joints did hurt and I wasn’t motivated. Then after training for a couple of months, doing a lot of work on the campus board, I felt I was getting stronger. When I stopped climbing after the World Cups, I left off with a taste for competitions and that taste is still there. I have a desire to see how good I can become.
Now I’m doing several things to get strong: lots of power training, working on the campus board and doing isolated training. Recently I’ve been training power endurance. I’ll do one to three sessions a day, five times a week. At first I was lacking in finger strength but that’s getting better now, I’m even seeing an improvement in the last couple of weeks.
Also, I’m enrolling in as many competitions as I can. This is where you learn the most and can improve the fastest. The first thing I learned here in Europe is that I absolutely can’t do slabs. It’s hard, I never liked it and I hardly ever tried them. In American gyms, slabs only account for a tiny portion of the walls, most of the walls are overhanging. I started doing more slabs here and now I’m actually starting to like climbing them. It’s great to be able to climb all day long and your skin hardly wears out. It feels more like a puzzle and it’s a real mental game.
Not winning may be the best possible motivation to train. Losing, failing and someone telling me I can’t do something are the best motivators. If you’re a motivated person, when you hear these things you’ll think: I can do it, I’ll do better next time. Losing is very good and beneficial.
My next move will be to travel back home to Canada. I’ll have to qualify by reaching the podium in a national competition, just like a couple of years ago. If I podium I can do all World Cups this year, otherwise I’ll have to hope for a spot to open up on an individual World Cup as a result of an other athlete not doing the comp.
Being totally realistic, what are your expectations for the competitions?
It is always my goal to win. But a realistic goal for the World Cup series would be to make a final. I haven’t made finals on a World Cup before. Whether or not that’s a realistic expectation given the current field of competitors isn’t that relevant. I’m not focused on the other climbers. Climbing a competition is actually really straight forward: the boulders are graded anywhere between 7B and 8A. This is a grade that I am able to climb in different styles. These aren’t the hardest boulders on earth. The trick is doing them under pressure, the right way. If I had all the time in the world and there wasn’t any pressure, I’d be able to do these problems. I just have to have a good day. In competition climbing luck is a relevant factor. You don’t always see the same climbers podium.
I’m really siked to climb again! This time around I’m coming at it from a different angle though. A couple of years ago I was young and reckless. Some styles of climbing I could do better than others. Since then my technique has improved a lot. When I first started climbing again I was a bit fat and my joints hurt. This meant I had no other choice but to learn to climb better.
You were on the Dutch send train that went through the forest of Fontainebleau recently – does this mean you found back your love for outdoor climbing?
Now I try to climb outdoors as much as I can. I’ve got this long list of goals. Really I just want to be as strong as I can be. What grade corresponds with that doesn’t matter that much to me, as long as I’m improving. I don’t see climbing as a competition with the other climbers, but with the boulders. They get into your head.
André climbed two 8B+ boulders in the USA at a young age. When he was 16 he sent Aslan in Rocky Mountain National Park, an 18 moves long boulder problem. He also topped out on The Saadhu, a long problem by Timmy Fairfield.
Finally we couldn’t not show you this video of an 18 year old André doing One Summer in Paradise (8B) in Magic Wood, if only for the great soundtrack:
You were recently spotted during a Dutch open national competitions sporting a retro climbing outfit – was this a fashion statement or something else?
Although I’ve been back at climbing for some time now I still can’t wear my old shoes. It’s not that my feet have grown, I just can’t bear the pain of the narrow shoes yet. That’s why I train using a bigger pair, wearing socks in them they fit perfectly!