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Chris Sharma

During Holland’s recent Outdoor Fair, living legend Chris Sharma stopped by for a talk and to sign some autographs. Siked took the chance to speak with this climbing hero!

Ever since he was fourteen years old, Chris Sharma has accomplished groundbreaking feats in the world of climbing. His ticklist sports the first ever 8c+ route climbed by an American citizen (Necessary Evil), the world’s first 9a+ route (Biographie/ Realization), the world’s first 9b route (Jumbo Love) and La Dura Dura (9b+), which may very well be the hardest route in the world.

All things considered, Sharma could just be the best climber the world has seen in the past twenty years. Before meeting a legend like that, one can’t help but have some expectations. However, upon meeting Sharma, I was surprised to say the least. Perhaps I had expected an assistant to be holding his coffee, or some extra rays of sunlight to be shining down on him, a dramatic musical tune to start playing. But there he was, all alone carrying his backpack and throwing me a friendly smile. Sharma doesn’t even stand out from the rest of the visitors at this fair that much. Later on, I realised this may well be one of the things that makes climbing so beautiful.

 

The Interview

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What is life in Spain like, and are you looking forward to being a dad?

The past few months I’ve been terribly busy starting my own climbing gym in Barcelona. Together with my wife – Jemina Alarcon – I’ve made the move to this city. This is actually the first time I’ll be living in a major city, and I must say I was hesitant about it at first. However, because I’m now living close to my gym and I found a great project – El Bon Combat – in the nearest climbing area Cova de Ocell, I really like living in Barcelona. It feels like a natural step to start a family with my wife. I honestly have no idea what to expect, since I didn’t grow up in a large family. I’m looking forward to starting a family of my own though!

Four months ago you started Sharma Climbing BCN. How do you see your future as a gym owner?

During the past 22 years or so climbing has always been a vehicle for me to discover the world. I met new people, learned new languages and life lessons and I’m incredibly grateful for that. Throughout my career I’ve helped other people’s brands grow, now this feels like the right moment to start something myself. I’m very psyched about the gym because I love creating a space where people can enjoy themselves and where I can share my passion for the sport. Catalunya is an important area for the sport of climbing and anyone who goes to climb outside here first arrives to Barcelona. My vision for Sharma Climbing BCN is for it to be an international hub where people can meet and share their ideas and motivation. The idea is for people from different backgrounds to all feel at home. For instance, our staff is from all over the world, from places like Spain, Germany, Venezuela, France and Argentina. It’s a reflection of the diversity of nationalities you’ll encounter at the crag.

Is Chris Sharma transforming from a climbing hero into an entrepreneur?

I’m definitely not ready yet to only be an entrepreneur. Actually, with this gym I’m hoping to create the conditions that will enable me to climb even more. Of course the building phase distracted me from climbing a bit, but now that the gym’s all done I can now go to an amazing training facility that enables me to progress as a climber.

During his presentation at the fair, Sharma gave the audience a good laugh when he told them he may finally start training now, like a real athlete.

What is your vision for sport climbing in the coming years?

For me personally, the process of climbing La Dura Dura was a turning point. The route turned me into more of an athlete. In the past, I’d just go with the flow and I wasn’t really pushing myself. This time I decided to try to change that, and when I was strong enough to climb the route, I felt like it was already below my personal limit. I think this means I should be able to climb even harder routes.

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The process of climbing at your limit is hard, because it’s more than just a physical fight. This is why after climbing La Dura Dura I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to do any harder routes. The lifestyle aspect of climbing really appeals to me. I love discovering new areas and languages. After La Dura Dura, I travelled to Mallorca, Australia, Yosemite (Dawn wall) and to Oman together with Stefan Glowacz. But in the end fate brought me back to Catalunya where I started working on  El Bon Combat (9b/+). This time I noticed how deeply I love the process of working on a project. While working on La Dura Dura it felt like I had something to prove to both myself and perhaps the worldwide climbing community. This time I was only doing it for the love of climbing.

At present I have a busy life and I have to go for the low-hanging fruit, which is sport climbing in areas that are close to where I live. I think all ingredients to see if we can push the sport a bit further in the next couple of years are present, so I intend to do just that. Especially my project Le Blond, just five meters to the right of La Dura Dura, has shown some potential to be even harder than all of my previous routes.

What’s your take on the future of our fast growing sport with regard to overcrowding in outdoor climbing areas?

Back in the day, you’d be introduced to climbing by a friend, who would also teach you about the unwritten rules. Nowadays, people get into climbing by going to a gym. This means that issues like cleaning your trash and ethics in climbing areas have to be discussed and taught by gym owners like myself. It’s interesting to follow the development of the sport, I think we’re seeing the rise of a new type of climber. A lot of climbers aren’t interested in climbing outdoors, so these people don’t contribute to the overcrowding. Of course the level of crowding differs for every area. In Catalunya there’s always a quiet place to climb, while an area such as Bishop can get really crowded.

It sounds cheesy but I think the world would be a better place if more people go climbing.

I think all people should be able to enjoy climbing, even those that are new to the sport and don’t know about the ethics. I was a beginner myself at one point, and I had no idea about the unwritten rules. Climbing has changed all of our lives in a profound way. It’s amazing that more and more people can experience the same feeling.

How do you feel about climbing being in the Olympics? Would you want to compete yourself?

I think it’s a great development, although I’m not too psyched about the combined format. No disrespect to speed climbing, but I’d much rather have seen just bouldering and lead climbing be included. These two disciplines come much closer to the true spirit of rock climbing. And yes, I’d definitely want to compete in the Olympics. Even though I feel extremely at home in Spain, I’d still want to represent America.

 

In retrospect…

Looking back on my interview with Chris Sharma I noticed it was the discrepancy between what I expected and who Sharma turned out to be was only to blame on my expectations. It’s wonderful to see how a pioneer of our sport has remained totally down-to-earth even after twenty years of climbing. Sharma faces his own challenges in a way that’s recognisable to anyone. His projects are at the level of 9b/c, while mine are around 7a/b. Some climbers may be busy getting their degree in university or working a day job, while Sharma is busy running his own brand and gym. Climbing offers many lessons and does not care for egos, everyone is putting on their own proverbial fight. The climbing community should be happy to have Chris Sharma for an ambassador.

 

Chris Sharma

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Jimmy van Rijn

Startte in 2010 met klimmen en het was liefde op het eerste gezicht. Hij draagt zijn passie voor klimmen graag uit, onder andere als webredacteur van Siked! Houdt van alle klimdisciplines: van boulderen tot multipitchen.