I never really thought much about deep water soloing for most of my climbing career, aside from watching a few videos of Sharma in Mallorca or wherever. It looked rad, of course, but it never seemed very practical or worth pursuing, unless I happened to be on holiday somewhere exotic. So what, you fall in the water and your shoes are wet and your chalk bag is wet? Shit, man. That kind of just sounds like a massive pain in the ass.
It’s not that it didn’t seem like fun, I just always thought of it as sort of a gimmick. An accessory scene. Like the guy who shows up at the skatepark with a scooter, or those dudes in motorcycle gangs riding three-wheelers. Worth pursuing if I had the opportunity, but nothing more.
I’ve since changed my mind.
I’ve messed around on a few sea cliffs here in Puerto Rico where I’m based at the moment, and deep water soloing is definitely a vein of climbing that’s worth checking out, even for us common folk. At the risk of sounding like one of those hypocrites who classify themselves as “spiritual” and have an “Om” symbol tattoo (but proceed to rail lines of cocaine on Saturday night, directly supporting Central American cartels and their child soldiers) there is something pure about deep water soloing.
I’ve never free soloed a commiting technical line, and I don’t really intend to. I don’t want to die or be seriously injured due to a mistake (at least not until I finally get chosen to play the “Imposter” in Among Us). I reckon that’s the reason most of us don’t free solo.
That’s exactly why deep water soloing is so cool for folks like me (and maybe you). DWS is an avenue into free soloing without consequence. It still puts the fear of exposure into you, requires responsible falling technique, and provides the sense of purity and freedom you get with free soloing, all without turning you into a bloody pulp if you screw up.
All that stuff has been said before, though.
The real boon of DWS, or at least the one that isn’t talked about as much, is that DWS generally requires a reduction in difficulty. To hop onto a deep water solo line near or at your redpoint grade is pretty illogical for most new converts to the discipline. Any singular slipup becomes a massive pain in the ass. You fall. You’re soaking wet. You have to start from the base. It may or may not be super difficult to even get yourself back onto the wall. Maybe you have to traverse in from the side, or even rappel down from the top. Unless you have a support boat and team like Sharma, projecting really hard DWS lines doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
So for most of us, DWS means working routes a bit below our difficulty. Routes we know we can probably send without falling. This is a breath of fresh air for a lot of folks, who spend their days grinding and grinding to tick their next letter grade, hangboarding and campus-boarding and going bolt to bolt,grunting like a middle-aged man trying to squeeze out a turd in the office bathroom.
It’s a step back from the nails-hard crush crush crush crush of modern climbing and step toward a more peaceful, tranquil side of the sport. DWS allows you to focus more on the beauty of the wall and your surroundings, the beauty of vertical motion, the flow of climbing without “hard” moves (damn, I guess I may as well go get an “Om” tattoo at this point).
Of course, you can always just go rope up on an easy route any time you want. But deep water soloing adds extra worth to easy lines; it helps us remember why climbing is rad—because it’s climbing, not because it’s hard. Sending a 5.10 deep water solo doesn’t feel like a waste of time or a step down from what you could be doing. An easy DWS line still feels as noteworthy and badass as a roped line at your limit. You (might) take big falls. You’re free from any gear, harness, or rope. You’re out on the wall, alone.
It feels epic, even if the line is easy. I think that’s pretty cool.
Maybe it’s just because the water’s so warm here in Puerto Rico that I’m so keen on DWS right now. But next time you have the opportunity to hop on a DWS line, check it out.
Scooters in skateparks, on the other hand… let’s not go there.