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Chris Sharma: What I’ve Learned

Chris Sharma is one of the greatest sport climbers and boulderers of all time. Here he shares his philosophy on first ascents, redpointing and motivation.

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This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 196 (September 2011)


Chris Sharma. Photo: <a target=
Chris Sharma. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

My purest moments of climbing were at Panther Beach in Santa Cruz—making up eliminates, climbing barefoot. You’re trying the hardest moves you can—you’re
not trying to get anything out of it. No recognition, no redpoint, just unencumbered movement. That’s the essence of climbing. Pure playfulness.

***

We put a lot of emphasis and importance on climbing and make it a big part of our identities. I’ve seen people beat their heads against the wall, turn climbing into this self-loathing thing.

***

I’ve never forced myself to go climbing, never been super disciplined. It’s something I’ll be doing my whole life, so I’ve always taken a long-term approach. Listen to your motivation so that when it comes, it’s genuine and natural and you’re having fun. That’s the key to climbing for a long time.

***

The most fun part of climbing for me is finding a new line, discovering the holds and the sequence. That’s the coolest part, when
you’re not sure something goes and then you find a sequence that you could never have imagined. That moment of discovery. I think that’s where
sport climbing crosses over into adventure—treading into the unknown, not sure what you’ll find and then you find the path that nature provides.
After that comes the work: putting in the bolts and actually redpointing. That’s the slog, the grind. It’s fun, but it’s work.

***

I’m a redpoint climber. Some people like to go onsighting. I like to work on really hard projects because they give me purpose and are always such big learning experiences. Biographie (5.15a) was the first big challenge I’d faced like that. It took me four years to complete, finally sending it when I was 20. Biographie taught me unwavering commitment.

***

We’re always looking to get something at a good price—I want to do this or that route in a few tries. In the end, a hard project takes a lot of work, getting to that point where you are totally committed, and willing to do whatever it takes. Once you reach that committed state, however, the send actually comes relatively quickly because you’re not worried about doing it on this try, or the next try. My best redpoints are when I’m not expecting it, just going for it without any attachment to doing it on that try.

***

That said, it’s not like you learn these things once, and then you’ve figured it out and you’re free from all the mental traps you fall into during the redpoint process. I go through the same stages with every big project: becoming attached to it, then learning how to let go of it while still being committed to doing it.

***

This is the great paradox of redpointing. To be able to climb something at your limit, you have to want it more than anything. But wanting it more than anything can get in the way of doing it.

***

Obviously, climbing has to mean something. It has to be important for us to dedicate so much time and energy to it. But in the end,
we’re all just scampering around on rocks. One rock might have slightly smaller holds than the other, but so what? Climbing is a trivial pursuit,
but it’s something we do because in the moment it feels good.


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