A low evening sun is cutting through the valley, highlighting the Squamish Chief and neighboring Shannon Falls. Two thousand feet up and gently gaining elevation over the Howe Sound, I hear Steve “Manboy” Townshend’s static-filled voice echo through my headset, “Beautiful, eh?” Steve’s dog, a pedigree Whippet Chava, sits in the back of the plane, panting like he just won a race. “He’ll be fine,” said Steve. “Just cover his head. He loves to fly.”
Manboy spent seven years scraping by as a fulltime climbing bum, but over the last two, he has transformed himself into a full-fledged, respectable flight instructor for Glacial Air in Squamish, B.C. He’s highly driven, as suggested by the white board in his living room that is covered with motivational phrases, exercises to do and routes to tick.
Townshend, now 27, has been avidly climbing for 12 years. Originally from Toronto (“That’s in Canada,” he says), Townshend grew up 40 minutes from his friend and climbing partner Sonnie Trotter.
In 1998 Townshend sustained a serious injury at the Virgin River Gorge while climbing with Trotter. Townshend was lowering off F-Dude (5.14a), a 35-meter mega-climb that links into the top of Fall of Man (5.13b), when his trimmed rope slipped through Trotter’s device and Townshend plummeted from a height of 80 feet. Miraculously, Trotter caught his friend in his arms and softened his landing. Trotter sustained soft-tissue damage to both hands, while Townshend chipped a bone in his heel, escaping a worse accident. The famous, nearly unbelievable incident raises a more important question: Why hasn’t the route name been changed to Fall of Manboy?
“This story’s been published many times, often with errors,” he says. “I guess it’s what I’m best known for? One other error that’s been published about me: I’ve only been hit by lightning ONCE, not twice!”
Manboy has gotten back into climbing part-time, and most recently, he added a link-up into Trotter’s route Superman (5.14b), in Cheakamus Canyon, Canada, that he is calling Superman-Boy. At 5.14c, this 120-foot route is his hardest to date.
“I got a custom 80-meter rope from Bluewater just so I could lower from the anchor,” he says.
Manboy is also known for his ability to stick massive dynos. A few years ago, he unofficially broke the Guiness World Record for dynoing when he stuck an 11-foot dyno at his local gym. He downplays his jumping skills, saying that they only seem impressive because he’s 6’ 4”, and that most tall people never learn to dyno in the first place.
“Really, I’m just a taller-than-average 5.10 climber who learned to skip holds,” he says.