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Randy Leavitt: What I’ve Learned

Age 50, Climbing Pioneer, BASE jumper (BASE #39), Businessman, Kite Surfer, Big-wave Surfer

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This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 192 (March 2011).


Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

During a two-wave hold down, on a very big day while paddle surfing at Todos Santos Island, I learned what it was like to drown. Almost. That is where my life started, or almost ended. My life is a timeline from there, both forward and backward. That doesn’t count the few times I almost died climbing or BASE jumping.

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But I am not a risk taker. I am a risk manager.

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Be a good listener. People will tell you everything you need to know about them.

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With first ascents, I can be a perfectionist. I am much more concerned about how future climbers will enjoy the climb than whether I put the bolts in with the rope above or below me. But if I really want to get your attention I won’t put the bolts in.

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Business is like climbing–set goals, work on them and obtain them. Don’t waste your time on stuff that doesn’t work.

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Two requirements: the activities that I do have to make sense to me, and take me from point A to point B. That is why I will never take up bungee jumping. BASE jumping is a different story. I’ll never forget standing on top of the Dawn Wall of El Cap in 1978 after climbing the Pacific Ocean Wall. Dale Bard and I threw off our haul bag with a drag chute to slow it down. Two years later, I had learned BASE jumping, climbed El Capitan and jumped off, completing my vision of how it could work.

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My parents gave me a lot of latitude to make my own choices. Fortunately, I didn’t screw up.

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You learn a lot about yourself solo aid climbing a big wall. As a teenager, I was so scared on Electric Ladyland [on Washington Column], that I had to recite things to talk myself into continuing. Like, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

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I’ll never forget, as a beginning surfer, sitting at Lower Trestles on a double overhead day after failing to paddle out because I got my ass kicked by the waves on the inside. It was humbling to get denied even though I could climb 5.14 at that time. I went out for another try because climbing, above all else, had taught me tenacity.

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I thought I wanted to be a mountaineer. When I was growing up, Boardman and Tasker were my heroes. After my first big Himalayan expedition in 1986, I realized that a lot of the fellow climbers didn’t return alive from the Karakoram. That is when sport climbing started looking like a better long-term option.

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The best day surfing is better than the best day climbing.

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I am still improving my shortcomings as a human being. For this and many other reasons, my wife, Karin, has been my biggest inspiration.

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Climbing has been the key to staying fit, especially as I get older.

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For the most part, people don’t change.

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Friends are our greatest assets. This is why we are all on this planet together.


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