You don’t have to be a climber to appreciate the spectacle that is Psicobloc. It’s a stunning event where climbers perform feats of incredible athleticism again and again and again. Many of the competitors looked almost weightless as they soloed the ~5.14 route over the 750,000-gallon Olympic freestyle aerial training pool Thursday night.
When—or rather if— they made it to the top, they had to launch themselves off the 55-foot wall into the aerated water below. Deep water soloing isn’t for the faint of heart, which Chris Sharma thinks is part of its appeal:
“We want to take climbing to the mainstream. Here you have people taking these really crazy falls. People might not know anything about climbing, but they understand that, they understand the goal is to get to the top and if you don’t get there, you pay the penalty,” says Sharma. “There are only a few places in the world where you can actually climb over the water. Mainly in Mallorca, Spain. So most people, even though they’re amazing athletes, for this particular climbing discipline there’s a psychological factor, hence the name ‘psico.’ And that’s what I think everyone is trying to get their head around.”
Psicobloc Master Series, the first deep water soloing competition in the U.S., is modeled on the 2011 event held in Bilbao, Spain. The competition takes place at the same time as Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, and has attracted some of the biggest names in professional climbing including Daniel Woods, Dave Graham, Nalle Hukkataival, Kevin Jorgenson, Sasha Digiulian, Emily Harrington, and Alex Johnson.
The event started Wednesday night with the semis. Thursday was a practice round that helped the athletes prepare for the finals, which will take place tonight at 7 p.m. at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City. The top eight men and women athletes go head-to-head in a dual climbing format to see who can scale the wall the fastest and win a portion of the $20,000 purse.
From what we saw, speed will likely only come into play as a tie-breaker. The route is brutally hard, and only a few of the women and one guy named Sharma made it past the overhang Wednesday and Thursday nights.
The Psicobloc competitors got on the wall for the first time Wednesday evening when a handful of qualifiers vied for a spot in the finals. (All the women moved on, while Ryan Sewell and Nick Milburn won their way into the invited field competing in the final.)
The atmosphere was informal both nights, with some of the top rock climbers in the world sitting on the pool deck wrapped in Psicobloc bathrobes and cheering on their friends. Many of the climbers had never deep-water soloed before, and they were just trying to get comfortable climbing—and falling—high above the water, sans rope.
For 20-year old Sasha Digiulian, 2011 overall world climbing champion, the most important thing is: never look down.
“I jumped from the top. And I’d been deep water soloing before in Mallorca, Spain,” says Digulian. “You can’t look down when you’re climbing or else you’ll get scared, at least for me. For the practice, I just tried out the moves and tried to get to the top and figure out the best way to get there. Friday night, I’ll just give it my all and not get scared, be supported by the energy of the comp. The route was easy (on Wednesday) night, but it was still fun to climb on. It was different. Climbing 55 feet over water without a rope is inevitably going to be really different. And I think the routes are going to get substantially harder. Each comp you have new competitors, and I think the field will be pretty stacked.”
Sharma practiced with the rest of the climbers Thursday night. He also helped organize the event along with the folks from Walltopia, and he plans to grow the Psicobloc series into a national and eventually an international event.
“Visually it’s super spectacular. I totally feel like this is a huge step for competition climbing and I feel like it will be a before and after for our sport,” says Sharma. “We want to take the Psicobloc Master Series around the world.”
Here are a few more photos from the event. Check out the Psicobloc site for more info on the competition tonight.