A Taste of ‘Professional’ Climbing

In the past 6 months, a huge amount of change has occurred in my climbing career (not to mention the fact that I feel like I have one now). I climbed a few 8a sport climbs, was offered my first sponsorship from Monkey Fist – a skincare brand I really love, and I was an athlete (imagine that!) in two climbing films, one with Bloc Features and the other with Volo Digital for the Reach Film.

blokfest brighton5
Blokfest finals at Boulder Brighton. Photo: Karolis Pipiras

I’ve been competition climbing for years and won here and there  but nothing really came of it. This past year I was 2016 Senior Female Blokfest Champion, but nothing really happened, they didn’t even mention it on UKC. I’ve learned a few things along the way and it’s mostly that if you don’t tell people about what you are doing, they don’t really notice, which then encourages the unashamed self-marketing, but the real truth is it’s pretty much the only way to succeed in this industry. In all my recent travels I’ve met a lot of people climbing really hard, something that happened when I moved into the slightly more ‘advanced’ bracket of climbing and relocating to the climbing hub of Sheffield.

But I found as soon as you climb a little bit harder, you then move to the bottom of the fish pond again. I’ve had the opportunity to meet women who are bouldering 8a and 8b as well as sport climbing on the same level or harder. This progression has definitely given me a lesson in humility.

Back in London I didn’t know many women who were climbing at a similar level (or were super psyched) so I felt like a little bit of an anomaly. But now being  one of less strong women climbing, it’s brought me to question how much I love climbing – do I love it more than being on top or winning? I went through a phase of struggling to see my own ability as worthwhile, as most people are topping out boulders faster than me or climbing grades way harder. I constantly felt under pressure to ‘prove’ myself, as I didn’t know them well or haven’t climbed much with them.

Contrarily trying to publish my achievements as seems necessary to be a an aspiring professional, I started to feel a little bit like a poser – as if what’s the point of posting about myself if I’m not nearly as good as these other women? Georgie Abel, one of my favourite womens/climbing/etc bloggers posted a nice explanation of this odd phenomenon — feeling like an online imposter, which I really relate to. Since posting about my climbing, I have had those feelings of questioning whether it’s worthwhile, but especially with the lack of women climbing in the media, I hope that it would have the same effect that my friend’s posts always have for me – that I’m inspired to try as hard as they do.

Frustrated at not sending at St Bees. Photo: Lee James Thompson

Recently in the making of these two climbing films, I was put under the pressure of the camera – a totally new experience for me. We drove 3.5 hours and went to St. Bees where I was told to climb a certain boulder and then I had to make everyone wait while I tried to get it, over and over and over.

It took maybe 3-4 hours. I’d never really been in the position where I had to climb something and people were dependant on me. The pressure was immense, and it again made me question how much I really loved the sport. If being a professional or a sponsored athlete meant finding it within yourself to be able to perform any time, but not only that, having fun any time, I wasn’t sure I was capable of that! I started to question whether being a professional is really something I want, as it was seeming more work than stardom.

Trying to send my project under camera pressure. Photo: Volo Digital

In the filming of the Reach, we travelled to Magic Wood. There were a lot of us being filmed and on the one day I had the camera crew I felt really bad and wasn’t climbing well. And then there was always the problem of someone trying something harder that maybe should be filmed instead. Maybe the camera crew should have gone with them instead of me; I had to make it worthwhile. All logistics and pressures I had never really considered before.

This taste of professionalism I have to say has definitely brought on a reality check. We all talk about wanting to be pros, but these pros, the people I’ve been climbing with, deal with these pressures all the time, and it’s something you really have to work through. I think perhaps I was under the guise of this disbelief that there was a lot of free gear, free press and loads of fun to be had as a sponsored athlete. A lot of people want to be pro climbers but they (me included) don’t realise how difficult it really is – when people are waiting on you, when your brands are emailing you asking you what you are climbing, or worse, when your sponsors are dropping you if you don’t win or get injured, it’s not so fun.

In Magic Wood, I didn’t send my project under the pressure and took a little break to re-vamp. At the moment, I’m focusing on climbing outside and trying to have fun instead of focusing on ‘sponsorship.’  I’m trying to find the space in my mind where I’m back to achieving and climbing for myself, no matter whom is asking, as it proves a totally different ball game. In a recent conversation with Zofia Reych, my climbing partner before she off and moved to Bulgaria (why?!), we talked about how sharing your life and achievements with others should become more of a conversation than an advertisement, and that’s what I want to have (with the occasional gear mention…)

Becoming a professional is still something I’m aiming for, whether silly or not, as more than anything I really want to see more of my friends getting really psyched and trying hard. As well as encouraging women to feel confident, get huge muscles and climb really really hard. But for now it seems difficult. Hopefully I can move back into climbing just for myself, something I think is worthwhile to find in anyone’s climbing life!

6 thoughts on “A Taste of ‘Professional’ Climbing

  1. Firstly, sent you mail about yoga 🙂 this blog post is really interesting, being part of a group of climbers we look at two things online / at film fests. We want to be amazed by things just to give us a boosts, to see incredible feats but to the majority of us that’s so far out of reach it doesn’t even feel like the same sport, we can’t even try the things they do as we will never have the time, money or sponsorship. So there’s now a good following of people who just want to share normal climbing stuff, to see that people are normal and have normal lives, and feel the frustration of fitting it all in (and having an awful bug while trying to climb 7a grrrr). It’s one of the reasons epic tvs daily climbing sick send is so well received because it’s just people sending in what they are proud of, a few weeks ago I think it was a 6c+ which at least most people can see is reachable.

  2. Hey! I got your email. Thanks, I agree the middle-people need to speak out. That’s my goal – to inspire others that having fears, worries and non-super human strength are all too okay too 🙂

  3. Hi Alice, I’m glad I discovered your blog! It’s a really genuine and interesting exposition of your adventures. I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to send your project in front of a camera – I’ve always been very intrinsically motivated, so external pressures alternate between motivating and crushing me.

    I’ve added your blog to a list of my favourites over at my own blog- I always love to promote great insights into the climbing world! Here’s the link: https://hermitcrablifeblog.wordpress.com/recommended-climbing-resources/

    Keep crushing,

  4. Thank you so much! You are too sweet. I saw you put a link on your site to mine! How generous, that is so nice of you. Just checking more out of your blog too – can’t wait to read more 😎

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