Wednesday 15 October 2014

2014 IFSC World Youth Championships (Noumea, New Caledonia)

It's taken me a while to write this post, and I don't really have a good reason why. It has been busy at school with exams drawing near, but I think it's mostly because I wasn't entirely sure what to say. I'm writing about an entirely different experience than I thought I would be. This year, for the first time, I have come home from the World Youth Championships proud of my achievement. For the first time I can safely say I climbed to the best of my abilities, and am looking forward to next year not as a chance to redeem myself, but an opportunity to better myself in a way I now see possible.
My trip began with a training camp held in Sydney for the Australian Youth Climbing Team. We were to spend a week here before heading off to New Caledonia where the WYCH would be held. I was just coming to the end of an almost two week break from climbing, due to a hand injury I had sustained for unknown reasons, that was preventing me from completing tasks as basic as tying my shoe laces. As such, I was somewhat anxious as to how I might feel pulling onto the wall. Fortunately my hand was good, but I felt I had lost some endurance, and was taking a couple sessions to feel like I was moving well again.

Our first point of order was the New South Wales State Bouldering Titles. I was not feeling in ideal shape for this comp, and it was recommended that I did not compete by my coaches. However, when the morning of the event came, my hand hadn't been giving me any trouble, and I thought it best that I take it as an opportunity to pull hard and get my body into gear.

It is fair to say I was not totally satisfied with my performance overall when compared to my past results. I managed to take 4th place in a highly contested Youth A Men's category. A good result, but the first Youth podium in Australia that I had missed in almost 5 years. As such I was a little disappointed, but I focussed on the fact that my hand wasn't hurting, and I could approach my training over the next few days optimistically.

Having a good ol' time in Sydney!!
After a rest day touring the Sydney CBD, myself and the rest of the Aussie team spent a couple of sessions trying to onsight hard routes in gyms around Sydney, where we met a number of members of Team USA. With every route I climbed I felt I was moving better, resting more efficiently, and generally climbing stronger as the days went by. I was getting back into the swing of things, and it felt great!!

Hanging out with U.S crushers Margo and Kai!!

And so off to Noumea we flew!! I was super excited, but so nervous!! An ever-so-slight feeling of dread was looming over me. Twice I had come home from the WYCH having under-performed, feeling like I could have done much better. I was hoping that with this trip I could prove to myself that that was true, that I was capable of more than peeling off the wall merely a few draws up.

The emphasis of myself and of those around me in previous years had been on positive affirmations, telling myself that I would achieve a certain result. Whilst the intention was to build up self belief within me, I felt more as if it was being forced down my throat, and so I made the decision to take a more laid back approach to my determination. This year I had only one goal: to climb to the best of my abilities and return home satisfied. This new approach left me far less stressed, taking pressure away from making the semi-finals, and onto simply enjoying my climbs.

Up and away!!... And then down again very shortly, for once!! ;P
The competition day came, and I was more than excited to get onto the wall. My route looked good - my style completely, and whilst warming up my body was primed and ready to fire! Things were looking up! Negativity still loomed overhead, but nevertheless I shook those feelings away and reminded myself of how much I want to be here, and this is what I dream of doing everyday.

There I was, tied in, warmed up, and as ready as I would ever be to climb my first qualifier. I had an ideal balance of nerves, excitement, and relaxation that all seemed to settle in the pit of my stomach. Taking my first steps onto the wall I moved with precision and meaning. Every movement felt accurate and efficient. Quick and easy. The holds remained fairly positive as I pushed further through the route. In the back of my mind I was waiting for the moment when I would lose my cool and make a soul-crushing mistake, but the moment never came! I was nearing the top of the route, and as I pulled through the roof and into the final face of the climb, I truly, genuinely believed for the first time that I belonged to be there. Each move was powerful, the holds were positive, but a burning in my forearms urged me to keep climbing. I took the third to last hold firmly in my left hand, bringing my right foot across my body and pulled, taking the second last hold in my grasp.... and watching it fall away as my foot blew from the wall!!
It took a couple of seconds for it to sink in how close I had come to topping a World Championship route.... I was ecstatic!! Over the moon!! My efforts had landed me in equal 11th place, making it my best placing on a WYCH route, having previously been equal 28th.

My second qualifier was later that night, and with little luck, I attempted to nap back in my hotel room. The little rest I did get helped me relax before taking to the wall for a second time. Whilst I had my theories, I was eager to know which route would be mine that evening. It turned out to be a funky little blue route that the Junior Males had climbed earlier that day. Having seen that this route was particularly cruxy, I knew that it could play to my strengths if I stayed switched on and maintained body awareness.

The route began in quite a technical fashion. In the past, I would have been totally defeated by these early sequences, but I managed to execute them perfectly and make it up to what I knew was the first crux. It consisted of an off-balance drive-by from a small edge to a sloper atop a volume. I caught the sloper confidently, and held tight to ensure I kept core tension. I continued to climb after realising I was not going to score a rest here. The next sequences were awkward, with strange feet and body positions. I worked my way through them, into a sloper at which I had intended to rest. With the beauty of hindsight, I see now that this was a terrible idea! I tried to shake away the pump very unsuccessfully before moving on to some harder sections, through a rad rose move to progress and then again to clip, and upward. I reached a number of extremely positive holds, but having wasted my energy I was in no position to rest, and simply resolved to keep moving. I had only a few moves in me before I was off. I had a good climb, not ideal, but good enough that I was satisfied knowing I had given it my all.

I had very little idea as to where my efforts would place me... whether I had earned myself a semi-final placing or not! But, as it turns out I had managed 16th place on that route (not too shabby as far as I was concerned!), adding up to a 14th place overall going into the semi-finals!


Well, turns out third time's the charm!! I was in, and I couldn't have been happier! I had hoped and dreamed of this for three years, and as silly as it may sound to some, I was stoked to climb a third time at this year's WYCH.

But it was there that I learned something new, something I had not expected to learn. I had always envisioned myself in total elation when making the semis, and that I would attain a state in which my placing going forward wouldn't concern me.... But that was when I had expected to creep into semis around 26th place, not 14th! All of a sudden having simply made the semis was irrelevant. I wanted to place as highly as I could. I wanted to make finals! I had re-awoken a long lost drive within myself, and without positive self-talk, or scrawling my hopes into a diary, my sense of self belief was back :)

I was not the only Australian to have placed in the top 26th! Jarred Jordan, Sam Bowman, Matt Tsang, and Roxy Perry had all gone through after a long time coming, and newcomer Rhys Brandon managed to do so at his first ever World Youth Championship!

Isolation was a new, exciting, and incredibly daunting experience that I had been looking forward to for a long time! I looked around me and saw climbers from various parts of the world that I had respected since first watching them climb in Singapore, and could now appreciate this aspect of the event as one of them, and not simply a spectator.

The time came to view our route. It looked fairly straight forward. Not too difficult to start, moving into a dynamic roof, and then a pumpy run to the finish. Very little of the sequence eluded me, and that of it that did I quickly sorted out with those around me. I returned to isolation confident that this was a route I could perform well on.
Viewing the Youth A semi-final.
The wait for my turn to climb did not take nearly as long as I had expected, leading me to believe that maybe the route was much harder than I initially thought. I simply did what I would always do in isolation - talk about the route, get warmed up, keep somewhat to myself and try not to get overly amped. Before I knew it, I was tied in, facing the wall, and ready to climb...

Similar to my first route, every hold felt positive, and I didn't get too pumped through the first face of the climb. It wasn't long before I made the transfer into the roof and things started to change. I knew I had a number of committing moves ahead of me, but couldn't quite find any positions to rest. I pulled up into a shallow edge in the roof... it was tiny, and I did not feel confident putting my weight into it. The next hold was hidden amongst a formation of volumes, and I lunged toward it hoping to catch it just right. I hit the side of the box, just short of the hold. And as my feet slid from beneath me, I made one final push, and it was just enough to catch the jug one hand. I squeezed as tightly as I could, bringing my body back up to the roof. My left hand was solid, but I just couldn't find anything good to rest on with my right, so I made the next big move over the lip. I caught the hold with my right, following shortly with my left. By this stage, I was pumped. Accidently missing a crucial foothold and a potential knee-bar, I pressed on for every point I could score. Shortly after, I fell, fairly pleased with the height at which I did so.

My efforts were enough for me to land 15th place, and I was stoked! It seems that I accomplish my WYCH goals a year after I set them ;P With my goal for Singapore being top 40, and I took 46th, my goal for Canada being top 15, and falling into 33rd. I learnt some valuable lessons about efficiency and route awareness watching the following athletes climb the route. I also saw how close I was to finals, only 4 movements away, and I was hungrier than ever to resume training and work even harder for next year!!
Cutting loose on the Youth A Mens semi-final.
This year, the Australian Youth Climbing Team did our country proud. But more than that, we were proud of ourselves and proud of each other!

The rest of the competition was absolutely amazing! The finalists in each category put on a spectacular show that was entertaining for all. I just know that very soon, we'll be seeing our own athletes in the top 8, climbing for a podium finish. And if all goes to plan, I'll be one of them!!

Thanks to everybody again for all of the support and encouragement you have given me over the past year, and in the lead up to the competition. Special mentions go to my parents, who I love very much and put up with me in some of my most unbearable pre and post competition states! Thank you also to Rob LeBreton, who did an extraordinary job coaching us throughout the trip, especially in isolation where we were all feeling a bit daunted!

Thank you to my sponsor, La Sportiva Australia, who provided me with the gear I competed in and have been training in the lead-up to this comp!! You guys are awesome, and I'm ever-grateful to be a part of the team!!
Now there's only one more competition until the end of the season: The Australian National Bouldering Championships and the Australian Climbing Festival in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales. I'm super excited after coming home and taking a 1st in Youth A and a 3rd in Open men's at the Victorian State Bouldering Titles, and I'm hoping I can take another podium, or even a title, at this event!

I'm so thankful everyday that I get to be a part of something as special as sport climbing! Here's to years more of incredible experiences and friendships to come!!

Sunday 3 August 2014

2014 Australian Lead National Championships

Bringing the Australian Lead season to a close was the 2014 Australian National Lead Climbing Championships. I was going into this competition incredibly confident and motivated. I had won every Youth A Lead competition I had competed in so far, and had no intention of losing out at Nationals. This did, however, put a heavy load of pressure on my shoulders... Self-inflicted, but intense none the less. I had a couple of mates staying over as well from Queensland, which gave me to something else to look forward to, the comp aside. My favourite part of competing is getting to hang out with friends from all around the country that I don't usually see!

First qualifiers led into the event nicely. The Youth A Male climb proved a degree easier than a typical qualifier at Nationals,
with about 12 tops in total, but put everybody into a confident mindset that would prove useful on our second route.

Photo: Chris Hampton

The second qualifier moved up a techy, but not particularly taxing corner, into a dynamic cut that proved tricky for many. The route then continued up through a technical vertical section and through a steep, powerful lip that managed to split the Youth A Men's perfectly. After finding what proved to be the most effective beta through what was set as a cruxy cross into a one-finger-pocket, I had an unfortunate slip that saw me fall short of a top, but land me in first place going into finals. I was a little disappointed, having had massive improvements in my footwork recently that clearly didn't come into play, but I found comfort in knowing that time would not become a factor in the final.

The Youth A final looked RAD! The start was fairly steep and juggy, with some cool sequency moves, up into a sustained, crimpy stretch, through a volume onto some slopers, and a techy manoeuvre around a volume before the finish. I was out last, and with no clue how the others had gone, I stepped onto the wall with every intention of topping the route. I felt solid moving up the wall. All my sequences were working out, and I nutted out some rests that managed to keep me from getting too pumped. After a powerful lock from a slopey pinch to find a small hidden nub on the side of a volume, I decided to take a solid rest to consider my options. I had the feeling from the crowd that I had taken the high point, but my own personal drive kept me pushing to the top. I rested here for a good period, a little stumped. I swung my foot to a nice hold far out right, tried to rock as much of my weight as I could over the positive foothold, bumping my right hand out. I brought my left hand in close to a gaston on the volume, pushed my knee ever-further out left, and bumped again. From here it was smooth sailing! I took the last hold and (after a brief search for the final draw ;P) clipped!

Oceana Mackenzie taking her first National Title in her nice, new, shiny team singlet!!
I was over the moon with a second consecutive National Title! Alistair Earley and Sam Newton rounded off the podium in second and third respectively!

After a rather long day of climbing already, there were still two more climbs to go for those of us who qualified to compete in Open under the organisers' new wildcard rule, with AYCT members and podium placers from Youth A, B, and Junior moving through. For myself and seven other Open Males, the qualifiers proved not too challenging, creating wide tie going into the next morning's semi-final.
Ally Driessen on the Masters Female Semi-Final (Photo: Joanne Blair)
Another early start the next morning had us straight into isolation. I was out fairly late in the piece, so I held off for a while on my warm up. The crowd was impossible to read for this route! The women's route hailed screams and cheers as new high points were acquired early on, with one young female clearly setting the bar above the others, but then fell 'silent' after a while, as did the crowd for the men's.

Photo: Mike Davis

Keeping in style with the comp so far, the route began on very positive holds, and kicked in quite suddenly. I moved through a number of disc shaped holds that became very high, awkward feet as I moved on. The crowed started to scream about mid way up the route after a powerful move to a small edge, and I was feeling confident in my progression thus far. When things felt dire, I would correct my feet or find a rest, and everything would click. I fell just short of a top, which would put me into finals in.... first place!?

I was always appropriately optimistic about the possibility of winning the title, but it hadn't really occurred to me that I possessed the potential to actually win the title. There was still a final to come, but I was ecstatic about the climb I had just put in. I had already far exceeded my perception of my own abilities.

Me taking the (particularly nasty) winning holds on the Open Semi-Final route. (Photo: Chris Hampton )
Both the men's and women's routes saw a clear division between the top placing 3-4 climbers and the rest of the field. One unfortunate characteristic of the men's climb was a rather poorly placed piece of black tape over an arête that saw a number of climbers called from the wall, and some, including myself, barely getting away with very debatable 'use' of the feature. This was the only section of the arête that was deemed unusable from a feature that ran the full length of the wall, and I felt it unnecessary to call it out.

 Photo: Mike Davis
Never the less, it was an absolutely amazing route! One of the best I've climbed in an Aussie comp, and it was looking to be a tremendous final!

2014's Open finalists!! (Photo: Chris Hampton

As the finals progressed, I watched the athletes leave isolation climber by climber, hearing the cheers of the crowd grow louder and louder. More time passed, and I was alone. I felt the bass of the heavy speakers pulse through me, and I sat in solitude, preparing myself to climb the best that I could.

The route was fairly long, with 50 hand-holds in total. It started off fairly easy through a lengthy roof section, and as the angle of the wall decreased, the moves became larger, and the holds began to shrink, their in-cuts rounding off to some smooth edges. After a big, crowd-pleasing power-fest in the middle of the route, I was still feeling good and took a rest on a nicely angled volume. I felt like I was on my way to the top. I knew I could do it. The title was in my hands... before I dropped it, watching it shatter on the floor.

Pulling the rest before the final stretch! (Photo: Chris Hampton
I was pumped, but recovering well and truly enough on each hold to climb further. I came to a clip, and with my foot placements certainly not ideal, I tried to make quick work of the second last draw. I felt it slip and slide in my fingers, going for a great big swing before I caught it again and managed to put the rope through. My right forearm was flamed! My mind completely lost in the burn, I threw any kind of logical thought out the window, and made a stupid attempt to just move that little bit further forward... And before I knew it, I was off the wall!

Working at the clip, nearing the top of the final route.
I was in an absolute blur of mixed emotions. This was my best competition result ever! But I was so close and so capable of taking the title of Australian National Champion that it didn't feel that way at all.

All in all, I absolutely cannot complain with how I climbed at nationals. I felt smooth and powerful the whole time, and put in exactly the climb I had been aiming for in the semi final. I'm looking towards Worlds with confidence, but also with the experience from last year that I must keep tabs on that feeling so that it doesn't become overwhelming pressure. I have to approach the WYCH like any other comp, and just try to climb my best :)

Congratulations to James Kassay and Lucy Stirling, who climbed solidly and very deservedly took the titles in male and female respectively.

James Kassay, ensuring that the photographer gets his good side ;P (Photo: Chris Hampton

Lucy Stirling, crushing hard in perfect style! (Photo: Chris Hampton

This was only my fourth nationals, but in my opinion, it set a new standard for national competition in Australia. The routes were incredible, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. The organisers should be very proud of what they have achieved! Congratulations also to everybody who climbed. It's always so much fun to hang out with everybody, and you all climbed so well! And again, thank you for all the support that everybody gave me in the lead up to and during the comp. It really is invaluable to my climbing!
I hope of the climbers in Australia are looking forward to the bouldering season, and everybody else, I'll see you at the World Youth Championships in Noumea :D
(If you liked some of the photos from this post, check out Climb Media's website at Chris puts in a lot of hard hours to put these great shots out there, so show your support by purchasing a few!!!)

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Comps Comps Comps!! :D (TAS Boulder, QLD Lead, NSW Lead)

Sorry for the late update, but I've been super busy trying to train and keep up with school all at the same time!

So I recently competed at a string of three consecutive State championships, which made for a very busy three weeks, but SO much fun none the less. I figured I should do a write up for each comp, as they were all fantastic in their own right.
The first of the three saw me in Tasmania for a bouldering comp of all things! I love to boulder, don't get me wrong, but I've never been particularly successful when it comes to competitive bouldering, so I approached this comp with a bit of an anxious drive. The event was to be hosted by Rock It Climbing Centre, a nice new shiny gym that has just popped up in the Hobart CBD. As the first state level competion that the gym had hosted, the organisers were, of course, nervous, but ready to put on an awesome day. And they certainly delivered!
Qualifiers were a bit rough for me. I got my usual boulder comp jitters in the first couple of problems and tunnel vision had set in, however I still managed to top all of the problems and put myself in third place going into the finals. I was very much intent on having a better run in the final round.
Our observation time revealed a set of five problems, considerably more difficult than those found in the qualifying round. The first problem consisted of a slab-to-slab leap across a gap hanging from a small, swinging wooden ball that proved too much for all but a small couple that managed to just nab the bonus. I moved forward onto problem two very optimistically, as it looked to be just my style. However, just as I moved to match the final hold on my first attempt, I slipped, and I just couldn't manage to make my way back through the final move of the steep and slightly pumpy problem. Problem three took me four attempts, but I managed to top it, being the only climber to claim victory on the problem. The fourth problem I flashed. I felt strong and technical, much better than the previous round. The 5th and final problem was ever-so slightly overhanging on tiny little edges that I just couldn't fully take hold of, scoring myself a bonus in one attempt.
Callum Hyland cruising the qualifiers!
Marine Cusa took first place in the Open Females.

Despite a relatively small number of tops, I was overall very happy with my climbing, and I had managed to take out first place with 2 tops in 4 attempts. Second place was close behind with 1 top for one attempt, and the remaining places were decided between bonuses and countback. It was reassuring to know that when I really tried to relax and prepare myself right, I could pull my way through a bouldering comp with a clear mindset and climb strong.

My next competition took place one week later at Urban Climb, Queensland. I'd never been to Queensland before, and the competition was on lead, so there were a number of things to be excited about :) My first qualifier had me calling my first ever technical (on the advice of both my belayer and my judge) after falling due to a hold was poorly placed under a folded quick draw. After having the draw removed, my second attempt went much more smoothly, falling in the midst of the final move. The second qualifier ended with a top for myself and a number of others, meaning that I was in equal first for the final. The final was very short with a high crux, and saw my entire category split by about three moves. I managed to take out Youth A by a plus! Giving me my second Youth A lead victory and continuing a good season in the Youth.

Ben Abel making the best of a solid clipping jug on the Youth A second Qualifier.
Around the mid-point of the Youth A final, shortly prior to a series of tentative
moves that split the field.

The Opens consisted of one of the largest fields I've seen at an Australian State level competition. With well over 30 competitors finals was looking like it might be a real challenge. luckily enough I managed both the qualifiers and went into finals again in equal first place with two other athletes, Matthew Tsang of NSW and Matthew Cochrane of QLD. The trend carried through to the finals, with four of us scoring to the same hold! The fourth athlete, Sam Bowman, had skipped a draw that prevented him from topping the first qualifier, putting him down into fourth place. The remaining three of us were split on time, putting Matt Tsang in third, myself in second and Matthew Cochrane into 1st. Whilst I had a lot of fun on the route, and I was super happy for Matt, no part of me was ok with my final result in the circumstances, especially after having worked so hard to make myself a slower, more efficient climber. There was no more I could have done, however, so I simply moved on and vowed to always just climb further ;)

The finals route was a lot of fun, and a great crowd
pleaser, however it failed to split the field.
Matt Cochrane catching the winning hold in record time.
Lucy Stirling backed up her efforts at the VIC State Lead Titles with another first in Opens on countback to Roxy Perry, who came off at the same move.
 Finally, the last comp of the month, the New South Wales State Lead Championship at The Edge Rock Climbing Centre. The walls at this gym were much taller than the last, coming in at 18 metres in height. I was perhaps lacking the endurance I've had in the past, but one of my strengths in comps has always been pulling through despite being pumped. My first qualifier in Youth A was long, but I managed to find a nice knee bar to take the pressure off before topping the route, followed by a top on my second route, which consisted of mostly positive holds to a final face on small, sloped jibs.
The Youth A finals route, full of a mix of styles, from crimps, to slopers, to drive-bys to compression.

Qualifying again in first, things were still looking up, and I was only a step away from taking hold of a victory at every State Lead Title in the Youth A category. The only thing standing in my way was this one route, and the only issue for any of us, we thought as myself and my fellow competitors mapped out the route from the ground, would be the sequence... Man, the sequence... I worked my way through the majority of the route only to pull myself into completely the wrong position, my right hand on a hold that I then realised was clearly set as a left. Normally in this instance I might panic, desperately try to match the hold and throw for the next with no hope... but I stopped, shook out, and considered my options. Calmly I moved down the route through some tough compression moves, and worked my way back up to a top and a third title was in my grasp. Whilst perhaps I could have climbed better, I was, and still am, infinitely happy with my ability to think under pressure, and knowing that my hard work in that regard is paying off!
Opens went by nicely once again, with double tops for myself and a number of others, bring it all down to the final, which appeared to be mostly comprised of big, nasty slopers, then on to smaller edges before some big moves to the route's finish. The men were able to watch the women's final prior to competing, as our route was in a different section of the gym. Hats off to Lucy Stirling, who topped the route in effortless style, but a special mention to Olivia Campton who put in a stellar effort to place a well earned second :)

The crowd gave me no hint as to how the final was going, so I tuned out completely and tried focus on my own climbing. I pulled onto the wall and worked my way through a funky start up to an overhanging delight of slopes and pinches. Each hold felt infinitely better than I had imagined, and I moved up through the route past some crimps into a nice left hand before a big push to what turned out to be a terrible little sloper. I clung to the hold for dear life and somehow, I managed to stay on the wall, bring my foot up nice and high for a final pop to the last hold, and before I knew it my rope was through the draw and I was done :D

Bryson Klein making light work of
some slopers.
I'm so happy with how the past couple weeks have played out. I think I'm climbing better than I ever have before, and I'm managing so far to keep my head together amongst it all. There's so much training to do before I'm truly ready to head to worlds, and this will be my focus in the next seven weeks leading up to Nationals.
 TAS State Boulder

 QLD State Lead
 NSW State Lead
Thanks to Rock It, The Edge, and Urban climb for all putting on fantastic events! The routes/problems were so much fun to play on and the comps all ran so smoothly! Credit to all 'Climb Media' photos goes to Chris Hampton. Check him out at and

I'll see you all at nationals! But for those athletes reading from overseas, I'll see you at worlds!!

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Australian Youth Climbing Team Tryouts 2014

I have often heard people say that once you've made the National Team for the first time, it gets easier and less nerve-racking from then on out.... But I speak for both myself and numerous others when I stress that this is most certainly not the case! Having been to worlds twice, all of the time, all of the training, all of the early nights and cancelled plans and desserts forsaken, everything I do is  never done with the mindset of simply qualifying for the Australian Youth Climbing Team. My goals always exceed beyond simply doing what is immediately expected of me. Never once did I work to simply meet the standard of making the team. I pushed myself because I want to be beyond standard of the team. Beyond the standard set by my competitors. My eyes are always focused on setting a new standard for Australians on the international stage of the IFSC World Youth Championships, and in time, onward to the open circuit. The more that you make the team, the more that you realise you can always be better than you are, the more you feel you NEED to make the team again, as opposed to simply wanting. You need to step out and show what you can do, and Worlds is the ultimate stage on which you can give your all.

It is because of this both incredibly motivating and stressful mindset that the AYCT Tryouts is arguably the most intense competition of the year. The tryouts have a be-all-and-end-all vibe to them, and it is because of this that they evoke emotions within people that aren't witnessed at any other point in the season.

Sam Bowman looking determined. Photo: Eddie Fowke
The day began in a refreshing manner with a 12:00PM start to the climbing. Typically climbing is in the early hours of the morning for youth climbers, however there were no opens to contend with this time, leaving the schedule wide open. Climbers started walking through the door as early 10:00AM, however, out of both eagerness and shear boredom. I walked around the gym and said hi to all of the climbers, coaches, and parents I hadn't seen for months, and then stood below the walls to read the five routes that had been set for us. The Australian Team tryouts follow an unusual but effective format for selecting the strongest of young climbers, which is important when one looks at the relatively small category sizes at national and state competitions, in comparison to those of many other countries. Five routes are set within a pre-determined grade range, and of these five routes, the Youth B male category and all female categories are expected to top three, with the Youth A and Junior males expected to top four.

For the past two years the tryout routes have been more or less the same style. Steep and pumpy on positive holds. It has always been easy to pick which routes are the easiest 3 and which routes are there to really split the climbers. This year, however, I found myself gawking up at the routes utterly perplexed as to what could be in store for us. Two of the routes kept to the traditional style of steep and pumpy, however three of the routes had been set on near vertical terrain with technical moves and uncertain holds. My fellow competitors and I had no idea which climbs would provide easy tops and which we might have to fight for. A silly mindset, I realise now, but in past years gone by assuming the difficulty of each climb was a safe bet.

Photos: Naomi Benjamin and Eddie Fowke

Climbing began, the nerves were building at the base of the wall. Typically the first climb your category is placed on is a climb that you will be expected to top if you plan on making the cut. Some athletes felt their confidence rise as they clipped the final draws of their first routes in relief, whilst others withdrew into self doubt, second guessing themselves and all of the training they had put in prior to the event.
The most shocking case of this was when Roxy Perry, one of the top Australian Youth A female climbers and regular at the WYCH, made a mistake in her foot placement on her first climb and fell short of her next hold, falling face-in-hands into the rope. The utter disappointment was clearly evident on her face. The prospect of not being able to compete at worlds was heart-breaking to even consider, and I couldn't even begin to imagine going to New Caledonia without the person who's kept me psyched and trained with me and stood by me throughout my best and worst climbs over the past three years.

Emotions aside we pressed on to our second climbs. Considerably shaken, I worked my way through the sequence a little less efficiently than I would have liked, though still managing to top out, giving me two tops out of two routes. Roxy Stepped up and cruised her second qualifier as the only female of the day to top that particular route, with rival Youth A climber, Sarah McKenzie, taking a fall in the final face of the climb. She too was disappointed, knowing she could have made the move and that she had to give these next routes her all if she had any intention of making the cut.
Will Hammersla ensuring that no climbers were harmed in the making
of this team ;) Photo: Naomi Benjamin

Each category rotated through, with Sarah, Roxy, myself and a number of others all topping out our 3rd routes. Quite a large group of Junior and Youth A males were showing promise, and it was beginning to look like both categories would be full!

A further rotation, and the Youth A girls were given their turn on what was speculated to be the hardest of the five routes. Steep and pumpy with big moves, it was clearly set for the Youth A and Junior male categories in mind, however with two tops for three routes, the girls were low on options. I sat myself in a spot in which I could both watch my friends and my view my route. My heart in my throat, I saw both of them pull through the moves with confidence, power, and precision, to clip the final draws and know that they would again be able to represent Australia at the IFSC World Youth Championships. I cheered and clapped as loudly as I could merely seconds before stepping onto my own route. Knowing that topping this route would qualify me for the team, I moved slowly and with control, ensuring that I prepared correctly for each for movement before progressing for the next hold. Surely enough, I pulled the slopers on the final lip to the last draw, clipping my rope through the karabiner and securing my position on the team.

Roxy Perry pulling through the final moves on her way to the IFSC WYCH.
Photo: Eddie Fowke
I lowered down and could celebrate my victory knowing that my closest friends would be going to Noumea with me. Psyche levels were high already, and we approached our final routes with casual enthusiasm. I managed to top my fifth climb, leaving me five for five, which was the only result I would have been truly happy with.

After a taxing day, the team consisted of:

Junior M: Sam Bowman (5/5), Jarred Jordan (5/5), Matthew Tsang (5/5), James Davidson (5/5)
Youth A M: Sam Newton (5/5), Campbell Harrison (5/5), Alistair Earley (5/5), Bryson Klein (5/5)
Youth A F: Roxy Perry (3/5), Sarah McKenzie (3/5)
Youth B M: Rhys Brandon (4/5)
2014 Australian Youth Climbing Team :D
Photo: Eddie Fowke
I never thought I could learn so much from a comp where I didn't take a fall. I learned so much more about climbing under pressure. I found a new rhythm to my climbing that I very much intend to hold onto. I learned how to think past the adrenaline and effectively stave off pump. But most of all, whilst it does sound like a cheesy cliché (and perhaps it is), I learnt not to give up even when things look especially grim. There was a time at this comp where I let my emotions get the better of me, but I always have to remember that whatever happens there's always more to come. Another hold, another climb, another comp, another day. All I can do is hold onto how I feel right now, and I'll be more happy than ever, whatever happens at worlds. That said, I very much intend to give it all I've got and push through into a top 20 placing!!

Thanks again for all the support that you guys have given me, and thank you in advance for all the support that is yet to come. I'm super appreciative of all that I've gotten to experience over the last few years and of everything that I will experience in future, wherever I may go :)

Thanks for reading! See you at the gym ;)

A very special thank you from Sarah, Roxy, Emily and myself to Will Hammersla for being our moral support, training guide, coach, chauffeur and friend :) Keep up the good work, Will-Dawgg! :P