Kite Surfing as Training for 2015 Goals

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As I rang in the New Year on an overnight flight from London to South Africa to visit Arjan, I considered my upcoming goals.

Short Term:

– Learn to kite surf

– Easy trad routes on Table Mountain

– Check out Where I Stood, a 5.14b sport route in Montagu

– Eat loads of seafood

Long Term:

            – 5.14d sport

– V12 boulder

– 5.13c trad

– Bolt and make the first ascent of a 5.14 sport line

There was, quite obviously, a stark contrast between the two sets – one a vague vacation bucket list, the other slightly haunting in it’s unforgiving numerical rigidity.

But why not attempt my most challenging objectives after loosing all my calluses in the ocean? Surely kite surfing would help me maintain the power I’d built over the last months. At least I’d be tan. Or sun burned. Regardless, I was eager to embrace the heat, see what water sports were all about, and mission with Arjan on the coast.

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So we began, each day an opportunity to choose a different adventure. Learn to fly the kite in the “I-promise-sharks-don’t-come-here” ocean, check. Get lifted into the air, almost look like I’m sort of trying to maybe pull off a trick and then face plant in the ocean, check. Embarrass myself by nearly drowning in the rip current when in embarking on a “quick swim” with Arjan and his big wave surfing friend, Mad Mike, check. I should have known by the name we weren’t just going splashing around in the shallows. Yes, I had to be drug out of the ocean, literally.

There were some low points, mostly involving my lack of experience and discomfort with large bodies of water. Kite surfing turned out to be exponentially more difficult than I expected. By the end of the month, I could finally get on the board and cruise comfortably in one direction if the wind settled in at my ideal speed, the water didn’t create too much chop, other kite surfers didn’t venture within 200 meters of my zone, and I hadn’t yet frustrated myself into despair. In summary, I’m a high needs kite surfing gumby who requires constant attention and may demand rescue at any moment. But I retain dreams of redeeming myself.

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Arjan demonstrates how easy kite surfing is.

But the high points overwhelmingly outweighed the embarrassing ones. A day trip to Montagu, a large sport area a few hours east of Cape Town, revealed what I can only describe as the Monastery (the Colorado sport crag, not the religious building for monks) of South Africa. A slightly overhung wall smattered with cracks of varying sizes offered technical yet powerful climbing on small crimps and the occasional finger lock. Prior to my visit, Arjan described a route we should scope out in Montagu, a 34 on the South African scale (5.14b/8c) called Where I Stood, established by local developer Steve Bradshaw in 2012 and repeated only this past December by Clinton Martinengo. A few trips up the route left me feeling unnervingly pumped, yet confident that the route would go down with a few days of effort.

We returned the next week under a stormy sky and a thermometer reading of 59 F (as opposed to 92 on our first visit). On my second burn, I desperately lunged for the final jug and just barely stuck, happy to finish this truly incredible line. I found the route to be just slightly easier than Third Millennium, which is a seriously sandbagged 5.13d at the Monastery. However, Where I Stood is my absolute favorite style of climbing, and I was able to reach past the two crux holds and go straight to the jug with a high foot. Using that beta, hard 5.13d or lower end 5.14a seemed reasonable.

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Steve Bradshaw makes the First Ascent of Where I StoodPhoto by Mickey Wiswedel

The next week, we set off on our next objective, trad climbing on Table Mountain. While my vacation list told me to lollygag up an easy trad climb for practice, locals Phlip Olivier and Danie Moolman coerced Arjan and me into trying Triple Jeopardy (5.13c), under the stipulation they would give detailed beta. I figured a head start on my long term goal list would probably be wise, and the approach really leaves no room for excuses. In total, the hike to Triple Jeopardy requires about 53 meters of effort – a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, 50 meter walk on pavement to a rappel anchor, and 150 meter rappel land you approximately 3 meters from the base of the climb.

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Triple Jeopardy is quite steep, so “for convenience sake” (ahem, and I was slightly nervous about going ground up on my first 5.13 gear route), I lead on Arjan’s gear my first time up. Running beta from Phlip and Danie helped get us both to the top, but the climbing felt hard and I was seriously intimidated. We returned a few days later, and Arjan punched his way to the chains with seemingly little struggle. I knew it was my turn to man up – you know, with the hefty approach it would be a real burden to return. My first time placing gear on the route, I somehow managed to get less pumped than on the three previous attempts and clipped the chains, happy to look out over the glistening Atlantic Ocean, knowing I ticked one of my 2015 goals – my first 5.13 gear lead – without any hectic falls.

For those interested in details, Triple Jeopardy took us each four attempts in total. I logged two top rope burns and one “sport burn” leading up to that. The route is about 30 meters long with two distinct cruxes, and climbs much like a sport route with technical edging. One piton and a row of old nuts in the final horizontal break protect the upper 5.10 section of climbing, which does not take gear. The placements are astonishingly solid, albeit obscure. In one section, a yellow Metolius cam is placed on a small crimp after you climb past it. Sturdy, but unnerving!

In summary, we accomplished great feats during our time in Cape Town. I survived the ocean, Arjan somehow remained patient through my kite lessons, I wasn’t eaten by a shark, we sent a 5.13c trad line, I did one of the coolest sport lines I’ve tried in quite a while, and I did in fact consume loads of seafood. Mission accomplished.

We’ll see how that serves as preparation for the long term list.

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