So 2016 is over and although the media would have you believe it was all bad, to which I agree it wasn’t a vintage year for politics, it does appear looking back through my photos that I had a lot of fun. So I have quickly picked 9 pictures from the year that stand out as favourites of mine. Some because I think they are cool shots, other because they were fun times!
Liam Fyfe holding the swing whilst Bouldering in the Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire. Bouldering pics are so much fun as the movement is usually more dynamic plus its easier to try different angles and experiment with equipment.
Haverfordwest Skatejam 2016. A brilliant local event which was a great opportunity to try a photograph something different.
So many of my pictures happen whilst walking the dogs, and this one quite literally takes advantage of both.
Milky way above a Pembrokeshire church. Astrophotography is amazingly addictive but brings with it so many challenges, this is my favourite so far.
My main role in climbing is as a performance coach, and this moment at the 2016 YC S final reminded me why I love it so much. Watching Little Efa give everything was incredible, i don’t remember her finishing position as it really doesn’t matter her fight and heart was bigger than anyones that moment!
French boat graveyard. Whilst on trips their are so many opportunities for photography and although the light isn’t great, it was the middle of the day. I love this pic of some abandoned fishing boats whilst between surfs on our van trip this year.
Rock climbing on Gower, Another one of the young climbers I used to coach, this time Cai who has gone on to become an incredible athlete and an incredible friend. Here he is hanging out with his dad at Foxhole cove.
All aboard the Ghost Train. Friend and work colleague Richard making a great flash ascent of a famous Pembroke route. Having climbed this route my self i had fond memories but actually hanging in space taking pictures had my heart beating way more as a fall from here would not be pleasant viewing.
My last picture from 2016, id say something ‘arty’ along the lines of something new starting blah blah blah. But in reality i just liked the light and took this snap shot .
Since getting back from France as always we have had a lot going on. Surfed a lot, worked a lot, been to manchester way to much and organised and run ‘The Welsh Championships’. All of this has been great with the Welsh champs taking on a life way beyond its humble beginnings that myself and Paul Walters dreamt up 8yrs ago.
Its original concept was to give young climbers from our region a chance to practice ready for the larger events later in the calendar. As with all good things word spreads and this year was no exception with over 220 climbers taking part! Obviously not every thing run smoothly but by and large it was an incredible day which marks the end of the Welsh Championships under my stewardship, as from next year the event will be an official BMC event as part of a larger series.
Whilst this was a success the following week spelled disaster with my first Guest speaker event as a photographer. This was actually something I had been very excited about but at the start of my talk their was a mere 5 crowd members which was hugely disappointing. The venue had not advertised the event and as such I was fortunate that 5 had turned up, so we chatted about photography and climbing specific stuff that I have learnt the hard way.
At the print shop in Narberth
Next came better news with lots of my photos getting printed. This is one of my favourite parts as pictures really come to life once printed and these days so many photos live on computers we rarely get to see them in all their glory.
It has been a bit so it was great to see so many all at once with an article in a climbing mag, a new climbing guide plus I have sold several prints to individuals.
Seeing the largest print I have yet produced was awesome
I had an article published in Army Mountaineer
A climbing destination article for Rhossili on Gower
The new Rockfax for south wales is out in print, and I’m proud to see many of my images within.
One of my favourites is my 3cliffs shot.
Also a great one of Lizzy at Amroth.
After all this its almost christmas so I can’t wait to a bit of time off and hopefully some more adventures. The camera batteries are charged so I hope the new year brings some great new work to add to the galleries with some more diverse collections.
Wow summer has gone quick, I have only just realised how long it has been since I last wrote a blog and know I have no idea upon were to start when I consider what we have all been unto over the summer months. I guess that the summer has been split into two halves for me consisting of a return to two activities that had been on the back burner a bit in recent times.
since I last posted I have not clip one bolt! that is a long time for me to have not been sport climbing and if I’m honest I have only realised this fact whilst sitting here typing. That is not to say i have not been climbing, as my job as a coach and route setter require me to pull on most days in some capacity, but the summer would bring back a resurgence in traditional climbing.
Its great how sometimes everything just slots into place and you don’t have to try, well my new beginning at an aspect of the sport I previously held so dear seemed to flow in such a way and this is mainly down to the unstoppable force of nature that I once coached as a junior Chris Shepherd! Returning from a year studying in Spain Chris was on the pool for a new adventure, having spent the past year sport climbing at some of Europe’s premier spots I guess foxhole was not going to cut it any more and he had his heart set on Trad climbing. During his year away I had moved to Pembroke one of the best Trad venues in the uk so when the phone rang it was all to easy.
Thats when things stopped being quite so easy! I hadn’t seen chris for some time but like a brother it takes a split second to reconnect and laughing at each other as we head of across the range. Chris is no slouch and subconsciously I had been dreading this day , what the hell do you get a F8b guy to do for his first trad climb, and then how do you hold him back enough to learn all the randomness that comes with trad climbing? Or should I just let him free….. I guess the days when it was my decision are along way in the past as Chris is no longer in my climbing squad and I am no longer his coach, instead I’m here to unwires his questions and to try and get him to understand the judgments required to stay safe whilst still challenging himself.
We got to spend a few days climbing around St Govans with a standard day compromising of chris warming up on E1 then 2 then 3 these routes would rarely push him physically but you could see he had developed his ability to place wires and cams and was keen to push on. by the end summer Chris had ticked many Pembroke classics and fallen of quite a few E4’s and 5’s after some great battles, I have to add that along side all of this I felt a renewed interest in climbing and enjoying the adventure that trad climbing can bring, although this all came crashing down to earth.
After a fun weekend trad climbing, which included drinking to much Rum and shaving Chris’s hair into a Mohican I had a days work on Gower taking some young climbers sport climbing. This would culminate with a photoshoot for a new guide book. Chris tagged along keen to try some hard sport routes and was kind enough to place some draws in the route I wished to photograph. After a summer of assessing danger and making sound judgments maybe we both relaxed at this established venue with Chris climbing the classic 7a. Whilst we all relaxed, me preparing flashes and camera equipment and the young girl who was to be the climber in shot warmed up at the base of the crag Chris casual climbed the route he and many of us have done plenty of times in the past. Only this time as I looked up I witnessed Chris tumbling away from the cliff with a Fridge sized piece of rock following him, what happened next was a complete lottery.
Chris was saved when the rope pulled tight after around 20ft and pulled him away form the falling debris (due to the diagonal nature of the climb) just before disaster struck, I believe he undoubtedly would have been seriously injured if not killed had this not happened. Also due to our position on the floor we were saved from the shrapnel of shattering rock as it impacted on a rock ledge to our side, but on another day things could have been very very different. It was a timely reminder of what could be if you start to take you eye and mind of the what if’s.
On a more positive note My van broke down for the last time! We’ll at least the last time that I’m going to deal with it! After cursing for what feels like the millionth time and the final trip on a flat bed pick up truck a rush of blood to the head and a visit to the bank ensued. With a loan sorted I purchased a newish van witch hopefully will not let me down any time soon. This led to the fun part, converting a panel van into my new camper.
Fortunately with help form a few friends, Ben West, Gav symond and Carl Powell, pimping out my new ride was a swift effortless procedure. I have to say its been amazing upgrading to a van with a high top roof and a longer wheel base, this has given me room to build a permanent double bed as well as ample living space and with Gav and Ben’s help install some solar power to run all my electrical needs.
This has led to the final story from the summer which was our now annual surf trip, this time destination France. The Trip was fantastic and great test for the new van, after sailing to Brittany and surfing around the Finisterre region for a few days we reminisced of a similar trip myself and Rhod made some 17yrs previous before heading south. We surfed different beaches along the way and explored the coast line, I have to say I was outstanded by how beautiful and varied this part of France is and more so how quite! It may have been just out of season but it felt deserted leaving us to surf to our hearts content!
Île d’Oléron was our most southernly point and was like a secluded paradise with amazing sunsets and star filled nights as well as great surf. Along the journey back we found more and more idilic surf spots and even some incredible granite Bouldering, I already want to return!
until then here are some pics form a great 2 weeks.
So it feels like I can’t catch my breath this month, with so much going on as the weather finally turns to summer. Bouldering and climbing have taken centre stage with a few of us exploring some less frequented spots.
Liam Fyfe holding the swing whilst Bouldering in the Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire.
The Presell Hills are made up over a stunning ridge line on the north Pembrokeshire coast and have a long history of bouldering. For my part I used to climb here when I was working as a coasteering guide in the area some 15years ago but had long since forgotten how magical place it was. The hills are famous for being the are that the great stones that make up stone henge are from, this is still finale mind boggling as it is logistically and physically unfathomable how it was done.
Bouldering at Mynydd Dinas
The climbing is situated along a series of Tors similar to dartmoor in look but with a much friendly to climb feel. the rock it self is known as Preseli Spotted Dolerite but is often referred to as Bluestone, in fact a number of local attractions and a beer share its name. The ridge line offers incredible views across Cardigan bay and is relatively quite being in such a remote area. But for South Wales the bouldering is fantastic, for once being on aesthetic blocs instead of the bottom of the crag stuff we find so much in the region. Also the quality of the rock is very high with almost no loose rock and very little cleaning required.
Rho climbing at Mynydd Dinas on possibly a new font 7a ‘The Mauler’
Very little of the area has been mapped out form a guide point of view although it undoubtedly has been climbed upon in parts, with the most well known area of Mynydd Dinas featuring in ‘Boulder Britain’ guide some years back.due to this the are has a great feel of adventure and unknown as each of the hills may hold the next great line. This has been one of the best thing about moving to Pembroke, not knowing what is around the next corner and being surprised each and every trip out.
Rock climbing in the Preseli hills, Pembroke
Whilst staying on the bouldering front we also scoped out Newgale which had some stuff of interest including a fun little font 7a and probably a bit more next time we make a visit but unfortunately the main bloc that is featured in the guide has been lost to a land slide. The caves towards the north end of the beach also held some interest and maybe more so later in the summer when they will have dried out more.
Newgale has been a surprise for me, as I have spent quite a bit of time here over winter and spring. Having previously discarded the beach for surfing and climbing I have since found that although not amazing for either it is certainly worth more attention and I’m sure it will yield more results on the bouldering front.
Pembroke bouldering at Newgale
Moving on to stuff a bit higher and its a similar story with two trips to two venues I had previously visited many years ago. The first being Telpyn, which I can see becoming a bit of an evening favourite as its super quick for us to visit and the dogs love running around on the beach. The cliffs are pretty much vertical in the main and offer some fantastic routes mostly in the mid 6’s through and up to mid 7’s. It is far better than I had remembered and as there is quite a bit still for me to do whitch should provide some fun over the summer.
Climbing at Telpyn, nr Amroth.
Pendine on the other hand is firkin sweet! I had checked this out prior to the development here but then moved away from the area. Roy, Goi and possibly a few others have spent some years developing an amazing climbing area which reminded me of Whitches point nr Ogmore.
So Much work has been done that I felt like a kid in the sweet shop wandering around deciding what line to pic. Unfortunately and fortunately it would turn out my visit had conceded with possibly the hottest day of the year, and my climbing suffered as it felt like I was simply melting of routes. But it was great fun with one of the 6c’s rating amongst the best I have climbed in South Wales. On the plus side swimming on Mortha beach was a great way to cool down and the beach felt like a great place to hang out while waiting for your tidal window so I will be back here plenty over the coming months.
Just got a copy of Climber magazine and seen my photo of Gaz Parry climbing in Kalymnos on the world classic DNA. I love this shot, its such a simple shot to take in many ways as you don’t need any rope work shenanigan’s but it isn’t easy to blend the amazingly bright sky and dark cave. Especially when shooting in the middle of the day. but with a soft gradual ND filter this one came out sweet!
Climber magazine June 2016
Here is the original which is essentially straight of the camera!
So its been a mad few weeks as ever and this time the big news is Europe! I am referring to our recent trip to Austria for the Youth colours event held in Imst, not the referendum that managed to divide a nation.
Future stars! Harry and Oscar competing in Imst
Our European adventure was a great one, with 4 youngsters competing at the Colours event and Emily was competing the previous week for Team GB in the Euro’s! Unfortunately we could not make it out to watch Emily compete as we had prior arrangements but as we have come to expect she did fantastically. Emily has had a few years of success on the British level but the standard of competition in Europe was slightly more unknown. Such is Emily’s focus and drive is such that she will not set her goals anywhere below the top, so obviously her target was to reach the finals. Having seen Emily compete for some time now I was confident she would put in a great performance, climbing well and giving a good account of her skills, but reaching the final in her first international competition was an incredible achievement. Emily is an amazing athlete who has been a joy to work with and it is incredible to watch someone so driven go about achieving her goals. She has since gone on to repeat this result a few weeks later in the Bouldering cup. I would write a report on how brilliant she was but the National climbing press have already picked up on it so check out the links below.
Back to the Colours event where Emily competed last year. Her brother, Oscar along with Gwen, Harry and Anya put in some brilliant performances during the qualification round with Oscar topping all of his routes. It was quite humbling to see how far they have progressed from the previous season with Gwen and Oscar putting on a masterclass, both reached the final and both narrowly missed out on the podium. With still one more season before they can be selected for the GB team they are certainly moving in the right direction to follow Emily along their chosen path.
Gwen Climbing in the Final
Although these trips are aimed towards the competition we certainly have a lot of fun along the way. And this year Harry and his Dad drove out in their van via Font and Chamonix giving Harry an incredible adventure across the alps which he is unlikely to ever forget.
Harry enjoying the Bungie Trampolines
Back home in Wales we have been exploring some more of our surroundings and it turns out the bouldering is pretty good! The hills found in the North of Pembrokeshire are home to some amazing rock in a beautiful setting. So hopefully over the summer we can take full advantage of having a great explore of the wild side of Pembroke and find some more gems.
Rock climbing in the Preseli hills, Pembroke
Having also been back on Gower and Dinas climbing whilst running some BMC outdoor days means it’s been a fun few weeks. There always seems to be some development going on with climbing in South Wales and currently it will be the emergence of a new guide book. This time it will be RockFax and they have produced a wonderful guide to the sport climbing on offer in our region. Just need a bit of surf and its been a great start to the summer!
Spring has been glorious in Wales and we have been making the most of it but whilst writing this blog I find myself in Austria. We are here with 4 young climbers who are about to take part in one of Europe’s largest climbing competitions! There has been so much going on since the YCS Final that the 5 or 6 weeks since have flown by, it was only when I look back through some pictures that I realised how much we have all been up to.
Rock climbing on Gower
Getting the youngsters outside has been a major priority of my coaching for the last ten years and this year is off to a great start. Already many have had their first taste of rock and the old guard are putting in some serious displays for early season. Cai and Rich both managed a quick ascent of Palace of Swords F8a, a route that used to hold some curse over the local climbing community but suddenly seems to becoming a good first 8a. But it is Ashleigh who has stolen the lime light with a font 8b boulder and a french 8b route. The boulder I don’t care about, its not a stella line on an amazing boulder but it is an impressive piece of climbing. I would say the same about the route, but this one is special to me. Surplomb de Ray was one of my most notable first ascents and represents my hardest piece of climbing to date. It had sat unrepeated and barely tried for some 6 years, but that all changed this weekend when one of my first students came back to his family home for the weekend and showed what font 8b strength can do on a route. Admittedly Ash has played on the route a few times each summer for the past 6 years but he has never invested the time I had to, you could say the student shows his old master who is boss!
edit: I have just noticed he has suggested low 8b+ for Surplomb which has made my evening!
Harry enjoying an early season trip to the beach
Whilst on the nostalgic memory lane trip another coincidence happened this month in that a good friend climbed one of my favorite routes in Pembroke. Ghost Train is an incredible line found in the depths of Stennis Ford and has a mighty reputation. Many years back I took on this challenge and it left it’s mark etched in my memory. After 40ft of tricky but not so difficult climbing you find yourself at a cross roads, a place were you have to make up your mind, up or down. As the route is Traditional (no bolts), climbers are forced to safeguard themselves via metal wedges in cracks but this route offers none from the crossroads at 40ft all the way until you are very close to the point were falling means hitting the floor from a very undesirable height.
Richard had mentioned his desire to attempt this route a few times over the winter so once we found ourselves by the ford on a nice warm spring evening it was Richard’s turn to face the Ghosts! For me it was odd as I had offered to take some pictures, something I do a lot, but then once he started climbing I realised that normally I’m photographing a sport climb where falling is no problem. Here I was watching all the emotion of hard climbing coupled with the risk of serious injury if the climbers’ concentration bubble were to burst.
Richard dealt with the climb in fine style and it was great to re-live the Ghost train once again, although this time through someone else’s efforts. I just hope he likes the pics!
All aboard the Ghost Train
I got more of my tattoo done with Andy at Hidden Jewel Tattoo in Carmarthen. Yes he’s a buddy but I would thoroughly recommend him and his team, they have a great set up and are fantastic at what they do. It has taken a while as we have been waiting for a period of time where I would not be surfing as it will need to stay dry for a bit. So once I noticed the forecast had no surf for the foreseeable future it was time to let Andy work his magic. Once it has healed up i’ll take some cool pics and post them up.
Andy at work (pic was taken by Liz)
My parents have been down again travelling around Pembroke exploring more beaches and towns. The last year has been fantastic as they have been across quite a bit and its always fun showing them were we play and the silliness we get up to. This was possibly their first trip where the weather was fantastic, it seems to have rained each time they have visited in the past.
The only disappointment came on our last day when I was hoping to show Mum the Milky Way. We have some great dark sky and its clearly visible on nights with little moon, unfortunately the clouds decided we should wait for another time. But every cloud has a silver lining, Dad and I started messing around with the camera whilst waiting to see if they would clear the result being this cool shot of Dad being a wizard!
Well here I am…. sitting in another climbing wall cafe… at another climbing wall… after another days coaching, today I’m working with what will hopefully become the next generation of coaches in the UK. But like so many days over the winter there is no time to reminisce as its time to move on, this time to Scotland for the YCS final at Ratho!
Focus, Determination, Desire, all ingredients on display at this years final.
This is what winter has felt like, the warm shores of Portugal seem so long ago. Replaced by working my butt of day after day and week after week, trying to save up some cash for once in my life. It turns out it is not easy nor is it much fun! Fortunately I love my work and could not imagine how I would cope if this were not the case. So far this Winter I have managed to cope pretty well but I am starting to feel a little run down from lack of rest days. All was good but just as I feel I’m about to crest the hill and start feeling the benefits of work (enjoying the adventures cash can provide) something else slaps me in back pocket. Typically that would be my beloved van! we are currently at around £5000 on repairs over the 2 years I have owned it and its driving me bonkers, but with out wheels I would be pretty stuck.
Since last autumn we have moved out into the Wild West and life has been fantastic, simply not knowing what is around every corner has re inspired me to try more varied stuff and surfing new beaches and breaks has been fantastic plus christmas was rich in waves.
With Storm after storm battering the west coast of the uk many stayed indoors but this gave us an excuse to explore the rarely firing north coast and we scored some fun days. Even the local sheltered spots came alive, producing fun but punishing shore breaks that certainly required a bit of getting used to after life on the gentle rolling waves of Rhossili.
Tufa my Husky and best buddy was having a ball with life in Pembroke exploring new walks and playing on new beaches but unfortunately shortly after xmas she managed to tear both her ACL’s in her rear legs. This resulted in a horrible few months of surgery and seeing tufa essentially becoming restricted to life on the sofa. Fortunately surgery seems to have saved the day and she is walking well again with the occasional trot. As I right this she is belly up asleep next to me and seems happy as a pig in ……
Tufa chillin on the beach, but maybe her shadow is giving away a secret….. Batdog!
The local area is stunning and dog walking is a great way to explore there neighbourhood. We live close to the coast but as with most of Wales every nook and cranny is stunning packing so much variety into a relatively small place. Im hoping that i can take some time off this summer to take advantage of all this for some Photography, As lately that has suffered with a lack of time, with most of the opportunities coming whilst walking Tufa. Of course another major benefit to life out west is the opportunity to reopen my Pembroke Trad climbing account. Since moving to the Swansea area what feels like many years ago sport climbing has been the dominant goal but recently I have felt the need for a little more adventure and Trad climbing could be just the ticket so as I’m living so close to some of the country best sea cliff climbing I can settle some old scores.
Winter walks with Tufa
A quick stop in the Lakes
First attempt with 10stop filter
So mum and dad got me a cool 10 stop filter for xmas giving me the opportunity to try some long exposure shots in the day time. I Enjoy messing with new bits of kit and trying to be creative whilst experimenting. I’m going to be honest, so far to no real success. I have taken quite a few cool pics but it is slightly harder than i imagined. Having to imagine the scene as opposing to seeing it causes some issues also so far i have been taking pics on the go (as in I have not been out to take pics I just have the kit around so I’m often rushing)
Mum and Dad chilling with the puppies
so any way, winter has been a busy time traveling all over the UK from Northumberland to Poole and back again. hopefully know the weather starts warming up I can finally start reaping the rewards of a long winter. Anyway back to work and hopefully a great result at this years UK final for the young climbers I have the privilege to work with.
Funky lighting from the 1st round of this years YCS
It has been quite some time since I last wrote a blog post. I guess in part as the Summer seemed to last for ever this year, Although that has finally come to an abrupt end! just before it did i received a copy of the new Kalymnos guide which features a few pics of mine. These two photos stand out for me as they feature parents of young climbers I took on a coaching holiday to the amazing island. But whilst there obviously they took part and got involved, it became a running joke in the morning about which venue the hard rock team (the youngsters) would go to, and were the soft rock team (the dads) would go. Who is laughing now…
Giles high above the deep blue Agean
Rick ‘if its worth winning, its worth loosing’ Frugniet
Also on the photo front Climber magazine printed some of my pics from the DWS comp and run an article I had written about a classic 7a at Dinas rock, this is to be part of a series highlighting some of the unsung classics around the UK.
Climber Magazine article
So what have I been up to? Well as I flick back through my photos from this year it appears that I have been out and about quite a lot. Work has kept me on my toes with the kids progressing nicely, I really believe something special is brewing with our academy and soon we shall start to see the rewards of all of the hard work!
Garage training wall
Liz messing with Sam’s skid master 2000 whilst I build his new training wall
Been out building a few more home training facilities for kids. This is something I love doing as I remember how exciting it was when my dad built me a training wall in my garden at their age. It made a huge difference, giving me the opportunity to play and train every day. Some one else I have built a wall for is Emily who is doing amazing well on the comp circuit and has been featured in the months Summit Magazine (a BMC publication). I felt quit quite teary eyed when I read that have helped to inspire her, especially as she is probably the most inspiring young climber I have met!
Emily Phillips in Summit Magazine.
Team training with all the youngsters has been fantastic with all of them giving their max. Our results at the Welsh championships prove that it was all worth while, with so many of the team reaching the finals and taking home the honours! This should lay down a marker of what can be achieved and everyone is onboard to take this into the new year and this seasons YCS!
Sam with his gold medal
I have also been route setting quite a lot which is amazingly fun, although physically taxing. In some form or another I have probably be doing this around 20 years, but I still get a kick out of being creative and trying to improve what I am doing. But the main reason my summer has carried on so long is due to a late summer euro trip to Portugal. We had planned this trip for some time and would be going with Rhod, Charlotte, Andy and Lucie. This was to be our first legit surf trip since me and Rhod went to Brittany back when, well when we were quite a bit younger.
Surf Snowdonia with its mountain backdrop
As prep for this trip me and Andy took a trip to Surf Snowdonia, the first artificial wave of its type in the UK and pretty much the world! The summer had offered little swell so suddenly having this option available seemed a god send at the time, hopefully it would knock the rust of my technique before we left for foreign shores.
Surf Snowdonia fun (photo by Liz Collyer).
Its a pretty fantastic place and although I had a hard time adjusting to the wave, it is not quite the same as a wave at sea, it certainly got my psyche high and was fun to spend a weekend around north wales in the van.
Andy prepping for Portugal
Some shaky footage of some shaky surfing by me at Surf Snowdonia
Portugal it turns out is a stunning country and the area we traveled along the west coast, close to the Algarve, is relatively undeveloped and littered with amazing beaches and surf breaks. We were fortunate to be staying in a friends holiday home situated in Carrapateira which overlooked a great beach with some amazing surf.
Sunset at Carrapateira
The seafood is incredible in Portugal
Every day we were rewarded with beautiful lines!
Andy letting rip at spot X
Rhod enjoying some Portugal gems
Obviously whilst out and about we had to sample some of Portugal’s famous golf courses, but it turns out they are super posh and in our apres surf attire we would only be allowed on the driving range, still good fun mind.
Obviously my pitch and putt training was paying off.
Then liz then went and made the winning shot, wait for the end as her reaction is classic!
Since returning we have made a huge change. The Gower days are over and although it has been a blast I now live in deepest darkest Pembrokshire. It was about time to make a change and it has already thrown up a heap of new opportunities as we start exploring the coast at weekends. So far the wind and rain has stopped us looking for some of the mythical bouldering spots but the surf has been exciting with Rhod joining in the fun we have found the new waves re invigorating and the lack of crowds magical!
Just back from a great but long weekend in the South West, as it was The Quay’s, now annual DWS event. Having run, in my eyes, one of the most successful climbing competitions in recent memory last year I was super eager to get back and get involved once again. Unfortunately a year is a long time and many things have led to me not being anywhere near my best with my climbing, although things are looking up, and also being away during the online entry left me believing that I had missed out on the opportunity to take part.
Not to worry Emily and Crystal were competing and we decided it would be an amazing event to just hang out at regardless. One of my favourite parts of this festival is that you get to catch up with so many friends that you only see now and again so the decision to pack the van for a long weekend was a simple one.
Friday was to be the under 16 qualification round so Emily and Crystal would be in action, I simply had not read the timetable so after an early morning wake up and a quick stroll around to the canal, the realisation that this would not be happening till late afternoon left me at a loose end for the day. No dramas as Ben West and the Bloc fest Team, Gaz Parry, Gav Symonds and Mike Langley were putting the final touches to their qualifying routes and without a second passing they were giving me some banter about my crap excuses for not entering. Having not entered I had in the last week been at Andy’s tattoo shop, getting a new tattoo. This was not fully healed so when the news of a spare spot was given to me I was left wondering if a bit of cling film and gaffa tape might be enough to protect me from the murky canal.
Once Paul Russell arrived on the scene, looking surprisingly calm considering the scale of the event that was about to unfold under his stewardship, a new plan was hatched. Last year I had been super keen to take some pictures from the top of the floating barge that the climbing wall is built upon, but there was already a team of Photographers present and not wanting to press the issue the opportunity was missed. Chatting with Paul and Alison revealed that this year no photographers were present and I could have the gig!
Fortunately I had packed all of my kit to get some shots of the Emily and Crystal so I was made up that I would be able to get involved and take the shots I had wanted to the previous year. Suddenly though it had gone from taking a few shots of the team to potentially photographing the event, which is something I would love to get more involved with as shooting from the crowd rarely offers the best angles and opportunities to capture the feeling of what is going on.
Qualification looked quite simple for the two girls so I could leave them to it whilst I concentrated on getting some shots, to work out where best positions would be. The event itself is a breath of fresh air for British climbing competitions, being run to a strict and efficent timetable. This means the action is thick and fast with climbers attempting Three routes of increasing difficulty. Between each a climb a short rest allows time to dry shoes, find some more chalk or simply prepare for the next route. With this format once the first few competitors were finished the wall would very quickly be full. Three competitors would now be climbing simultaneously on each of the routes, meaning action was everywhere with splash downs almost on the minute and some funky setting it was hard to know where to point the camera.
By the end of play on Friday it was clear that leaning over the wall was not as easy as I had hoped due to a slight kick in the final section meaning getting the obvious wide shot would require abseiling over the edge and there was simply no room amongst the competitors, also I would have to leave my trusty flash guns packed as no one wants that in their face whilst trying to battle the 7m routes to reach the next rounds.
Both girls qualified for finals day on Sunday which left Saturday for the adults and many familiar faces would be having a bash, including the DWS king himself Neil Gresham. Personally I believe the fact that this event can attract the likes of Neil into the unfamiliarity of the competition environment is a testament to the quality of the event and to Neil’s love of the sport. Along side Neil there was a packed wads list of climbers from all over the UK keen to have a piece of the action, as well as many climbers simply out for a good time. Watching the event through a lens was an interesting experience giving me much more of an insight in to how hard these guys and girls are trying and although the gap between the strong and the not seems vast so much more seems to be in the desire to try hard till the end.
The setters rarely get the credit they deserve for events like this, but as with any event I have seen this team part of, it was pitched bang on. With the qualification phase allowing everyone to have great days climbing whilst still managing to trim the fat and produce the desired numbers for finals day. By the end of this day I had some great shots due to more favourable light than the friday, a bigger crowd and a more relaxed feeling. Now I felt that I was getting the shots I was hoping for, with some great comedy moments as well as the hard core action shots.
Sunday was to be Finals day with all the remaining competitors taking part in a semi final of the same format as the qualification round. From here the top 6 would go on to a final for which a new format had been devised. This year competitors would essentially race across a route of lesser difficulty, having to hit a bell to stop the clock. The fastest three would go on from here to a second lap, adding their two times together would give this years DWS champions. From a photography day I was at first a little upset that once again the day was overcast and actually looked like it may rain at any moment. The previous year had been blessed with some amazing light for the finals with the wall almost glowing, but it appeared this year that was not to be.
It was during the Women’s semi final that the rain finally started and once again the route setters had to step in. Building a temporary structure with a tarpaulin to keep the wall as dry as possible and allow the show to go on. After an hours pause play resumed, and my worry that we may have lost the crowds was short lived with hundreds of spectators crammed onto the quay side . As all the finalists were decided it became apparent that Emily, Crystal and Rhos were all through.
Shooting pics of the final was all rather hectic with climbers clocking times under 30seconds the new format was frantic. For the crowd this seemed to be a massive hit but for a photographer climbing around wet scaffolding it was not easy as every few minutes I would need to swap sides. The most anxious moment for me was definitely Emily’s final, as during qualifying she seems to have plenty left in the tank but with the new format it would not necessarily be the strongest that won it would now require focus and precision. Fortunately Emily has both of these skills in abundance and even after an amazing time was posted by her nearest rival she smashed the final and took the win. In doing so she almost smashed the lens of my camera as the bell was on a long string and she hit it with some real venom sending towards me as I peared around the scaffold taking photos.
The rest of the finals went well with Rhos finishing an amazing 2nd place behind Emma Twyford, Tom Frost took the under 16 male victory and a super strong performance from Matt Varela Christie was enough to be the open male champion in 2016.