Rock Stars of Portola (Quite Literally)

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Graphic by Tyler Kim

Although rock climbing continues to become increasingly mainstream, misconceptions about the sport itself continue. Climbing can often come off as being heavily strength-based, despite the fact that both juniors Rhea Sheth and Jacob Yun cite an athlete’s mentality as imperative to success. “You really have to be able to take one loss or fall and really maximize the amount of information you’re getting from it and being able to improve on that information the most you can,” Yun said. “Although it’s a lot of strength, a lot of it when it comes down to it is being the smarter climber and being able to adapt quicker than the other people.”

Igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. After fifth grade science, rocks just no longer rock. Unless you are among the few at Portola High who have dedicated their time and effort to mastering the skill of competitive rock climbing. 

The sport has recently gained public attention due to a string of high profile coverage, from Academy Award-winning documentary “Free Solo” to rock climbing’s admission as an Olympic event in the 2020 Tokyo games. Yet it also boasts a lively and amicable local community, according to junior Rhea Sheth.

“That is a community of climbers who climb for enjoyment and like camaraderie and just like working together to climb with each other, and they have a really close bond because they’re traveling together to go to these agile rock climbing places,” Sheth said. “So they form really close bonds, and they help other climbers out with just getting better and improving.”

While climbing at a different gym, Class Five climber and junior Jacob Yun had a similarly positive experience with the warm atmosphere.

“In general, the culture behind going to a climbing gym after school or anything can be really fun because you’re just hanging out with people on the pads talking and just climbing together,” Yun said. 

Rock climbing competitions generally comprise of one of three disciplines: speed, ropes or bouldering. While speed competitions are inherently judged on how fast competitors climb, ropes and bouldering competitions are differentiated by the height of the climb, according to Yun. 

“Honestly, if you find something that you are good at, you should do that more and focus more on that, rather than things that you don’t have a lot of enjoyment for”

— Rhea Sheth

“During those four minutes, you’re adapting and trying to find a way to go up,” Yun said. “It’s really important to have a strong mentality and be super consistent as a climber, which I’m not always the most consistent climber, so I like bouldering.”

Rock climbing is unique in that attending competitions is not strictly necessary to pursue a career in the field – as opposed to most other sports that rely heavily on the competitive aspect. With the presence of extensive outdoor climbs, as well as the opportunity to set records outside of competition, the climbing career force opens many doors for the prospective young adult climber.

“A lot of them are actually college students or kind of that younger age where it’s like they’re in their 20s still. So they’re all really nice and down to earth, and it’s just nice to meet those kinds of people,” Yun said. “But it is kind of weird, which is where these past five years, I don’t know if I’ve hung out with as many high school students as the average high schooler, because most of the people I hang out with are within my team.”

While rock climbing does skew heavily toward the high-school-aged and college-aged demographic, many rock climbers find themselves introduced to the sport at a very young age. In Sheth’s case, she joined the sport as a seven-year-old in Minnesota.

“At my daycare, they would take us to the rock climbing wall that they had, and so I did that for a little while when I was really young. And then we moved, so I didn’t do it for a long time,” Sheth said. “But then I had this friend in middle school, and she was a rock climber. And then she would tell me about how much she loved it. And then I was like, ‘I want to do that again.’”

Despite joining the rock climbing community through different paths, both Sheth and Yun said that their interest in the sport has never significantly eroded over time.

“Honestly, if you find something that you are good at, you should do that more and focus more on that, rather than things that you don’t have a lot of enjoyment for,” Sheth said.