The adventurous Chris Sharma on tough rock climbs and what life looks like on top of the world
Chris Sharma has a firm grip on life. He needs the tight handhold because he’s often dangling by just a few fingers, death or injury close by. Such is the life of the world’s best rock climber. At 26, the Santa Cruz native, who now spends more time away from his hometown than in it, is the type of daredevil that will scour the world, hunting for the most challenging climb that planet Earth can offer.
Recently, Sharma returned from a major quest and his travels have been documented in a film debuting in Santa Cruz on Friday, Sept. 7 at the Rio Theatre. The movie, King Lines: Chris Sharma’s Search for the Planet’s Greatest Climbs, is featured in the Reel Rock Film Tour, which hits various towns. It showcases a slew of films about rock climbing. Sharma will be in attendance at the local showing.
GT recently caught up with the young climber whose status and title haven’t gone to his head. When we spoke, Sharma had just returned from an overseas jaunt, where the film crew for Kings Lines was wrapping up shooting the film. Upon landing in the United States, Sharma settled his agile body into a car and was driving up to the Sierras to teach climbing at a children’s camp. With static flowing over the phone, and the wind of the Mohave Desert blowing in the background, the soft-spoken climber indulged us as we parlayed our good fortune at landing an interview with the hard-to-find young traveler.
If you’ve never met Sharma (which is likely) it’s a shame. He’s a lesson in what celebrity should look like. While he may not claim the same type of fame as Paris Hilton (thank God), nevertheless, in the world of extreme sports, he’s revered as a near deity.
I remember once accompanying my former colleague, Bruce Willey, to Pacific Edge Climbing Gym in Santa Cruz, to scale the indoor climbing walls. I was pathetic. And as I crouched in fear at the bottom of a climb, I heard a buzz around me, whispers … “Chris Sharma’s here today.” I turned and saw the same Sharma that I had interviewed years ago at the Santa Cruz Roasting Company. Back then, he was the star of another climbing movie, but he seemed a little shy discussing it. Instead, he was more apt to offer me a bite of his bagel and talk quietly and humbly about his accomplishments.
Since then, his achievements have continued to skyrocket, but Sharma’s humility has remained intact. So have his adventures above the terra firma.
On the jaunt around the planet, while shooting Kings Lines, Sharma sought the most difficult, hard-as-nails climb that he could find. It looks like he may have achieved that: a gnarly destination in Mallorca, Spain. “It was a really hard climb,” Sharma says. ”It was over the water, without ropes. With ropes, you can pause and rest and figure out a way to go.”
Without ropes, you can fall—50 feet into the ocean. “It can be scary,” Sharma says. “You have to fall well. If you fall on your back, it can be bad.” Trust him, he knows. Sharma took the fall numerous times in his attempt to conquer the climb, which he named Es Pontas.
Besides the gargantuan obstacle of conquering Es Pontas, Sharma ventured into countries like Greece and France, over the course of a year-and-a-half. “We were trying to find routes that were not only hard, but beautiful,” Sharma says. “And spectacular and aesthetic.”
His team also visited Venezuela. There in that South American country, Sharma and his film crew had a close shave with danger—this time on the ground. “We had to take off in these little airplanes to fly to the jungle to climb,” he says. “There are these big mesas out there in the jungle, with big cliffs of sandstone. We climbed in [the airplane] and we were overloaded. We were in this little village that was a six-day walk from anything, and we were overweight (too heavy for the plane to fly). The airplane wasn’t lifting up and … it crashed.” Thankfully, everyone, including our master climber, was OK. An airplane crash and a torn anterior cruciate ligament are about the only misadventures that this extreme sports guru can claim.
And while his career of choice offers plenty of danger, there’s a significant element of meditation that occurs when he’s up on a rock. “When you’re climbing you have to be very, very focused,” Sharma says. “It puts you in that spot of not thinking about anything else.”
Having that ability to discover meditation while in a perilous situation is surely an influence of Sharma’s earlier years, growing up with Buddhist teachings; he also attended Mt. Madonna School, known for its alternative and spiritual look at education. With said meditation, accompanied by a firm grip on life (and craggy surfaces), it seems that Sharma has found the idyllic spot between a rock and a hard place.
Chris Sharma stars in the film King Lines: Chris Sharma’s Search for the Planet’s Greatest Climbs, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 423-8209. The film is part of the Reel Rock Film Tour. For more information about the tour, visit reelrocktour.com. Tickets to King Lines are $10 and can be purchased at Pacific Edge Climbing Gym, 104 Bronson St., Santa Cruz, 454-9254.