One example of this mentality sits in my mind the most. I had just learned to heel flip my skateboard. While moving fast along the street I could pop off a heel flip and land it most of the time. The next logical thing to do was to try to heel flip down a set of three stairs I enjoyed skating at. One afternoon, after watching a particularly exciting new skateboard movie part featuring Gershon Mosley, I headed to the stairs determined to heel flip down them. The first few, or twenty, attempts were weak. Skate up to the stairs fast, crouch, pop off and flip the board with my heel only to let the board fly hopelessly out of control as I did my best to avoid landing on it so I wouldn't slam. As I cycled through more attempts I noticed that each time I got more comfortable with the motion and the idea. Progress was being made and I started to commit to each attempt a little more. A couple more times and I was landing with one foot on the board, one off and then slamming. The slams hurt but not enough to overcome the satisfaction I was feeling knowing that any one of the next few attempts could be it--I could land the trick. All I had to do was commit and try real hard. I skated back up the sidewalk, spun around and starting pushing fast, rolling towards the stairs again. Commit 100 percent. I popped the heel flip, stayed above my board, watching it flip one complete rotation under my feet, waited for the right moment and stopped the flipping rotation with my feet just as the four wheels reconnected with the smooth sidewalk and my knees compressed to absorb the landing. And with that I had landed it.
It's no real wonder that later in life I gravitated towards rock climbing--an individual sport with numerous parallels to skateboarding. Sure, most climbers need a partner to belay them as they climb so it's not technically completely individual but when the climber is climbing, the action is individual. When I'm climbing I'm testing myself, physically and mentally, on the rock. Can I start at the base of the wall, find a route up the wall, moving from hold to hold, commit 100 percent and reach the top without falling off? The comparisons between rock climbing and skateboarding are many. Like my skateboarding, I'm not very good at climbing either. But I try. And as I did on my skateboard 20 years ago on those three stairs and that handrail, I can spend hours, even days, at the same rock wall on the same route trying, over and over, to pull off my trick--to climb from the base of the wall to its top without falling. Trying to climb a new, difficult route I fall many times over. Thankfully, a fall while being belayed rock climbing is so much less painful than a slam on a skateboard. The rope stretches, my belayer gets lifted off the ground and the terrain below me is steep so I often don't even hit the wall.
Climber Jenna Lupia on Meltdown. Photo by Lee Brinckerhoff.
Climbers have a term called "projecting". It's defined as the act of picking a climbing route that's particularly appealing to the climber and that is difficult enough that the climber cannot climb the route, the first time, without falling on the route. More often than not, a "project" is a route that is rated harder than any other route the climber has climbed before. The project is a challenge for the climber and something the climber will come back to for many hours, sometimes even days, to try to climb without falling, much like my afternoon spent trying to land the heel flip down three stairs for many hours straight. Last week I went into full-on projecting mode on a local route called Meltdown at the Dungeon. Rated 5.12c, it's harder than anything I'd ever climbed before. I had tried to climb it a couple times, every now and then, over the past two years but always felt it was too hard for me. But last week I spent an evening trying to climb it with my friend Hagen. Meltdown was hard for us both and we both fell on the route many times. But we were close. We'd fall twice on one attempt
and then only fall once on subsequent attempts. Each attempt was better than the previous attempt. We had found a new project. After each attempt we'd swap ideas and then added encouragement. We'd both send it next time for sure. Well, that next time resulted in one fall again. Every time, one fall. Then two nights later Hagen did it. It was awesome and encouraging to see that despite the route feeling nearly impossible the first few times, we could learn the route, climb it smarter and send it. It took me another night's attmepts before I really felt close to sending it. Five attempts in a row, ever two days, had each resulted in one fall on each attempt. Then, last Thursday night I made a change to my foot placements and that made the difference. I climbed up, thought about where my feet and hands needed to be and committed 100 percent. Falling didn't concern me. I didn't even think of it as an option. I grabbed the rock hard, pushed my toes onto the holds even harder, gritted my teeth and popped up. And with that I sent the hardest route I've ever sent. I had landed it.