Beware the Filthy Hippies

Beware the Filthy Hippies

“Hmm, acro-yoga… I first saw that in the US when I was there in 2014, and I thought it was stupid.”

-Andy Court, acro-yoga enthusiast

We’ve all seen them in the campsites. Barefoot, probably wearing stupid pants, armed with slacklines, yoga mats and at least one ukulele and/or didgeridoo.

The hippies. 

During my time in the Cape Town climbing community, I have encountered many of these strange creatures. In fact, the more climbers I meet, the more people I find that partake in some form of flow/balance/cirque art.

Flow Arts – “a variety of movement-based disciplines including dance, juggling, fire-spinning, and object manipulation”

Movement/Balance Arts – includes movement and balance based activities such as slacklining, highlining and acro-yoga (acro-yoga stands for acrobatic yoga, and involves two or more partners working together to perform specific moves)

Cirque Arts – acts used in contemporary circus such as juggling, unicycling, trapeze, and ariel acrobatics (including the use of ariel silks and lyra hoops)

It’s almost impossible to be a rock climber and not be roped in to trying at least one (but probably more) of these weird and wonderful activities. It can, however, be hard to take them seriously. So, what is it that draws rock climbers to these “hippie” art forms?

The obvious place to start was to talk to Andy Court, resident Cape Town climber and coffee enthusiast. You may recognise him by his duct-taped North Face down jacket, mismatched socks, and majestic dreads.

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Andy demonstrating his multi-tasking skills (Photo Credit: Emily Wedepohl)

I met Andy through the UCT Mountain and Ski Club, in which he runs the climbing portfolio. Besides being a crazy strong climber and one of South Africa’s best highliners, he is an expert in all things ridiculous. Past exploits include drunk acro-yoga at the Montagu Rock Rally party, eating a sandwich on the waterline over the De Bos campsite swimming pool, and rigging a massive rope swing on a shipwreck

I can’t begin to understand the strange inner workings of Andy’s mind, but I’m going to try.

It seems that what drives Andy is connections; connecting to nature, his own body, and other people.

Despite thinking that acro-yoga was outrageously stupid the first time he saw it, he is now a regular acro-yogi, and has introduced many climbers to the sport. I chatted with him about what makes it so special, and we both agree that it’s really, really fun. But more than that, he says, “It’s also a nice connection with someone. It’s kind of like dancing… making your two bodies move in a certain way.”

Andy is certainly not alone in this thinking. Kahla “the adorable dirty child” Hackner, gave a near-identical answer when I asked her about her new-found passion for acro-yoga (a passion that has only developed recently, since meeting Andy). Kahla has been doing gymnastics since she was an actual adorable dirty child, and draws a common thread between gymnastics, climbing and acro-yoga.

“Acro-yoga is incredible because it’s everything I love about gymnastics… but you’re doing it with another person.”

 

Andy and Kahla having an acro-yoga session at the Rocklands Highline Meeting (Photo credit: David Whitaker)

Kahla also points out the wonderful sense of community that is present among climbers and acro-yogis alike.

“The acro-yoga community, I find, is so chilled and free-spirited, and down to earth. And you learn from each other, and you want to help each other, and that’s how I find rock climbing because it’s like team work, even though you’re solo. Everyone helps out, gives you beta, and you work together to solve problems.”

This sense of community is put into practice in Park Play Sessions, “a monthly gathering of the Balance / Flow / Cirque / Movement communities held at Keurboom Park, Claremont, Cape Town”. These “Sessions” bring people together, not only to enjoy testing their skills, but to share knowledge and learn from each other.

I can say from personal experience that the best way to learn how to do acro-yoga, slackline, or even climb for that matter, is just to ask. Everyone has to start somewhere, and no one is going to mind showing you the ropes!

(In case you really don’t want to look like a total noob, here’s a handy little how-to guide to get you started on the slackline!)

 

 

Park Play Sessions are run by Donna Kisogloo, who started out in juggling, then moved to unicycling, and continued on to dabble in a variety of different art forms. Donna has a passion for flow and movement arts, and hopes to share this passion through the Park Play Sessions.

It’s hard to talk about these activities without sounding like an obnoxious hippie, but there really are some great things to say about the balance/movement/flow/cirque arts, especially in relation to climbing.

The most obvious connection is the physical demands that these sports place on your body. You need intense focus, precise technique, and a certain level of strength. You need to be completely aware of what your body is doing and how your muscles are working together to enable you to walk a line, power through a climb, or perform an acro-yoga move.

Following on this, you need to get your mind right. When Andy was explaining the experience of walking on a highline, he told me, “It’s all a mental thing, you’ve got to get in your mind that you can walk a highline before you can do it.” I think this definitely applies to any sort of physical challenge, particularly climbing. If you start out with the mindset that you’re going to fail, you probably will.

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Andy flawlessly walking the line at the Rocklands Highline Meeting (Photo credit: Emily Wedepohl)

But it seems like further than the physical and mental aspects of these pursuits, what it all really comes down to is the experience of connecting with something or someone. You need to feel connected with your body in order to perform the movements and push through when it feels like you can’t. You need to feel connected to your surroundings, whether that means attuning yourself to the rock you’re climbing, or the wind swirling around you as you walk a highline. And, most importantly, you need to connect to the people around you.

Work with your acro-yoga partner, trust that they’re going to support you. Listen to the people that are cheering you on as you walk a line (whether slack or high). Believe that your spotters will protect you when you’re bouldering, and that your belayer is keeping you safe on a climb.

It all comes down to trust, support and connection.

So, the next time you spy a group of these strange hippie folk, try taking a leaf out of their book.

And get yourself a pair of ridiculous pants.

 

Featured Image: Emily Wedepohl

James Barnes: the extraordinary ordinary man

James Barnes: the extraordinary ordinary man

As I type this, I’m sitting in the coffee shop of City ROCK Cape Town in Observatory. The staff are buzzing around the front desk and the gear shop, and the route-setters are working their magic on the walls. It was just a few days ago that I was sitting outside in the small backyard (read: grip storage area) interviewing James Barnes. It was far quieter, as we had arranged to meet up at 13:00, when the route-setters aren’t allowed to drill for fear of disturbing the afternoon yoga class.

If you have been to City ROCK recently, you may have noticed a pair of blue eyes and a mop of dark, curly hair running around the gym and up the walls.

That would be James.

At first glance, he appears to be your usual happy-go-lucky guy. You would never guess that he is one of South Africa’s strongest climbers (although he would deny it if you addressed him as such, the statistics  don’t lie).

James recently moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg to take the position as head route-setter at City ROCK Cape Town. This is in preparation for the move from their current location in Observatory to a massive new gym in Paarden Eiland. I’m lucky enough to know him from my time living in Joburg, and this is the first time I’m seeing him since his move to the Cape. When I arrive at the gym, we spend a few minutes catching up before he suggests moving outside so we can get the interview going.

I had originally intended to chat to James primarily about competition climbing. I wanted to ask him about his first place at Rock Masters in December, what drives him, how he trains, what his competitive goals were. But the conversation takes a different turn.

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James tackling the Rock masters qualifying route. (Photo credit: Carlo Antonelli)

When I mention his competitive performance, he tells me, “I’m actually kind of falling away from competitive climbing, and I want to actually focus mainly on just climbing outside.”

Well, there goes my plan.

But this also gives me a chance to really chat to him about a far more complex and interesting topic: his outdoor performance.

There are many climbers I know that have hit their plateau and are pretty happy to continue climbing fairly low grades. I also know many climbers that are working to get stronger and climb harder. I know only a handful that are throwing themselves into climbing with everything they’ve got. James Barnes is one of these people. And I want to know why.

He is climbing grade 32 on rock, and projecting grade 34. He has claimed the first South African ascent of Spirit Bird (32) in the Free State, along with sending numerous other classic lines across South Africa. He is currently working Hey Jupiter (34) at the Underside in Cape Town, along with fellow City ROCK route-setter and all-around incredible climber, Chevaan Patience.

This absolutely astounds me. The amount of determination and passion necessary to be climbing these sorts of grades is incredible. I ask James what draws him towards these particular climbs.

About Hey Jupiter he says, “The last person to do it was Steve Bradshaw, who opened it in 2009, and it hasn’t seen a second ascent and that’s why it kind of appeals to me.”

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Steve Bradshaw on Hey Jupiter (Photo credit: ClimbZA)

I assume that this, his attraction to routes that haven’t been repeated, is his competitive side showing. So, I ask him about it, and it turns out to be slightly more complex than that.

“I’ll look at routes that haven’t been repeated in a while and I’ll ask myself, ‘Why are people neglecting it?’”

 As I ask him more about this project, his sheer dedication and passion becomes clear. He knows the route like the back of his hand. Without even thinking about it he tells me, “The entire climb is probably about 12m, a total of 8 quickdraws including the chains. The first 4 draws are not that hard, but then you have maybe like a 7c+ boulder problem right at the end.”

The more we talk, it becomes obvious why James is performing so incredibly on rock; he is giving it everything he’s got.

He explains that, since moving to the Cape he is going out to the CBD boulders and Deadwood in Newlands Forest from 6pm to 10pm some nights. The day after the interview, he went out to Underside at the crack of dawn to tackle his project. This in addition to route setting, coaching, trail running and the occasional surf (he is originally from Kwazulu Natal, after all.)

Looking at his incredible achievements, one begins to wonder how seriously he takes his outdoor sessions. Does he approach his projects in the same way he approaches a competition?

In typical James fashion, he surprises me with how easy going his climbing mindset really is. When I ask him about his experience of climbing outdoors, he explains that “you’re literally out there, being in the mountains, finding your own way of dealing with what’s in front of you. And you can sit, take your time, brush the holds, choose your feet, figure out your own unique way of doing it. There’s never a right or wrong way, there’s just a way.”

As I listen to James speak, I can’t help but notice how easily I can relate to and understand exactly what he is saying. I had this idea that his mind works in a completely different way, and that this is what enables him to be such an incredible climber. But rather I find that his love for climbing and the outdoors mirrors my own.

I have often fallen into thinking that I will always be stuck as an average climber because I don’t operate in the same way as remarkable people like James Barnes. But I’ve come to realise that that’s simply not true. The only difference is that James is turning his passion into results.

And if he can do it, maybe so can I.

Feature Image: Emily Wedepohl