A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, a few isolated individuals, from completely separate locations, did something that people thought a little crazy. Tearing off their shackles and throwing caution to the wind, they climbed free and solo above the ocean and a new style was born. In England they called it Deep Water Soloing, in Spain it was christened Psicobloc, but the name is almost irrelevant, it is the feeling that matters.
At first, most thought they were crazy and they were left to entertain themselves, but gradually, others began to see the true path and over time, the new way gained an ever growing, committed following. People became hooked by the feeling of complete freedom that was so often missing from other forms of climbing and devoted themselves to the rock and the sea.
Still, Psicobloc remained in the shadows whilst other styles took centre stage. Try as they might to convince others, the converted found it difficult to explain the magic of the sensation in words alone, for to truly know Psicobloc, you need to experience it for yourself. And this presented a problem...
For the magic to exist, certain elements must align with one another. The Sun, the Sea, and the Rock must all work in harmony, and if any one of them is lacking, the magic disappears. Without the magic, the feeling is very different and fear creeps steadily into your head. Perfect spots to practice Psicobloc are few and far between. Cold Seas, shallow water, unpleasant weather and painful rock are unfortunately common and are enough to scar any aspiring disciple’s body or mind. However, perfection does exist, and where the magic flows free you would be forgiven in calling it heaven.
My own initial experiences were not the greatest and I found myself approaching the rock with a trad climbing mentality of great caution and restrain. I struggled to believe the stories I heard about fearless freedom and pushed Psicobloc to the back of my thoughts, until one day I received an invitation asking if I would like to join them on a trip to Mallorca.
Red Bull were holding a Psicobloc festival between the 8th and the 14th of September and had invited six climbers from around the world to explore and develop the sport, whilst living on a luxury catamaran. Erm... hold on... I just need to check my diary... are you kidding, of course I will go. I accepted before I even thought it through but as the destination day drew ever nearer, I remembered my unfavourable past experiences and suddenly it didn’t seem like such a good idea. On top of that, I am not the best swimmer, and I am scared of jellyfish, so the thought of often rough, jellyfish infested water sent a chill to my bones. But now was not a time to be a mouse, for the path to enlightenment is often difficult under foot.
I arrived in Mallorca, feeling very tired from a festival I had been at, and was met by Alvaro Vitores from Red Bull. Alvaro is a fantastic guy, full of energy with a permanent smile on his face and he made me feel right at home from the very start. We arrived at the boat and I was introduced to the whole crew which included Athletes, Red Bull people, the production team and the Capitan. Everyone was super nice and I felt very welcome. I relaxed into my chair for a night of listening to beautiful Spanish sounds.
The athlete team included The North Face® Athletes Iker and Eneko Pou, the locals Neus Torrens and Miguel Riera and Psicobloc legend Tony Lamprecht,. All of them were inspirational for different reasons, but Miguel was the guru, one of the first. He was there from the beginning, a pioneer of the style and the one who gave Psicobloc its name. Way back in the 80’s, Miguel was climbing on these pristine cliffs, way above the ocean and has never looked back. Finally, in 2001, he invited a team of international superstars to this little island for something he hoped would be “worth the trip”. Everyone was blown away and Mallorca became Mecca for Psicobloc enthusiasts from around the world.
On the first climbing day, the seas were rough and the team had planned to go to Cova Del Diable, the islands crowning jewel. Unfortunately the air was incredibly humid and the rock was really wet. Miguel asked me to follow him on a reci of the crag and I obediently followed, hoping my nervous thoughts of 20 meter falls from greasy rock into choppy seas did not show. I have never felt slippier rock but we battled on and soon I found myself below the famous Afroman. I tried in vain to watch other people try and fail on the slimy moves but I could not see the holds around the corner. My turn came and I reluctantly set off, but as soon as I began to climb, fear disappeared and all I thought about was my battle with the grease.
Splash... It was as simple and as natural as that. Painless, stress less, perfect. My love affair with Psicobloc had begun.
After a couple of really humid days where conditions were poor the wind finally changed direction and we found ourselves at a slightly damp, but very climbable Diablo. I warmed up a little before joining a growing number of damp climbers on the dry bag ledge and began to prepare myself for today’s route of choice. Tony Lamprecht, Iker Pou and I decided to try our luck on Loskot and Two Smoking Barrels which was made famous in the climbing film Dosage 2 and features a huge all points off dyno, 15m above the crashing waves.
After watching Iker and Tony fall off, it was my turn to give the route a shot and I nervously traversed towards the start. I was unsure of how I would feel about hurling myself uncontrollably off the rock so far above the water but once I set off up the wall all nervousness disappeared and I launched for the twin pockets with all I had. My hand went in, but just as quickly ripped out and I squealed like a school girl as I headed towards the drink. Puta.
After drying off again on the ledge, it was time for round two. I set up for the jump, and could hardly believe how far away the pockets looked. It seemed really unlikely but I went for it anyway and a second later I was horizontal, holding the swing and letting out a whoop of joy. Screams erupted from above and below, “this is the life” I thought.
I felt happy and relaxed, but soon remembered there were still a few hard moves to go. Tony was screaming the beta at the top of his lungs and thanks to his instruction I made it to the last move. I tried to static a long reach to a two finger pocket that I should have slapped but my hand could only hover 5cm below the hold. With nothing more to give, the sea was calling; I picked up speed, splash.
That single moment of catching the jug was one of the best I can remember in climbing and epitomised all that Psicobloc is about. I didn’t try the route again. For some reason, getting to the top did not seem important and I wanted to keep that moment of contact special, at least until my next visit.
Days passed, just as they always do and my time in paradise slowly drew to an end. On the last day we climbed at Cala Barques which really is a perfect venue for trying or watching others try Psicobloc. This made it the obvious choice for the last day’s location and we were joined by many local and international climbers, creating a fabulous and friendly atmosphere. With everyone encouraging each other, and the boat playing great tunes, it was easy to give the routes everything you had, resulting in some inspirational ascents.
The sun set slowly over the horizon and it was time to party. The Red Bull crew are not known for doing things by halves and tonight was to be no different. It may have been the atmosphere, or it may have been the never ending supply of vodka red bulls, but the first time I looked at the time it was past 4am. We moved on to another venue which I thought was surprisingly good for a small town. The DJ’s played good tunes and mixed them well, what more can you ask for.
I woke up the next morning to a fuzzy world and forced myself to pack my bags. After eating lunch, I got chance to see the photos from the week, courtesy of Damiano Levati and they were amazing. I was blown away by some of the images and found myself feeling very sad that it had all come to an end.
I said my good byes to friends old and new and headed for the airport. My week in Mallorca was nothing but a pleasure and has introduced me to the wonders of Psicobloc which I can see playing a big part in my future climbing. I think the real joy of this style, is feeling completely free from the normal constraints that climbing can put on you. Everything that I love about climbing is magnified and intensified by Psicobloc making for an incredibly pure and special experience. Climb where you want, climb how you want. Enjoy. -James Pearson