Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Laughing along with your crew as you zoom through miles of wide-open spaces and not-so-familiar places. Adventure awaits around nearly every corner and unexpected turns often lead to the most thrilling memories.
This year, thanks to an abundance of rainfall, the state of California rolled out a carpet of wildflowers for climbing legend Chris Sharma’s homecoming. And while returning to his hometown of Santa Cruz is nothing new for him, this trip came with a deeper meaning. Sharma brought along Spain’s next up-and-coming climber, Pol Roca, to visit the same crags that helped groom a young Sharma during his early years and ultimately moulded him into the best climber in the world.
We caught up with Sharma’s dusty Toyota Tacoma, loaded with crash pads and sleeping bags, somewhere between Los Angeles and Santa Cruz to get the scoop about this one-of-a-kind return to glory.
What prompted this US road trip?
These days I’ve been spending a little more time in Spain. But I always come back regularly to see friends, sponsors and do a few events. On this trip, I had a three-week window between events, so I invited my friend Pol Roca, who is an up-and-coming climber from Spain, to show him my old stomping grounds and also expand his horizons a bit. I wanted to share special places with him that were important to me in my formative years as a climber.
What kind of route are you taking and what stops are you making?
We flew into San Francisco and drove down the coast to this local spot I’ve climbed for years at this place called Panther Beach. The next day, we drove up to Castle Rock and climbed there, then over to Tahoe and down to Bishop to climb at the Buttermilks, which was another super-important place to my evolution as a climber. I really started developing my vision of doing first ascents there and it’s one of the places that kinda started the bouldering revolution. Then we drove through Death Valley and checked out Red Rocks. From there, we went to Los Angeles and had a grand opening at Sender One, did an athlete summit at Prana in San Diego and now we’re headed back up the coast towards Santa Cruz. It’s been a cool trip, not to only visit important places, but also reconnect with important people who’ve influenced me. And it’s been cool to share that with Pol and help him grow as a climber and open his eyes to what’s out there.
What is it about these places that make them so meaningful to you?
Panther Beach and Castle Rock were some of my go-to spots from when I was growing up. They’re really where I got my start. I discovered Panther Beach while I was recovering from a knee injury. I’d ride my bike every day up the coast and go bouldering there. It’s a pure, simple spot and I’d boulder barefoot, traversing above the sand. At one point, I climbed there 45 days in a row. Looking back, it was a big setback to have that knee injury, but in a way, it took my climbing to another level.
Did you find any new lines at these spots or simply revisit familiar crags?
At Red Rocks, we actually did do a first ascent on a pretty famous boulder. But it was mostly revisiting old crags, although there are always new things you see differently when you come back. It’s cool because you can come to the same place 1,000 times and the place hasn’t changed at all. But you’ve changed and you see something you haven’t seen before and a new way to approach it.
What’s the chemistry like between you and Pol Roca?
He’s super-talented. He’s genetically gifted in a way, like so strong. At the same time, he’s inexperienced. He has a lot of potential to become an even greater climber than he is now. He kind of clobbers the rock. I keep telling him he needs to climb lighter because he crushes the holds. He’s way stronger than me, but I have a bit more experience and can finesse my way through things where as he’s super-thuggy. It’s been cool to pass on some of my wisdom.
How would you compare climbing in the US to climbing in Spain?
Everywhere you go in America is different. Climbing in Yosemite is different than Red Rocks, and it’s again different in Bishop. The rocks are different at every place. It’s interesting to see the state of climbing though. In Europe, the sport of climbing is much more developed because they’ve been doing it for generations. But nowadays we’re seeing a huge boom of climbing gyms in the US and that’s something that’s super-far behind in Europe. It’s cool to see how many urban people are getting involved in the sport over here.
So, where to from here?
San Luis Obispo, then Santa Cruz. If we get some good weather, we’re going to try and go climb in Yosemite. But then it’s back to Spain to my wife and baby.