Meet the climbers who solo above the sea

Deep water soloing – or psicobloc – is the purest form of climbing, say its devotees.
By Tarquin Cooper

You could be forgiven for not immediately connecting this with a form of climbing known as Psicobloc.

Also known as deep water soloing, the discipline involves climbing sea cliffs completely solo, without ropes or gear. The idea is that if you slip, you just fall in the sea. But there's more to it than that, say climbers like Chris Sharma and Eneko Pou. Below, we list the places and reasons that make the sport special.

1. The freedom
"For me it's absolutely the coolest way to go climbing," says Sharma. "Climbing without ropes is such an amazing feeling, but if you fall you die, so you have to climb below your limit. The beauty of this is that you can have that same freedom, and try things that are at your limit. The freedom you have with no ropes and at your limit – it's such a pure form of climbing."

Chris Sharma deep water solos in Mallorca
Chris Sharma sends it above Malllorca's surf © Corey Rich

2. You get to wear beach shorts
"It's also a water sport," says Sharma. "You're mixing mountain and surf culture. Climbers are traditionally in hiking boots and rain gear. We're in board shorts and flip flops. I grew up by the beach so it fits with who I am."

American climber Chris Sharma deep water climbing without ropes or support on the cliffs of the island of Mallorca, Spain
DWS is the purest way to climb, says Chris Sharma © Jimena Alarcón

3. Incredible locations
Deep water locations are always spectacular by the very fact that you're climbing above the ocean, often above crashing surf.  

"Sometimes the waves are going higher than the cliff. There's so much energy you can feel the cliffs vibrating. It's pretty exciting," adds Sharma.

There are epic sea cliff climbing locations in Thailand, Croatia, and England, but there's one place that trumps them all – the Spanish island of Mallorca, where the sport is known as psicobloc.

"It's the Mecca that everyone dreams of visiting," adds Chris. "Its the number one place – a beautiful island, really acceccssible and the rock is perfect."

Deep Water Soling climber James Pearson makes the second ascent of one of El Nido’s best Routes, Double Barrel, in the Philippines
James Pearson's second ascent of Double Barrel © Francisco Taranto Jr – FotoVertical

4. You can explore paradise 
Deep water soloing also offers potential to discover great new places, says James Pearson. The climber recently returned from a DWS trip to the Philippines with his wife Caroline Ciavaldini.

"We went on a hunch, hoping to find a few good DWS routes. What we discovered blew away any expectation. It's a paradise of turquoise sea and unclimbed islands, with perfect cliffs and the potential to become one of the best DWS destinations in the world!" he says.

James Pearson Deep Water Soloing climbing on Sangat Island in the Philippines
Hanging out in the Philippines © Francisco Taranto Jr – FotoVertical

5. Being skinny is not an advantage
"You need to be able to take some hits," adds Sharma. "It's part of the game. So being skinny is not an advantage – you're more likely to get hurt."

While the sport will never be risk free, it is possible to minimise them. Chris adds that's you can correct your body position mid-fall so you land feet first. But only if you're super comfortable in the situation. "If you're freaking out, that's when you don't do the right thing."

Injuries can include burst ear drums, bruising and broken bones – and one treatment you could probably prefer to avoid – enemas! "You also need to be a strong swimmer," Sharma adds.

Eneko Pou performs during Red Bull Psicobloc at Lago General Carrera in Coyhaique, Chile on December 14th, 2012
Eneko Pou in action above Chile's chilly waters © De Heeckeren / Red Bull Content Pool

6. Cold water adds to the experience (but doesn't make it better)
A few years ago the DWS contest Red Bull Psicobloc took place in the frigid waters of Patagonia. "The water was only six degrees," recalls Eneko Pou, pictured above. "We started in the boat wearing down jackets and beanies. The place was really, really cold. It was the hardest psicobloc!"

The cold also puts otherwise great DWS locations, such as the south-west coast of England off limits to all but the hardiest of climbers. "Warm water is better," adds Eneko.

American climber Chris Sharma pictured Deep Water Climbing on the cliffs of the Spanish Island of Mallorca
That's one way to get down © Jimena Alarcón

7. The social life
In Mallorca not only is the water warm but the social life is hot too. "My friends are here," says Sharma. "It's like a second home."

"There are so many people here from Germany, England, Austria and the US," adds Pou. "It's the best place."

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