It’s safe to say sport climbing might not be where it is today without people like Chris Sharma. A native to Santa Cruz, California, Sharma now calls the rugged Spanish coastline of Mallorca home. To list all his accolades and first ascents would take ages, so we chose to hone in on his most personable venture of date — his newly minted YouTube channel.
Sharma has been in front of the lens for over two decades starring in ground-breaking climbing films. But last January, he began releasing more regular, bite-sized videos that spotlight his current exploits. RedBull.com caught up with Sharma in Mallorca to get the backstory on his new online cinematic venture.
RedBull.com: When did you realize your climbing career needed a video element to it?
Chris Sharma: I’ve been making climbing films for over 20 years, working with bigger productions on cult classics like "King Lines," "Pilgrimage" and "Rampage." I feel like they’ve been revolutionary for climbing and also getting my message out.
But as media has evolved, making DVDs isn’t really the same anymore. So we saw an opportunity to start a [YouTube] channel and have direct links to give people a bit of a behind-the-scenes look into my world. I’m still working on larger productions, but this is a way of getting fresh content out on a regular basis.
Does video help you with your technique or previewing routes?
We’re always filming and we always look at the footage each night. There’s moments where I’m like, "Oh, I didn’t do this right or that right." But I wouldn’t say I film myself to analyze the footage though. Climbing is like a performance art. We’re finding these beautiful places out in nature and get to create an amazing interaction between nature and ourselves. So the art is being able to capture these moments and transmit them to the rest of the world.
How did it evolve into a full-blown YouTube channel?
It was something I’d been thinking about for a while. My principle filmer Ricardo Giancola — he’s my neighbor and we go climbing all the time together. Sometimes, it will be like two in the afternoon and I want to go climbing so we just grab the camera and go. So much of the stuff I do is spontaneous and we’re capturing real life moments. We have the flexibility to film these and get it out there in a quick way.
Explain your role (besides climbing) in your overall video production.
I’ve been in front of the camera as a professional climber for a long time. So I do have an eye for the right angles and how to shoot things. If you’re only working with one camera person, I help them with multiple angles and rigging. Oftentimes, it’s like I’m producing the episodes myself, along with the help of my team.
What are your favorite videos on your channel?
I really like all of these fun moments we’re having. And it’s not like we’re making some crazy production. We’re getting out core footage in a timely way. I real like the first video we launched — "Catalan Witness the Fitness." And also "Mallorcan Dreams" and "Mont Rebei Project 1."
Who does most of the filming? They obviously have to be competent climbers as well?
Ricardo Giancola, Brett Lowell and a few other people. The idea is to create a cool platform to not only show what I’m up to but who I’m hanging out with — guys like Kleman Becan, or when Dave Graham and Danny Woods come to town. There’s so much stuff going on here in Spain, we’re constantly filming and releasing footage on a consistent basis.
So our filmers have to be able to go up the rope and come down from the top; they need access skills and climbing skills. Shooting a climbing video is very complicated. You always have to get into tricky positions and it’s not always easy.
When you're planning a new route, how do you take into consideration your filmer and where he's going to be positioned?
We discuss the good angles and where the spectacular sections of a route are. Usually you want to get a top-down shot from the above angle and a fixed wide angle with a tripod. Then there’s close-ups and all the other shots. But the filmers definitely need to know the ropes. [Laughs.]
Sometimes getting the filmer in position for a shot can be a little stressful. There’s been times when I’m climbing between his legs. Especially when I’m going for a send and need to focus. But then, we try and get the cameras set beforehand so I can just climb.
What's the sketchiest situation you or your team have ever been in while filming on a climb?
In Mallorca, we’re dealing with plenty of elements. We’re climbing without a rope, over water and the waves and wind can be really strong. In climbing, you’re always going to take some risk, but for me it’s all about calculated risks and I try to be pretty safe.
What's next on your climbing/video schedule?
We’re psyched to get back on the Mont Rebei project. It’s the 750-foot wall we’ve been working on. It will be one of the most difficult free climbs in the world. I’m also looking forward to heading back to the U.S. and climbing around some of my home areas in California. Whatever comes of that, we’ll definitely throw it up on the YouTube channel.