1 Apr 2011

This Much I Know Is True - An Interview With Gaz

Tonight’s interview is in a rather special location and has a rather special guest! As some/most of you know, I do a fair bit of indoor rock climbing with my husband. Recently husbando has been training for a trip to Spain under the auspices of a rather exciting climbing coach Gaz Parry.

Gaz has won the British Climbing Championships SIX times, he is on the British Climbing team and has climbed the world’s highest sea cliff! He is also a climbing coach, lecturer and currently resides in Spain with his girlfriend Kate where they run Epic Adventures – a climbing and Adventure Company.

During one of Gaz’s many trips back to the UK to route set* for various climbing walls, I was honoured to interview him at The Castle, an indoor climbing centre in North London. So, Gaz is eating a pot noodle and I am eating a piece of yummy chocolate tiffin and drinking a smoothie – we are also, briefly, joined by women’s climbing champion Leah Crane. I am, needless to say, a little star-struck by both. This interview is a little different and I hope you enjoy it….on with the show!
Me: Firstly, thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be interviewed. As with all the interviews, I always start with a tough question! Could you tell us what the best piece of advice you've received is?
GP: Hmmm that’s a tough question! Probably “don’t do as I do, do as I say" my dad circa mid 1980s!

Me: Hah, such a parental thing to say!! Can you tell us a bit about how you got into climbing?
GP: Well I was always quite sporty – played a bit of rugby – but I started climbing when I was12. I’d done a fair bit of walking and hiking with my dad so it just stemmed from there really. I never climbed with my dad mind it was with my mates from school.

Me: And, although you’re a professional climber/coach now, did you study/have a career before that?
GP: I left school when I was 17 - I just wasn’t in the right place to study at that point, I just wanted to have fun and climb. I went back to college when I was 26 to study Countryside Management – it covered stuff like lambing and building walls and also business theory. I really enjoyed the combination of learning and also getting my hands dirty as it were.

Then I worked as a sales rep for North Face - I enjoyed it, getting out and meeting people – although presenting to senior management at a major account can be a little nerve-wracking! The company went through a few changes – being bought out etc and I just decided one day to resign. My obsession with climbing was pretty much taking over my life anyway – I was doing a lot of competing!

Me: Tell us a little bit about competing and how you focus/prepare for them – was it harder when you were younger?
GP: Focus is a combination of the physical + mental. I don’t think about other people/competitors– it’s all about getting into the `zone` as you hear many athletes talking about. Getting into the `zone` is not something that can be taught, it is individual and takes discipline to learn to do it. When I was younger it didn’t come so easily but now I can slip into it without effort.

Also with climbing there are so many variables to take into account – you can be at your strongest but you also need to be able to problem solve + route read. For example in 2007 I was very strong + fit but just before the European Climbing Championships, all the skin fell off my hands The fresh new skin was impossible to climb with – and yet nothing I did could have prepared for that.

Me: That must have been frustrating. I’d love to know - does anything scare you at all – rock climbing can be seen as an extreme sport?
GP: Not inside on plastic but outside yes, of course - heights can be dangerous and scary it’s all about getting to be familiar with an alien environment, and learning to trust yourself and your rope work/safety skills and developing a mindset to go with that.

Having said that, on one occasion I was competing in a major championship and my head just completely went and it was very scary then. Had a total meltdown in terms of being in the zone and being focussed – having the mental strength to climb is important to combat the fear.

Me: Following on from that, a lot of people are very nervous about climbing – but what advice would you have for a newbie?
GP: I would say first, do a basic course, understand how to belay**, to tie in, etc and then just start climbing, ideally the same week as your course, so that mistakes do not become engrained. To get better/competent at climbing you need to go regularly 1-2 times a week minimum, more is better. Also it’s not necessarily about becoming stronger – but it’s about learning how to read a route and as I said above, how to place your body in the best possible way. This is something I spend time telling my coaching clients about.

Me: Ah, interesting – how did you get into that and what do you enjoy about it?
GP: I’ve never had any structured coaching training – and there is no recognised climbing coach qualification aside from being qualified to take people climbing outside – health + safety aspects etc.

Climbing is different to most types of sport coaching anyway and the basic principles don’t really apply. Climbing is so intuitive – you learn so much by feeling out a route and working it for yourself, a rule book doesn’t apply so much. As a coach you can provide basic teaching eg: rope work, foot work, and basic techniques but from there it’s up to the individual climber and how the coach works with them. I talk a lot about getting the basic techniques right and if you really want to improve you need to climb very regularly to develop that muscle memory as well.
Even if a client is super fit and strong and raring to be unleashed on the wall to muscle their way up, to really develop as a climber they need to think so much about route reading and understanding how their body works and reacts to that – and managing their centre of gravity and balance. It’s really a very intelligent sport.
In terms of what I get out of it? Well I enjoy helping and seeing someone achieve a goal and develop as a climber – it’s very rewarding to give something back. Although coaching is an income, it also provides a balance to my training and competing – and enables me also to develop.

Me: And finally, what do you know about life to be true?
GP: Don’t let other people, ideas and fashion carve your way in life. It is up to you to control your destiny and decide what you want. The life that many people are living today that is fashion and web driven is a very false existence compared to 50 years ago where decisions were more by necessity.
With that, Gaz has to dash off to catch a flight home to Spain but please feel free to check out his website, blog and adventure holiday site for more information!

Also tomorrow I have a special climbing photo essay from Gaz himself!! Hope you enjoyed his insights into the life of a top athlete and the world of climbing.
*Route setting – designing + setting routes on indoor climbing walls.
**The person on the other end of the rope from the climber, lowering them and feeding them rope when necessary.

Thank you and good night

Stupidgirl has left the building

No comments:

Post a Comment