I take a deep breath in through my nose, fill my lungs with air and feel my chest expanding. Then I breath out, releasing the tension in my body. I am looking out over the Andaman Sea, focusing my eyes on the horizon, trying hard not to let my eyes look down to my feet, balancing on what feels like a tiny ledge, or to the crystal-clear water below me. My heartbeat racing, I know I am not ready yet. Another deep breath in. As I breathe out, the “I-don’t-want-to-jump-I’m-so-high-I’m-gonna-die”-voice in my head moves to the background and I can hear the other voice in my head saying “Come-on-you-know-you’re-gonna-have-to-do-it-anyway-so-just-get-on-with-it. It’s-only-6-metres.” I start counting “1…”, I breathe in and out, “2…” I breathe in and out, and then on “3…” I breathe in and step on foot forward, cross my arms in front of my chest, and gravity does the rest. The fall is long enough for me to realise that I’m falling, … I’m still in the air, a shriek escapes my mouth just before I splash in the water. While I’m quickly sorting out my bikini before resurfacing and swimming back to the longtail boat, I realise that it wasn’t all that bad. Actually, it was fine, and it was fun! Let’s go again!
What is Deep Water Soloing (DWS)
Deep-water soloing (DWS) is a form of rock climbing. Most similar to bouldering as there are no ropes, bolts, quickdraws or harnesses involved. The water below provides the protection from injury when falling off, hence it’s necessary to make sure it is deep water. Deep-water soloing has its roots in Majorca where Miquel Riera and his friends started bouldering above the sea in the late 70s. Its Spanish history makes that DWS is also known as psicobloc, which literally translated into English, means “Psycho Bouldering”. Deep-Water Soloing has also been done in the UK for decades, but it only became more mainstream after a couple of short DWS films were made in 2003 starring some of the sports pioneers – Tim Emmett, Klem Loskot and Chris Sharma.
Thailand is a great place to go Deep Water Soloing. There are many limestone karsts rising steeply directly out of the sea, allowing climbing straight from a kayak or longtail boat, going as high as you can or dare, and falling or jumping into the sea. Needless to say – although most karsts are as steep underwater as they are above the water surface, you always need to check whether the water is deep enough, or go with someone who knows the area. It is crucial to know what the tide state is. Besides the abundance of karsts, the second thing that makes Thailand a great venue for DWS, are its tropical warm seas. No need for wetsuits. No risk of hypothermia. Just a lovely warm bath below you.
All of Rock and Sun’s 12-night Sport Climbing Holidays start on the island in the south of Thailand called Lao Liang. It is about 16 kilometres offshore and a true climber’s paradise. To read more about Lao Liang, have a look at our website: http://www.rockandsun.com/rock-climbing-holidays/thailand-lao-liang/ During our 4-night stay on Lao Liang, we always aim to go Deep-Water-Soloing. We keep an eye on the tides, check whether the sea is calm enough for the kayak to bring people safely to the rock, and when the time is right, we ask the Thai staff to take the longtail boat and the kayak out. We go around both of the islands and do some snorkelling on the headland and round the back. If you’re lucky, you see dolphins jumping out of the sea and following the boat, or a sea turtle surfacing and waving his fin, as if they’re saying hello. Leaving us all in awe and admiration. What a special place this is..
Then we throw the anchor out at our first DWS spot and Trevor Massiah (MIA – our main Thailand instructor) gets ready. He puts his old climbing shoes on that he doesn’t mind getting wet. Covers his hands in liquid chalk. Blows them dry. Then steps onto the kayak in Gorilla-pose: on toes, knees and fists to keep his hands dry. Kneeling in this position makes it easy to keep your balance while on the water and then to step up from the kayak onto the rock. Avoiding the sharp barnacles at the bottom of the rock, Trev sets off to climb the first line. It is a nice diagonal line that has bigger and bigger jugs as you go higher. If it was a route, it would be graded a F4/5. After about 8 meters of climbing you reach a ledge. You can jump from here, or step down and jump from about 6 meters. *Which is what I did*. Another option is to continue climbing. There’s a traverse going out right that goes all the way into a cave, getting harder and harder as you continue, from about F6B to F7B. Or, from the ledge you can climb down, traverse left a bit and then go up to climb a F6A+ to the next ledge, from where, again, you can choose to jump or climb back down to the 8m ledge. All in all, there are lots of different opportunities at different grades and different heights. And that in this one little spot round the back of Lao Liang alone.
This winter, Tim Emmett joined us on two of Rock & Sun’s Sport Climbing Holidays in Thailand. It was immediately obvious that he is one of the DWS pioneers. He jumped from the highest point on our first DWS spot – with a backflip summersault, as he is adrenaline-junky Tim Emmett after all and never short of bravery. But it’s not only that. You can tell he loves the freedom of being on the rock without a rope and gear and without a certain ‘line’ or ‘route’ to stick with. When arrived at our second DWS spot on Lao Liang, he started doing the obvious traverse line – after which most people land in the water. Tim however, continued all the way high up into the tufa system. And while we were holding our breath on the boat watching him go higher and higher, thinking what would happen if he were to fall from there, the ‘show’ wasn’t over just yet. He then climbed down and left onto the blank looking wall, went back up – still going left, following some pockets, climbed down from there till he was almost at water level again, and just kept going. Making one big circle on the rock. Making the most of his free climbing. It is amazing to watch Tim Emmett’s love for the rock, his lack of fear, his abundant energy, as well as his love for the water. Because as soon as he did another summersault to get in the water, he swam to the boat to swop his rock shoes for fins and went free diving.
Deep-Water Soloing in Thailand is a must try for everyone; for the brave and not-so-brave, for the hard and not-so-hard climbers, for those who love rock, water or both.
Tim Emmett will join Rock & Sun’s Sport Climbing Holidays in Thailand again next winter.
Dates: 17-29 December 2017, and 7-19 January 2018.
18 march 2017