Sunday, 17 August 2014

Psicobloc Masters Series Competition Returns for 2014

Psicobloc Masters Series Competition Report 2014

Report by Emma Harrington

The second ever deep water soloing competition in the USA took place on Friday 8th August. The Psicobloc Masters Series returned to Utah Olympic Park and was bigger and better than ever, with DWS veteran Chris Sharma naming the sport as ‘the purest form of climbing.’

The success of last year’s event caught the attention of some of the best climbers eager to try this unique competition style of climbing.  This year attracted talent such as Chris Sharma himself, Sasha DiGiulian, Emily Harrington, Ashima Shiraishi, Alex Puccio, Jimmy Webb, Alex Johnson, Delaney Miller, Matty Hong, Daniel Woods amongst many more.

The Utah Olympic Park     Photo: Alton Richardson

Organised by Chris Sharma, who contributed to popularise the sport with his solo ascent of El Pontas in Mallorca, the Psicobloc Masters Series took place on a 50 foot high artificial wall, built over a ski jump training pool in the Utah Olympic Park.  All competitors were competing for the $30,000 prize and were required to climb up to the US grade of 5.13c for the finals. It was deep water soloing in Mallorca that inspired Chris Sharma for the competition, taking it to a bigger audience with the intention to show climbing to the world.

This year’s competition featured a qualifying round, allowing local climbers to test their skills against the professionals. Prior to the event, competitors were allowed a one day pool pass to test their climbing abilities on the Psicobloc wall, practicing taking falls of up to 50 feet into the pool below.

The pool was originally built for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and is now used as a training facility for freestyle aerial ski jumpers to practice their soft landings with the safety of the water.  The pool contains 750,000 gallons of water and is usually ‘bubbled’ to soften the impact of landing.

Competitors climbed on identical routes head-to-head and the climber who reached the top first or got there the fastest moved onto the next round. The climber who won each duel would then advance onto the next round until only two climbers were left for the final. The routes were not as difficult as last year. This gave the climbers an advantage of knowing they could go for all the moves with confidence, adding to the extravaganza of the show.

The Women’s Rounds

The women were up first with JC Hunter taking the first huge fall from 40 foot, and 16 year old newcomer Claire Buhrfeind completing the route and topping-out just for the fun of it.  Ashima Shiraishi the youngest female competitor at only 13 years old was to follow, competing against a nervous Alex Johnson who slipped from a hold high up, giving Ashima a chance to take her time to cruise the top.

Ashima Shiraishi waiting at the top for Emily Harrington.
Photo: Kevin Wellman
Alex Puccio and Meagan Martin raced to the top head-to-head for most of the route until Meagan, who was placed third last year, took the big plunge leaving Alex to advance on up. Alex opted to down climb a few moves with clearly a few head issues concerning the height, before she let go and dropped into the water below.

Delaney Miller didn’t need to finish the route, with Angie Payne taking a fall mid-way up, this enabled Delaney to save her strength for the next rounds.

 The 2013 women’s champion Sasha DiGiulian surprised everyone when she fell off the overhang after her feet cut loose, leaving Andrea Szekely to slowly continue climbing with only a one minute time limit left to get to the top. Andrea fell from a lower hold than Sasha, giving way to Sasha to continue onto the quarter-finals.

The semi-final included Claire Buhrfeind and Alex Puccio and both where head-to-head speed climbing up the wall in an intense race. Claire managed to secure her place in the final by reaching the top first with only seconds between them in a photo finish.
Delaney Miller and Grace McKeehan also competed in the semi-final where Grace struggled to keep up near the end, giving way to Delaney for the final round.

The route setters were a bit too eager to re-set the route for the men’s round and prematurely started tweaking the route and rearranging the holds. This caused a slight delay for the women’s finals, as the route setters had to put back what they had undone.

Newcomer Claire Buhrfeind took first place for the women in the final, competing against Delaney Miller who came second place for the second year running. Both now so familiar with the route, climbing it for the fourth time that evening, they were almost head-to-head all the way; Claire used her speed skills for the final finishing moves to victory.

The Men’s Rounds

As the sun disappeared behind the mountains it was the turn of the men’s competition, with the route setters adjusting the routes to increase the difficulty making the moves more dynamic. Chris Sharma reported that almost every male had made it to the top of the wall in the practice rounds, so it may come down to the speed factor, and he was not wrong!

Sean McColl and Chris Sharma
First up were Sean McColl Vs Isaac Caldiero.
During the qualifying round Isaac took a bad fall after courageously leaping for the next hold in the middle of the overhang 30 feet up. He spun out of control resulting with him landing awkwardly and bursting his eardrum. The bad fall had not deterred him, as he climbed confidently and quickly but dropped off near the top, sending Sean to the next round.

In the quarter-finals, last year’s champion Jimmy Webb, raced Sean McColl which resulted in a speed spectacular.  Abandoning all technique, it became a battle of speed and strength with Sean getting to the top first in just 42 seconds! The fastest anyone has ever climbed the Psicobloc wall.        
Everyone wanted to see Chris Sharma dyno his way to the top in the quarter-finals, and he didn’t disappoint as he went head-to-head with Jon Cardwell, with Chris reaching the top first with just seconds between them.

Sean McColl was the proud winner of the 2014 men’s finals against Daniel Woods. The men in the final round turned up the speed and were forced into sprint mode.  Sean McColl took the lead from mid-height to gain victory, with Daniel Woods just one move behind.

The whole competition was streamed live on the internet from 7pm MDT, which meant it was broadcast live late at night in the UK.  If you missed the action, the entire competition can be viewed online at or individual rounds can be viewed on Psicobloc's YouTube channel.

If you want to get involved in a competition like this closer to home, then don’t forget about the first ever deep water soloing competition being held in Exeter UK on 30th and 31st August 2014!  For more information visit the Quay Climbing Centre Website


1st Place:     Claire Buhrfeind
2nd Place:     Delaney Miller

1st Place:     Sean McColl
2nd Place:     Daniel Woods