We got a chance to chat with Alex recently, just after she won the silver at the ABS Nationals.
Editor: Thanks for talking to us, Alex! We’ve been wanting to interview you for some time now. It is such an honor for us, and we do appreciate your time.
Alex Johnson: Hey! Any time. I’m pretty rambly, and it’s nice to have my thoughts actually end up somewhere.
Editor: You’re one of the most beautiful and inspiring stars we have and you’ve managed to inspire myriads of people to get into bouldering/climbing. How does it feel to have such a positive impact on your fans, Alex?
Alex Johnson: Aw, thanks. It feels surreal actually. It’s an awesome spot to be in, to have a voice, but it’s also an intimidating responsibility. I’m flattered that people look to me, and honored to hold such a position, and ultimately all I really want to do is inspire people with this great sport for which we’re all so passionate.
Editor: Your post caught my eye on your Facebook page, where you very eloquently described how you felt about a recent trip to Bishop, and what emotions were going through your mind with regards to the effect of your performance on your heart and mind.
You definitely have an iron will, which is amazing. How do you pick yourself up emotionally and flow on to the next level, having learned everything you could about yourself and the rock?
Alex Johnson: I try not to hold back with what I’m actually feeling, and I think that’s become part of who I am now. It’s so easy to hide behind “so psyched!” and “didn’t go so well, but already excited about next time!” but often that isn’t what I’m actually feeling. Climbing can be really frustrating, and I try to share those experiences as well because it keeps me human. Sometimes it may seem like I’m complaining, but I’m an emotional person, and I can’t pretend I’m not.
Editor: Your team mate Daniel Woods got an FA on The Process, and when we interviewed him, he said it took every fiber of his being to accomplish it.
Is there a particular project that inspires you and challenges you?
Alex Johnson: I’ve been pretty hung up on another climb in Bishop called The Swarm for the last year or two. It’s a stunning V13/14 line up in the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Last year I put everything I had into this project and came heartbreakingly close. I publicized my plan to try it, and made a campaign around my efforts, and it gathered a pretty big following. I felt really inspired by everyone’s encouragement. It’s strange how you can put a piece of your soul into a boulder problem, and get so hung up on something so obscure. But with publicizing anything, you always run the risk of someone getting the same idea and trying to do it before you, and that happened this year. I’ve spent this season climbing around the Vegas area and trying to gain the motivation to head back up to Bishop. It is still a piece of me, after all.
Editor: How does it feel to be so iconically strong? I bet you have a fantastic diet and training routine. A lot of women and men are getting into climbing, being inspired by you at the comps.
What would you tell your fans when it comes to get started as far as getting physically fit goes?
Alex Johnson: Haha, feeling strong is a day-to-day thing. I train regularly, and try to keep my diet in check. The second part is definitely harder. Climbing is an incredible way to get and stay in shape, because when you climb, you don’t feel like you’re actually “working out.” You’re participating in an exercise that is challenging physically, but also mentally. Finding the easiest way to execute a sequence on a route is like puzzle solving, and obviously you’re getting a great upper body workout as well.
The greatest thing about climbing that I have found is constant improvement. Every time I climb I learn something new, whether it’s a subtle shift in body positioning, or seeing a new sequence I didn’t notice before. The best advice I can give to a new climber is not to get discouraged by height, or by things that you think are too challenging for you. The absolute best way to improve is to push yourself and try things that are outside of your comfort zone.
Editor: Bishop is on your mind. What is it about that highball wonderland that captivates you?
Alex Johnson: Highball bouldering is addicting, probably for the blatant reason that it’s an adrenaline rush. I like seeing what my body is physically capable of when it absolutely has to perform, and testing my head game in somewhat risky situations. It’s easy to back down and drop off. I haven’t done a lot of free-solo climbing, but I’d imagine it’s a similar feeling. As cliche as it sounds, my mind goes into ‘the zone’, and my body takes over and performs perfectly. These are some of the most perfect moments in climbing I’ve ever experienced.
Editor: Let’s talk adventure! Apart from bouldering and climbing, what sports do you enjoy?
Alex Johnson: I grew up participating in pretty much every sport out there, volleyball, basketball, track and field. Climbing was really the only thing that has stuck with me my entire life. Since the school team sport era I’ve dove into other things recreationally like trail running, kayaking, and occasionally skiing. Climbing has taken me to a lot of really beautiful places, and on days I’m not climbing it’s nice to get out and explore other parts of the area.
Editor: Where would you love to visit and climb around the globe?
Alex Johnson: There are so many areas I’d love to travel to! Thailand and Africa are on my list. As far as extreme alpinism goes, I’m not too certain I’m going to be diving into that anytime soon…
Editor: Comps are super-mega stressful. What do you do to unwind, relax and hit the reset button. We love watching the comps but the pressure is on you: that itself must be a lot of tension.
What is your secret to un-winding? Yoga, meditation or Tai Chi? Enlighten us, no pun intended.
Alex Johnson: Competitions for me have changed a little in recent years. I transitioned from only wanting to win, to wanting to do well, but also put on a good show for the fans and audience. Competitions now aren’t just about testing my physical capabilities against other athletes, like they used to be for me, but now there’s an aspect of performance as well. Showing your passion and interacting with the crowd have become a staple in my competition attendance. But of course I still want to do well… This approach has helped me become less nervous, and I have more fun competing.
Editor: An important question, and a tough one. Why do you climb? What does it give you?
Alex Johnson: This is always the hardest question to try to put into words.
Editor: Who was your first instructor and what wisdom do you still carry with you today?
Alex Johnson: One of the very first people who sort of took me under their wing was the founder of ORGANIC crashpads, now one of my sponsors. I remember being an annoying little twelve year old bouldering around in a garage. Some memorable things I learned in that garage were a lot of climbing ethics, like whoever brushes off a climb gets to try it first, and not to crush someone else’s chalk blocks.
Editor: Can you share who your climbing icons are? And what you’ve learned from them?
Alex Johnson: One of my earliest climbing heroes was Tiffany Campbell. I drove all the way from Minneapolis to Chicago to take a clinic with her when I was a kid, and it was such an awesome experience. That’s why I’ve become so passionate about teaching clinics myself. I’ve seen first hand what a positive impact can have on a kid, because I’ve been there.
Editor: Did you watch Valley Uprising? Your impressions?
Alex Johnson: I have! I think it’s a great showcase of a really important and awesome piece of history. The early climbers in the valley paved the way for climbing, even if their methods were a little unorthodox. It made the film really entertaining!
Editor: Nature and its purity, spiritual and refreshing. What are your thoughts on the preservation of nature and climate change?
Alex Johnson: Climate change is real, and it’s happening now. It has become more apparent with each winter, I used to wear a down jacket in climbing areas, and there were multiple feet of snow on the ground. This year in Bishop we’ve barely seen any snow, and in Vegas it’s already eighty degrees and we’re only in the first week of February. This is why the #ActOnClimate campaign was so important. There’s so much we as a species can do to help slow down global warming, we just have to be willing to participate.
Editor: We all rejoiced when the Dawn Wall project culminated, but a famous New York Times article’s comment section seemed very far removed from the gifts this profession actually bestows.
Alex Johnson: Haha, it was awesome how much mainstream attention the Dawn Wall project got this year, but it was definitely frustrating to read all the ignorant comments. It’s amazing how many people will comment their strong opinions on something they know nothing about. Whether people agree with it or not, the Dawn Wall was an incredible achievement not just for climbing but for human beings, and anyone who fails to see this has no idea what self motivating life achievements are.
Editor: How do you find the balance to manage your personal life and professional life, and do both things well?
Alex Johnson: In my professional life I try to stay as close to who I actually am as possible. Minus only some of the swearing, haha! It’s actually really easy, I get to be myself and just do what I love every day.
Editor: What is the one thing your fans would love to know about you, but don’t.
Alex Johnson: Hmm, trying to come up with something that’s actually interesting for this answer could prove difficult. I really love 90s hip hop, and when I’m on long road trips by myself I blast it and sing at the top of my lungs.
Editor: Let’s talk books…when you have time, what kind of books do you read and what kind of music do you love?
Alex Johnson: Reading is addicting to me, I read all the time. Right now I’m reading “Lolita,” which is strange, but interesting. I finally finished Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22,” that one took me forever, I found it really frustrating. I also couldn’t get through anything by Tom Robbins. My favorite authors are Chuck Palahniuk, Geoff Dyer, Chris Cleave, and Marisa de los Santos. My favorite books have all been written by them. Oh, and I just read that Harper Lee is about to release another book! So of course I’ll be reading that.
Editor: Same here!
Thanks again for talking to us Alex. Congratulations on your silver at the ABS Nationals, we're so proud of you!
Please come by and talk with us again, your fans love to hear from you.
Alex Johnson: Anytime, it was my pleasure. Thanks so much!
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of the Facebook Page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
All images © of the designated photographer and used with Alex's written permission.
Official Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/alexjohnsonclimber
Official web site:http://www.alexjohnsonclimbing.com/
Two World Cup Gold Medals
Two World Cup Silver Medals
Five-Time National Champion
2008 Golden Piton Award Winner for Breakaway Success
US Climbing Team Member Since 2001
Wisconsin State Champion Pole Vault Hudson High School 2007
Alex "AJ" Johnson began climbing in 1997. She has been a prominent force in the climbing community for the last decade, and has been climbing professionally for six years.
Growing up in the competition scene, Alex has consistently been a member of the US Team since 2001, winning her her first Youth Climbing National Championship at age twelve (2002), Adult National Championship at age thirteen (2003), and won a silver medal at the Youth World Championships in Scotland at age fourteen (2004).
In 2008 Alex made history by becoming the first American to win a Bouldering World Cup on US Soil. In 2010 she did it again, winning gold in Switzerland and becoming the first American to win a Bouldering World Cup overseas.
Since then she's shifted her focus away from competitions and honed in on outdoor projects, building an impressive ticklist filled with dozens of iconic first female ascents including V12s like Clear Blue Skies in Colorado, The Mandala in Bishop, and Book of Nightmares and Lethal Design in Red Rocks. Alex has also spent time getting off the deck climbing impressive highballs like Diesel Power (V10) in Yosemite, Golden Showers (V10), The Ninth (V6), and flashing the infamously dangerous climb, Luminance (V10) in Bishop.
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On the Cover: Alex Johnson
Cover Date: February 7th, 2015