Recently, we got the chance to interview Sean McColl. He’s a super-strong climber with a huge fan-base and he’s a bouldering champion who sets the bar pretty high.
He won his 7th Open Canadian Boulder Nationals Title in March of this year!
So, what makes this amazing athlete tick? Let’s find out!
Editor: We’re so honored to speak with you and appreciate your time, Sean. (Sean is off to Belgium as of this writing.)
Sean McColl: I actually just got back from Belgium where I won a small event! I hope you’ll have some tough questions for me to answer, I like thinking on the fly!
Editor: I was looking at your ticklist from your recent trip to Fontainebleau. Very impressive!
Check it out readers: Gecko Assis (V14, 8B+),The Traphouse (V14, 8B+), Super Tanker (V14, 8B+), Elephunk (V13, 8B) flash, Gourmandise (V13, 8B), Atrésie Assis (V12, 8A+), Conviction (V11, 8A) flash, T-Rex Assis (V11, 8A), L'Apparement (V11, 8A), Big Golden Assis (V11, 8A) and Neverland (V11, 8A).
Which ones were your favorites?
Are you planning on going back and tackling some more lines to add to your Font ticklist?
Sean McColl: Funny enough, there were all stunning lines. I have only been to Font a couple of times before this but only for a weekend at a time. Because of that I had the pick of the litter and picked lines where my friends had perfect beta. My favourites were actually most of the harder lines but Gecko Assis and Elephunk really stuck out in my mind. They are both independent lines with phenomenal holds and climbing movement.
Do I want to go back, of course! Will I have the time, probably not…As the months progress the conditions get worse and worse so I will probably have to resort to a trip up there in the fall. Because the forest itself is very majestic I really want to go back so it will happen eventually…
Editor: Tell us what kind of rock you enjoy climbing on? Do you have a preference?
Is there a particular technique or style that defines you?
Sean McColl: I like climbing on all types of rock; I prefer rock that lets me climb to the top of it! I’ll admit I haven’t climbed outside as often as some other outdoor professionals and I haven’t developed much of a hierarchy with concern to rock types. I grew up in Squamish (Granite) and learned how to move “around” boulders that didn’t have very many holds. I’ve climbed on sandstone, limestone and volcanic and depending on the time of year I like them all. I have always wanted to be a very good climbing all around; I’ve excelled in bouldering as well as lead climbing and even dabbled in speed. I would also like to be good at climbing outside on all sorts of rock…
Most people would label my technique as explosive and precise. I am a problem solver at my core so I try to think of climbing as a giant puzzle waiting to be solved.
Editor: You got the opportunity to be part of USA vs. The World 2014 and competed on the American Ninja Warrior course…what was that like? Would you enjoy being back?
Sean McColl: Being on America Ninja Warrior “USA vs the World” was a life goal that I got to tick off my list. I remember looking at the Japanese show “Sasuke” over a decade ago with my brother and wishing I could try it. When NBC asked me to try out for the team, I was over the moon. I went to Las Vegas and got the opportunity to prove to the world that rock climbers were born to be Ninjas. It was also quite a bit of stress on my shoulders because if I failed then people would think exactly the opposite of the previous statement.
I would absolutely love being invited back. I met some great people while doing that show, it opened a whole other world to me and in the end I got to be on National Television, who wouldn’t love that!!!
Editor: That move you executed at the Canadian Nationals has gotten a huge amount of attention and rightly so…it was so cool!
Tell us what that incredible move felt like to execute.
Sean McColl: I can remember the exact moments leading up to that boulder. I was in 2nd place before that last boulder and I knew if I flashed it it would put pressure on the final competitor who would have to flash it as well. I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t know how to navigate the middle of the boulder. I got the crowd into it by giving me an extra roar before starting. When I got to the middle of the boulder, my initial method wasn’t working and it was all spur of the moment climbing from there. I felt that reversing might work so I just went with it. When I got the hold just before the finish I knew I was tired and had to hold on extra tight. I didn’t plan on holding the one arm lock off quite like that, but it worked and I kept it together on the last big move!
Editor: What is your favorite crag/s to climb back home in Vancouver?
Sean McColl: Favourite crag close to Vancouver is hands down Squamish. There is everything there, multi-pitch, single pitch and bouldering. It’s also very accessible; you can go out bouldering by yourself most of the time with a couple of pads.
Editor: How old were you when you first started climbing? And where was this?
Sean McColl: I started climbing when I was 10 years old. I started with my family after our tennis club got shut down. I started in North Vancouver where I started training with the team, met fantastic coaches and basically started my career as a rock climber.
Editor: Who was your first climbing teacher? And what was the one piece of teaching or wisdom from them that you always carry with you?
Sean McColl: My climbing coaches were Andrew Wilson and Mike Doyle. For me, it wasn’t one piece of information that they taught me but rather their ability to work so well together and shape me into the athlete I am today. They always gave me the possibility to succeed, pushed me when I needed to and knew when times were harder for me. It also helped that Mike Doyle was one of Canada’s top climbers so it always gave me someone to chase. Mike’s drive and outlook on training combined with Andrew’s ability to formulate training programs and research made them the perfect combination.
Editor: Is your family supportive about your climbing career?
Sean McColl: My family is 100% supportive of my climbing career. As I grew up I also realized that without my parents flying me to my competitions for the first few years I might not have turned into the rock climber I am today. While supporting my climbing career, they also taught me the importance of going to school and encouraged and supported me while I went through my Computer Science program.
Editor: I recently interviewed Reinhold Messner and he told me something fascinating.
He said “Fame is a help and a trap”.
How do you keep your private life separate from your public side?
How do you handle fame, Sean?
Sean McColl: As quoted from when I first started climbing I always wanted to be “A bit famous”. I think everyone on some level would like to be in the spotlight, it feels good. How do I handle it, well I embrace it. I know what it was like wanting a signature and photo with my favourite climber. I also know how disappointed I was when said climber didn’t see the “need” to stay and sign a poster. I never want to put people through that especially a young athlete in which it can have such an effect. If it requires a couple hours of signing posters, then that’s what it takes and I embrace it. I didn’t become famous overnight and I am very conscious in giving back to the community.
To get back to my “private life”, it is usually with my closer friends. I’m getting to an age where my friends are getting married and having kids so I really enjoy visiting them and seeing which path they took in their lives. If we talk about climbing, I don’t mind at all; I just like relaxing and catching-up with my friends, same as everyone else!
Editor: Is there a certain outdoor project/projects that have always intrigued and challenged you here in the US?
What do you think of El Cap, Indian Creek and all the other beautiful destinations in the U.S.?
Sean McColl: I have never become too attached to a certain outdoor project let it be a route or boulder. I imagine that as my competition career winds down I might find a bigger passion to find something that is at the limit of my capability. There are a ton of beautiful destinations like El Cap and Indian Creek that I would love to test out. The hardest part is finding the time to go to those places. My competition season is quite full and that is my biggest passion at the moment!
Editor: When you were just starting out, which climbers did you find most inspirational?
I ask because each has a particular strength, like you do, which may resonate with fans.
Sean McColl: While growing up as a climber, I always found Chris Sharma to be a big inspiration to me. He was strong, looked happy and always smiling. It really looked like he loved doing what he did best, climbing. As I progressed through the competition scene, I really looked up to and admired Austrian climber Kilian Fischhuber. He also looked genuinely happy to be competing and he was strong! I learned tons of stuff from him and he gave me a great outlook on competitions.
Editor: What is your advice to young climbers who look up to you?
Sean McColl: I think the most important factor being a climber is to have fun. I have seen too many competition climbers who complain and cry when they fall and are never happy. I really wonder why they even compete, every competition whether they have the climb of their life or slip at the beginning they just pout like a 5 year old kid. My advice to young climbers is to stay away from that approach and really try to enjoy the process of getting better as a climber and competing at new and exciting levels.
Never back down from a challenge, have fun with your friends and always ask yourself if you’re having fun. There will be times in your training that aren’t fun, but you know it’s a necessity to become stronger. One of my biggest strengths is problem solving and getting into the mind of route setters. I think most climbers on the World Cup circuit are pretty good at this as well. I also observe climbers of all levels and try to analyze why I think they could do something better or more precise.
Editor: Where would you love to visit and climb around the globe?
Africa, Spain, South America?
What is your ideal climbing destination?
Sean McColl: I am at a point in my climbing career where I could pick any destination around the globe and make it a reality. I am very thankful of that and high on my list are most areas that have already been developed. I think that once my competition career ends, I will travel to more remote locations such as Africa and South America to look for new sectors and areas.
My ideal climbing destination would be a haven. It would have:
-comfortable accommodation with fast internet
After that, it wouldn’t matter too much where it was. I can buy groceries once a week and be perfectly comfortable. To have multiple rock types in the same place is rare so I don’t really look for these conditions. A second ideal climbing destination is just somewhere that I feel comfortable, enough said.
Editor: Here’s an important question that truly defines a climber.
Why do you climb? What does it give you emotionally?
What has climbing given to you and to your life?
Sean McColl: I’ll admit I am not the most spiritual climber out there but I know the impact of mind over matter and I know the feeling of climbing something easily that was impossible for the previous 10 sessions. I climb because I truly love it; it has become a way of life for me. It keeps me fits, I get to travel, meet fantastic people, see amazing places and it turns out that I’m pretty good at it! I love the mindset I get to go into before climbing the Finals Route at the World Championships; the ability to tune out 8000 cheering people and climb 1 route. Some call it spiritual, I call it focused. I have always been a huge fan of sports, athletics and outdoor activities. Climbing gave me a career in something I love and something that I see doing my entire life.
I love climbing because it’s physically hard, it takes huge concentration, training can be fun and it’s something I’ve been doing my entire life. Climbing is such a natural ability and to compete at that in front of huge crowd is hugely rewarding. I love competitions so much because it’s not just about doing one boulder sometime in the future; it’s about doing it RIGHT NOW, under the pressure of the crowd, cameras and climbers. That is the extremely hard part about competition climbing and why not everyone is good at it.
Editor: What are your thoughts on the preservation of nature and climate change?
(I ask because it directly affects the climbing profession.)
Sean McColl: I am and have always been behind preservation of nature. I support sustainability and agree that if climbing is to continue as an outdoor sport we need to be conscious of how we impact the areas we go to. With competition climbing, they are on artificial structures in public places but when I climb outside I try to affect the area as little as possible, always hike out everything that went in and be courteous to locals.
Editor: Okay, let’s mix it up a bit…on rest days, what kinds of books do you read and what kind of music do you like to unwind to?
Sean McColl: To unwind, I play video games on my computer. I have been playing Dota2 most recently but also played Diablo III, and Starcraft II.
What’s your favorite movie?
-The Boondock Saints
-The Princess Bride
-The Shawshank Redemption
-So many more, I love Movies…
Editor: What’s your favorite food…I’m guessing, sushi?
Sean McColl: Favourite Food Dishes:
-Mom’s Clam Chowder (Boston Style)
-Pierreade (cook your meat on a hot stone, with sides)
-Charcuterie/Fromage/Tapas (Meat/Cheese/Bread/Tapas Dish) From France.
Editor: Thanks for spending some time with us, Sean. It was great to learn about your perspective on climbing! Please come by and talk with us again, your fans enjoy hearing from you.
Sean McColl: Thanks for the long, thoughtful interview. I hope you learned something new about me! If you have any further questions, ask on my website or Facebook page!
Images supplied by Sean.
On the Cover: Sean McColl
Cover Date: May 2nd, 2015