Interview with Patxi Usobiaga

posted by dpm on 08/27/2009

Man or Machine? Patxi Usobiaga continues to blur the line and push the limit with training methods and comp excellence.

He trains like a machine, continually pushing his body to pure exhaustion on rock and plastic.  He has stood atop numerous World Cup Pedestals, clipped the chains of 8b on-sights, and progressively evolved his training methods with the sport.  Between one-arm lock offs Patxi hung casually off the medium wrung and answered our pressing questions.

DPM: What are you currently training for?

Patxi: At the beginning of the year I was training to be in my best shape for the World Championship in China, which I fortunately won (after placing second three times). I trained very hard and I was completely focused on that. It was a relief seeing all the effort pay off. But now I keep training as hard to try to win the World Cup for the third time. I guess I never have enough and want to keep winning, no matter if I already have the trophy in my living room.

DPM: You constantly compete on plastic, what is the drive? Prestige, competition with others, yourself or the route?

Patxi: Climbing competitions are a challenge for me. What I love the most is climbing outdoors and, more specifically, on-sight climbing. That single opportunity to do it is what attracts me. For me it is the purest way of climbing a route and also the more demanding and challenging. You can see that competitions are a little bit like this. You got just one try to do your best, you need to read well the moves, climb perfectly and be strong enough to get to the top. When I am climbing in a comp I am competing with myself. Of course, after this personal fight everything translates into a classification and a ranking, with winners and non-winners, and it is very cool to see that you did better than the rest and to receive a medal. However, when I train to be stronger I do it to be better than before, not to be better than anyone.

DPM: Do you think European climbers are more comp driven than American Climbers?

Patxi: I read about comps in the US way more than about comps here in Europe. Moreover, from what I have seen, competitions in the States are very spectacular, well promoted, vey fun, with lots of people attending and a very enthusiastic public. Here there are very few comps like those and I hear from people that they don't compete because it is boring and slow and prefer to spend the day outdoors. I think there is a lack of lead climbing competitions in America, and it is a pity for me, because it is my discipline and I would love to go there to compete, visit the country, and meet more American climbers.

Regarding the question, I think that, in general, the approach to climbing, in America, Europe and the rest of the world, is the same and a good one. Enjoying nature and climbing on real rock is what motivates the big majority of climbers all over the world and I hope it stays that way.

Photo courtesy of http://cesargrosso.wordpress.com

DPM: Your training methods call for 5 hour sessions. How do you keep the psyche?

Patxi: I am not strong by nature and I need to train that much to be at the necessary level to compete and send hard routes. The motivation to spend so many hours in the climbing gym comes from very different sources like friends, family, etc. Also, lately, I have found that watching other sports gives me a lot of energy. For example, watching Usain Bolt running and beating the 100m world record the other day was something very motivating.

DPM: Age seems to test everyone, you seem to be defying it with continued pedestal placements, are you climbing stronger or smarter?

Patxi: I keep evolving. I try to improve all the time, by gaining resistance or strength. This year I feel better than ever before, but I think it is because I am focusing my energy very well, enjoying everything I do. This lets me climb very well, very fluidly, without pressure. Anyways, we have a very strong youngster now,that is undeniable, but natural at the same time. When I started climbing the limits were much lower than they are now. Doing an 8a was a lot, and there was a mental barriers to do it. Now this barrier has been raised to 8c or more and people get there sooner. Also facilities are better, and there are improvements in training methods. This is all very positive, and I am very happy to see that we have new faces in the scene, making "the oldies" wake up and show that we still have something to say.

DPM: Everyone is looking to leave behind a legacy?  What would you like to be remembered most for?

Patxi: Not for a particular achievement. I think that if people are to remember me, it should be because I have got what I have got after a lot really hard work. When I want something, I focus completely on it and do all the efforts that it takes to achieve it. It happens with competitions and projects in real rock.

Photo courtesy of http://cesargrosso.wordpress.com

DPM: Do you think competition climbing is driving our sport in the right direction?

Patxi: Our sport has been progressively branching out more and more and now we can see that we have very specialized people, some people exclusively boulder, other do routes and some other only climb on plastic. We cannot generalize it, but we can see that this division exists. Competition climbing is just one more trend and it should affect those who don't practice it. If you don't like it, don't do it. The problem is maybe that some people have got into climbing directly to competitions, without experiencing what outdoor climbing is about and when they go out, they don't have the same personal and non-competitive (only with oneself) view about climbing that other people have. For me, as long as everybody is happy and enjoying climbing respecting others and the environment everything is ok.

DPM: Would you compete as an Olympic climber?

Patxi: I would certainly compete in the Olympics Games. I would love to, but I am sure I will not do it because the inclusion of sport climbing as an Olympic sport is on the way, but there is still a lot to do and it will take a lot of time. Our sport is great and the competitors work so hard that they deserve all the honor that the Olympic Games offer.