Steven Roth: Florida Grown

posted by dpm on 03/25/2014

Interview and photos by Anthony Lapomardo

Florida is home to sandy beaches, luxurious retirement homes, and east coasters who are in denial about the hell of winter that is waiting back at home for them.  And, although the state holds one of the most controversial V11 ascents to date, it is still not known to breed strong climbers. But this month's article Blurred Lines introduces just that, a Florida born and bred climber who enjoys the complexity and calculations involved with highball bouldering. Currently a starving Berkeley engineering student who dines on hard bread loaves and organic peanut butter while working part time as belay staff at Touchstone Climbing, Steven Roth is quietly making a name for himself. We caught up with Steven Roth after he humbly ticked off the Eastern Sierras biggest and boldest lines to ask him about his training regimen and if he could recommend the best nude beach in the Keys.

Steven Roth on the Buttermilks' Footprints (V9)

DPM: How did a kid from Florida get into climbing?

Roth: It’s hard not to be inspired by Florida’s endless groves of orange trees. For years I yearned to pluck the highest and plumpest oranges. Most people in Florida like to tan and eat prunes to help bowel movements, but not me; my life was oranges. One day I mustered the courage to scale a tree. After 2 months in the hospital, I decided that maybe a youth climbing team was a better approach.

DPM: Where does the need to climb highballs/exposed climbs come from?

Highballs are just the lines that I am most drawn to. A huge, independent boulder with a faintly chalked line wandering up its side is by far the most aesthetic thing for me. Plus, the mental and physical reward of scaling one is unlike any other experience.

Rise (V10)

DPM: Do you feel you've become transfixed on these lines?

Roth: Absolutely. The thought that always goes through mind when I climb little boulders is “if only this cool movement was higher up!” My dream is to find a spectacular, tall boulder with a line of holds that provide consistent climbing at a challenging physical level for me. Here in California, that boulder is out there; I just have to find it!

DPM: What goes through your mind when you enter a no fall zone?

Roth: Thankfully nothing goes through my mind. There are no good thoughts and there are no bad ones. I think that once you’re totally comfortable with the climbing whether the moves are hard or not, you don’t have to think about anything. Those minutes that you’re up on the wall are just a series of precisely executed body movements.

DPM: How do you rationalize the risk and the reward?

Roth: I think it is really hard to rationalize risking your life for something so personal. I wouldn’t even attempt a true highball unless I was doing it for myself. I have yet to find a way to express why it’s worth it. Even those in the highest tier of rope less climbing like Alex Honnold and Peter Croft seem to have trouble with an explanation.  

On the first ascent of The Air Up There (V7/8)

DPM: Do you ever think of the "what-ifs" while prepping a line?

Roth: Actually, I usually joke to myself about the what-ifs all of the time while sussing. Behind Ambrosia there’s a boulder and if you blow it at the top you’d probably hit it. When I was rehearsing the top on a rope I kept thinking of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson telling me to “aim for the bushes.” And plus, statistically I won’t break my back twice.

DPM: Have your parents seen images of the lines you recently climbed? If so, how do they feel and what do you tell them?

Roth: Yep, they follow my climbing and see the pictures in some of the magazines as well as the ones that I send them. I think they’re fine with me climbing tall things because I don’t just go for things; I try to use my best judgment possible. My parents would be WAY more freaked out if they actually stood under the boulders. They’ll probably read this and have a talk with me (hi Mom and Dad J).

DPM: Do you think it is ironic to always be climbing with a shirt that says belay staff, when clearly there is no rope involved?

Roth: Haha, people think it’s pretty ironic that I wear a belay staff shirt. In reality, only having four shirts, three of which say belay staff, limits my options.

Steven Roth has climbed some of Bishop, California’s proudest highballs including Footprints, Ambrosia, and the 3rd ascent of Too Big to Flail. Read more about Bishop Highballs in issue 27’s feature, Blurred Lines.

Steven Roth on the 3rd ascent of Too Big to Flail.