TRNovice’s Climbing Training Diary

Dave Graham – European Tour – October 2008

Posted in General Climbing Post, Review by Peter James Thomas on 7 October 2008
© Heason Events

© Heason Events

Venue: The Arch Climbing Wall, London Bridge
Date: 4th October 2008
Full schedule: Heason Events


Note: The tour is still ongoing, so I have done my best to comment on it without giving away too much of the content.

Given the media exposure that many of the top climbers have nowadays, it is sometimes tempting to assume that we already know them. How do our preconceptions of Dave Graham stack up with the real person?

Dave is a world-class boulderer and sport climber from Maine who has both established and repeated some of the world’s hardest lines. He is of course also familiar to us as a regular in BigUp Productions Dosage series and many other films.

The mention of Dosage brings to mind the fact that the franchise features Chris Sharma more than any other climber. For any world-class climber, comparisons with Sharma are inevitable, though I am sure that both Chris and those who are compared to him get pretty tired of it all. For Graham maybe the comparison comes to mind particularly easily through their age, nationality, shared ascents and longstanding friendship. I’ll get this stuff out of the way early and move on to hopefully more interesting territory.

In his Dosage interviews (which are sometimes fairly brief), Graham can appear the yin to Sharma’s yang. Where you get laid-back Californian surfer-dude, mixed with some Eastern philosophy from the latter; with the former it is more high-energy, high-intensity and maybe an element of quirkiness. One aspect of this contrast is that, to me, Dave stands out as perhaps representing something a little different.

I’ll also get something else out of the way up-front. I have always had something of a soft spot for Dave. In my younger and slimmer days the epithet of ectomorph was something that I got very accustomed to receiving. Regardless of what training I did, my body could no more look like Chris Sharma’s than it could Dalia Ojeda’s. However, if I had taken up climbing in my teens and been more careful with my diet over the years, I guess I would have come closer to Dave’s physique; if sadly without his outrageous talent. So I was particularly looking forward to the talk and Dave did not disappoint.

At first it seems that what you get with Graham in person is just the guy from the DVDs. The energy, the number of words per second, indeed the quirkiness – that word again. But you also begin to get some other things. With a longer exposure to Dave’s thoughts on a wide range of subjects, both climbing related and general, the supposed quirkiness morphs into the realisation that he has an active and alert mind, that he thinks about a lot of things and makes non-obvious connections between them.

A couple of times in his talk, Dave speaks about some of his approach to climbing being driven by his physical attributes and these maybe pushing him down the path of subtlety rather than brute force (though I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to arm-wrestle with him). However the impression I formed was that this approach suits his mentality as much as his physique; he seems incurably inquisitive, always looking for a different way to do things; in climbing and in life. He makes correlations that seem obvious and true, but which you had never thought of before.

It is clear that a lot of thought and effort has gone into producing Dave’s slides and that he wants to serve up something more than “here is a photo of me on my latest hard climb”. What is also evident is that, even in the act of presenting, the material is sparking new connections in his ever active brain. He sometimes pauses to consider the implications of a new thought or an idea for restructuring his presentation to better put forward his themes. This could perhaps be off-putting in a less engaging speaker, but with Graham it feels more that you are witnessing a creative act.

Dave’s talk at The Arch was his second in the UK, after an initial lecture in Swansea. It started late, for reasons that were not entirely clear at the time. A subsequent booking of the venue (a massive railway arch adjacent to the climbing wall and surely a previous Bat Cave set) meant that Dave had to abridge his material on the fly; not easy when you are constantly having additional thoughts as you present. He did managed to negotiate this challenge, but I would have liked for him to have at least an additional 30 minutes to cover his middle-to-late material at a more even pace. Hopefully this is something that he will be able to achieve in later sessions.

What Dave managed to deliver overall was a great mixture of sheer enthusiasm, an inside track on the world of a professional athlete and a more reflective slant on climbing and its place in life than many of the other top pro-climbers seem to offer. He was human, funny, humble, original, insightful and real. I have never heard a top-flight climber make things seem so relevant to bottom-flight climbers like me. It made me feel part of a continuum in the sport, which was pretty inspiring. When he spoke about trying harder it felt more like something that I could do, rather than just an abstract comment.

In summary, and in answer to my initial question, there is a lot more to Dave Graham than we perhaps suspected and he seems to be much more than the sum of his various DVD appearances. I’d recommend anyone to go along to one of his talks, you will learn some new things about climbing, and maybe about life as well.

16th October 2008: More news about Dave’s progress through the UK can be found at Keith Sharples Photography.

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3 Responses

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  1. […] a world-class climber thinks about seem not too different to a world-class bimbler like me. I might expand on this theme later. <no sarcasm intended> So psyched now!!! </no sarcasm […]

  2. trnovice said, on 9 October 2008 at 11:35 pm

    More thoughts about Dave’s tour at on the following thread: –

  3. trnovice said, on 10 October 2008 at 9:26 am

    Thanks to Fraser on UKC ( ) for correcting some typos.

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