Jorg Verhoeven, the flying Dutchman!
My dad sent me to a climbing gym because I was interested. I knew straight away it was going to be fun and I grew up going to a pretty good gym with a good spirit. A lot of gyms in Holland they are almost like a fitness studio, people just want to go climbing for an hour just to move after work. At the gym I went too there were some good climbers that really showed the spirit of the sport.
Actually I had a coach but he was just a mental coach. He was trying to guide us into seeing climbing as a lifestyle more than just to get as strong as possible, to keep the fun in it. For him the main goal of climbing in a gym was to go outside afterwards. So we went to Font a lot, which was like 5 or 6 hours away and we went to southern France in the summer. So I got in contact with rock climbing pretty early.
For me it was clear and straight after graduating, straight after my last exam there was a Youth cup in Arco and I just took all my stuff and I stayed there. So I think I was 17 or 18.
Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of climbers and it wasn’t at all what I expected it to be, but it was still fun, it was a good experience. I was very into the Youth cups at that time, there were at least 4 or 5 Youth cups a year and I’d come to know a lot of the climbers, so I didn’t really care. When I think back on it all I cared about was to climb somewhere and find some friends to climb with. So even though in Arco I didn’t find a lot of people to climb with it was still fun.
The World Cup season started and I started hopping around, most of them were in Europe anyway so I kind of hopped around through Switzerland, Belgium and finally Austria, and I kind of stayed there. I just hopped on a train and got out in Innsbruck and knew there was a climbing gym. The first night I slept in the park because I didn’t know where to stay (laughs)… and the next day I tried to find a climbing gym and then I knew a couple of people who were there and one of them, he brought me home with him and I could stay there a long time. And then I got to know Katha and everything moved pretty quickly… I never moved (laughs) I just stayed in Innsbruck.
Yeah but we have a lot of gyms though, and especially the last years the boulder gyms they’ve been popping up all over.
I’m good here. I need mountains, that’s why I moved from the Netherlands. I need mountains, climbing areas and a base where there’s a lot of psyched people. The culture is very big here, whatever direction you’re looking for, like mountaineering, competition climbing, rock climbing, it doesn’t matter.
Yes but mainly because it was fun for me. I’ve always been very competitive and in competition I like to challenge myself, and against other people. But the Youth comps they were a lot different for me, they were just about meeting other psyched climbers. The Netherlands was a bit… I don’t know, it wasn’t what I was looking for I guess.
I meet up with people easily, and I already spoke a couple of languages and it’s pretty easy to make new friends. I wouldn’t do it again though, moving all the time is kind of exhausting. Trying to rebuild your life again in another place, it’s not, it’s not the easiest bit. It was definitely worth moving here!
Variation I think, same I think as for Katha. I’m very competitive and still have fun competing, it changed a lot throughout the years but the basics are still there. I like to compete, if not I would have stopped already. It’s not like my results are worse than five years ago, I achieved a lot of goals I set so there’s not another reason to me to compete. Just for the fun of it you know. First of all it’s a good combination of travelling around seeing a lot of places and spending time with people that are similar to you, everybody shares a certain motivation for something and it’s always good to see them again you know. The comps, it’s a fun scene.
I always find it really quite a shame. Tomáš Mrázek is one of the best examples, we did competitions for 5 or 6 years, I saw this guy 10 times a year at the competitions and then all of a sudden he’s gone and I rarely see him again, Patxi’s the same story, it’s quite a shame. Christian Core is a youth coach now, it’s so nice to keep them in the sport so you can still see them around. Yeah that’s true, and very recently I changed to bouldering It started off lead. Mainly lead because the Youth Cups were always lead.
Bouldering was very small and grew quite quickly in the beginning. Then 6 or 7 years ago I was that psyched that I did a lot of Bouldering comps as well, and I did a couple of double seasons, and it was a lot of fun!
Bouldering was a completely different sport at that time and nowadays I can’t, I just don’t want to do two seasons any more. I’ve had that behind me, I’ve climbed so many competitions and now is the time where I want to do a couple of competitions and then a lot of rock climbing. So I don’t want to do double seasons anymore and I realised that, especially the last year, the lead it was just at the certain point to me where it didn’t move anymore you know, it didn’t change anymore.
It stopped at a certain style, there wasn’t anything new for me. Every year it was just training up to a certain level, I wouldn’t go a lot higher, I couldn’t go a lot higher because getting older you don’t really have the amount of energy as when you’re young. So I could train back to a certain level, and even at that level I could win World Cups, very rarely but sometimes, but it still didn’t seem like a challenge anymore. It was just all the time the same, I couldn’t grow anymore. In bouldering the sport has developed a lot and the style’s changed so much I can develop in a whole bunch of directions, I can get so much better. Now I’m just, I’m just not any good… so it’s a big challenge for me. Which is almost like starting like from the beginning.
For me there was a certain point especially with David Lama, He stopped competing and he went into high alpinism, extreme alpinism. It was like a choice for him to stop competition climbing and go into alpinism, and for me, since we did a lot of stuff together I had the same choice and I’m pretty glad I stayed with competition climbing. The alpinism can wait. You can do that when you’re 30 or 40. Now I can still do competition climbing and I like it.
When I think back I’m really glad I’m still doing the comp season, if not I would have been in the Himalayas right now you know that’s fun as well but I prefer the way it is!
The way it is now for lead climbing, you need like an intense amount of training which you have to be motivated for. I’ve done 10 years and I’m not motivated anymore so it’s just too monotonous for me.
Lead climbing is about power endurance, it’s trainable. And bouldering has developed into something more than just training, especially this year it doesn’t help a lot to be fit, you just have to be good in certain tricks you know. First of all it was much more about just climbing on holds, holding on to holds. It was much more the style of climbing you could see on rock, and in the States in competition. Nowadays the World Cups have gone a lot into, the aesthetics, how they look. They’ve thrown in a huge amount of volumes just so that it looks good for the public. And second of all they don’t want the power problems, they don’t want it to be only power problems anymore because it’s very hard to set, and now they do something… they take a boulder and they make it incomprehensible from the ground so you have to figure out how to do it, and you could do it in a couple of ways. They make it a bit strange so that nobody finds the right way straight away.
So it’s much more about tactics, flexibility, and some weird stuff. And that separates a lot of really fit climbers already. So it’s a lot easier for route setters if they make something awkward and weird or they set some technical jumps, than if they set a couple of crimp problems because it would be really had to separate, for example the Russians on a bunch of crimps.
I can understand the development and the change but I’m kind of sad that it’s gone this far. A lot of people are criticizing the amount of circus tricks there are in the bouldering season right now and I tend to agree with these arguments but I think it should be like a mixture.
Sometimes you really see a good mixture, like if you have a qualifying round you have one jump, one slab, two different power problems and a Mantle. I agree with that, you have all the styles combined in one round. Some times in semifinals it was a bit more like weird problems, technical problems. So you know it’s easy to complain but it’s…Ah that’s a very good question.
For me it’s very frustrating sometimes, since we train mainly on power problems at the facility we have. It’s easy for the boulderers to get really fit, but it’s very hard to train on these circus tricks, the volumes, the slabs and stuff. We have no experience except for the climbing in competitions so it can be very frustrating. For example this semifinal in Munich (World Champs) just now, you feel really fit and you just can’t move on the slab because you’re not flexible enough or you just don’t get it… or it’s just such a weird movement… and afterward, after a round like that sometimes you just feel like you haven’t done anything. You feel so powerful and you’re not physically spent. And that is sometimes very frustrating because you’ve trained for months and months to just get really fit and you can’t even use it. But then again it’s easy to criticize. We’ll find out in the future where the sport goes, it’s been changing really quickly. I think they’d be interested by the style of nowadays but I think they’d have a real hard time, especially those from the really old days. And you know the level is so much higher. The development of the level it’s growing so much especially in the mid field, from say 10 to 30, the level’s gone up exponentially, it’s been incredible!
Katha; “Yeah but also from 1 to 10. When I did my first World Cup I did I didn’t even train for it. I was training lead, and I just tried it and I got 3rd. I am so much stronger right now.”
But so is everyone else, and this is the thing isn’t it. You used to say in the girls, even a season or a season and a half ago, you knew who’d be in the semis… and a pretty good chance of who’d be in the finals.
Which is very exciting to watch and for the public because anything can happen, but then again for the people that really throw 100% of their time into it, it can be very frustrating.
Like in Lead climbing I still know if I train for it, if I give a whole season of training, I’m sure that I will climb into finals a whole bunch of times, and maybe on the podium. In Lead climbing if you’re fit you climb well. Whereas in bouldering… I didn’t climb well in China, I made a whole bunch of mistakes and still I got 3rd. In other comps I felt like I climbed really well and I don’t make it to the finals, even to the semifinals…
Yeah you know the tricks, there’s a couple of tricks that occur over and over again because the route setters are the same over and over again. Some route setters they just like a certain trick but they put it every competition, sometimes they put it in too often, during the World Champs for example.
So for sure if you see a problem you know straight away that you kind of have to do it like that. Then again no problem is the same so they all, even like a running jump… they’re always different, you can never know ok I’ll have to do this, this and this. And on those boulders, you know what’s coming, but since there are so many possibilities you can make so many mistakes. Even though you know what’s coming, you can still mess up. So you’ve got to have a high level of mental engagement. And it’s not only mental it’s sometimes also about luck. If you step on the right part of a volume or like you make a certain move and you go ‘oh my god, how’d I just do that?’ Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.
And it’s not only mental it’s sometimes also about luck. If you step on the right part of a volume or like you make a certain move and you go ‘oh my god, how’d I just do that?’ Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.
No, normally you learn pretty quickly, it’s what makes climbing so fun. As soon as you know a certain trick or move, your body just does it automatically. Well I grew very slowly as a competitor. It wasn’t a very big step to reach semifinals, but within semifinals at first I ended up in the last couple of competitors and then middle, and reaching finals was the goal… and then reaching the podium was the goal… and then eventually I was always around the podium and very close to winning the Lead World Cup and always ended up second or like just screwing up in the end. Then eventually, finally in 2008 I managed to win the World Cup. So that was… it was almost like finally! A relief yeah.
After that it was a lot more relaxed, I couldn’t get the motivation to do that again. To put all that energy just with the goal of winning the World Cup. I can’t imagine how Kilian did it 5 times. That’s my last goal actually, it’s always been a goal to win a Boulder World Cup, and I’ve gotten very, very close a couple of times. Even in 2013 in Toronto I missed by one bonus or something… 2014 it didn’t seem very reachable, but maybe next year?
Then again there are always goals that you won’t achieve you know. You’ve got to be very lucky to have achieved everything that you wanted in your career. That’s a very tough question actually. Paul De Wilde is a lead setter but Martin is more of a boulderer, and I actually tried the final routes, I tested them just in the morning. First of all I don’t like the wall in Imst, it’s not interesting for my point of view. I don’t like the holds they have, it’s all small, tiny holds and I’d like to see different style of climbing. But I thought the final route with the facility they have, the possibilities they have with the holds and stuff they did a very good job.
I thought the level of the route was good, I thought we were aiming for two tops. And then the men, everybody messed up they didn’t find the sequence and maybe it was too complicated so at the end I was very unhappy with it. But then again for the show I liked it, it was a good route.It kind of depends, maybe it was about the climbers and it wasn’t about the route. They seemed to feel very uncomfortable but I tried it and it was just a normal route. Sometimes everybody just makes mistakes and doesn’t have a good flow and then everything looks uncomfortable.
Katha: ‘I think it was exciting to watch because it was hard from the beginning. People had trouble from the start and it was nice to watch. The women it was the opposite. Everybody waited until they were up on the roof and then they got excited, and that wasn’t very exciting.’
I think in the route setting for Lead World Cup female climbers, there should be a lot of changes. They’ve been starting the BMI testing, introducing the BMI limits and I think it has the same goal as changing route setting, but with the route setting you can do a lot more.
I calculated the BMI, and with a BMI of 17 even some people I know who are very unhealthy but still pass the BMI.
Yeah, sometimes people with a BMI of 17, they’re a completely sane person and sometimes they’re… You know it’s very hard to say if you’re not a medical professional if somebody’s unhealthy or not, it’s very subjective.
So I’d rather change the style of route setting than to tell somebody “You’re not healthy!”
And then maybe the girls at the start will find it very hard and everybody will fall down, but I think slowly the competitors will change and it will be for a very good goal because now the youngsters are looking at the top climbers and they see very thin people. The example role of climbing shouldn’t be underestimated I think.
It kind of scares me how there are some climbers that really train towards this weight issue. I’m not happy with it but then again it’s not my scene. It’s not like I dropped everything. First of all it’s a question about me after competition climbing and there won’t be a big change because climbing has so many facets, there’s so many directions you can go into, and it wouldn’t be a big problem for me to just stop competition climbing and do something else. I’m already doing that something else. I would just miss the competition climbing scene and competing. I don’t really see a reason why I would stop climbing by itself because there’s so many ways I could go in to, like high Mountaineering or just bouldering and sports climbing. I could do whatever I want to.
Ah, he’s a bit of a bad example maybe, because I think for nobody it sounds appealing. But I’m sure I will try a little bit of mountaineering in the future, I just don’t want to go that far. It’s almost, sometimes it almost becomes suicidal and you know I don’t want to leave Katha behind. Actually I thought about it. First it’s not very easy to become Austrian and secondly there are advantages and disadvantages, the pros and cons. For now the pros are still with the Netherlands. I don’t have a reason to become Austrian except for having the feeling to want to be in Austria. If I become Austrian I have to go into the Army and stuff and it’s not very appealing.
But the Austrians are helping, and have been helping me in the past a whole lot and I’m very thankful for that so it almost sometimes feels like it would be fairer to become an Austrian and start for Austria. But I’m heading towards the end of my career so for climbing reasons it wouldn’t really make sense to switch country right now, so I don’t think it will happen anytime soon.
I still think it’s fun to climb for the Netherlands, just to show it’s a country with a big climbing community, even though some might not expect it. I’ve always had fun putting the Netherlands on the map you know, on the climbing map.
I ask this because you talked about coming from Holland, do you think being on the international stage is important.
First of all I’d like to make climbing look like a nice sport you know, not that you have to be very thin and… I’m pretty scared of that role model, going in the direction of all the kids need is to be very thin. In contrast in Innsbruck it’s very easy to have the different generations that climb together so I think that’s very good for the sport. A whole bunch of guys I climb with are 10 years younger than I am so they’re one or two generations younger.
Katha: ‘I’m not thinking about being a good role model when I’m with them but I think It’s really important not to be to competitive, and also not smoking, and not drinking every day..’
That’s why Innsbruck works so well. Because there’s always been a generation for the next generation to look up to. You know they started with Reini in 1995 or something. He had a small group of very psyched climbers and the facility, so they started to grow and grow and grow and the next generation they looked up to these people and they realised ‘that’s how we do it’ and that’s how they do it and it works.
Katha: ‘That’s why it’s so important I think, and in some teams everyone’s smoking right, and all the young people are coming in and smoking… it’s so bad. Even if you don’t feel like a role model, you are, and you need to think about what you do.’
If we destroy ourselves at a party, it’s a very delicate subject because the young generation they look at you and they think ‘ah they’re messing themselves up’. But then again it’s just a couple of times a year and they see that the rest of the year you’re a serious sportsman and they think that’s the way it works.
It’s good to realise that you’re an example for somebody and especially in the Netherlands I try to get people psyched, not only for competitions but for an adventure, to get out.
What I see on the internet for example, everybody loves to read on 8a or Planet Mountain or in your magazine, and they see it as very far away you know. Maybe that’s why they like it because it’s something different, and I always try to make it obvious that they can do stuff like that as well. They can go in the mountains and have the same adventures that I do.
Basically we’re not doing anything else but trying to develop and try to get the best out of ourselves. Everybody can do that.