Imagine climbing up a beautiful rock face without any equipment but your climbing shoes and a little chalk bag to dry off your sweaty hands. No harness, no rope. Scary? It would be if you were free soloing like Alex Honnold. Instead, deep water soloing (DWS) is a form of free climbing where water is your safety net. Take a fall and you will plunge into the sea below.
It’s not without some risk, and as extreme as it may sound, DWS is a fun and exciting discipline that can be practiced by almost everyone.
A sport is born
While it may seem innovative, people have been climbing sea cliffs, “since the first time there was a climber, a sea cliff, and it was hot.” Known also by its Spanish name psicobloc (direct translation: psycho-bouldering), deep water soloing first garnered the attention of the wider climbing community in 2007 when Chris Sharma climbed the impressive arch of Es Pontas in Mallorca.
The ascent of this striking rock formation was documented on camera and the resulting film entitled “King Lines” was quickly seen by climbers all over the world. Suddenly everybody wanted to try psicobloc and before long, the most remote cliffs of Mallorca were being stormed by rock enthusiasts from far and wide.
Make a splash
Rock climbing is an inherently dangerous sport and climbing without safety ropes is definitely not for the faint of heart. However, everybody who is confident in their swimming abilities can enjoy deep water soloing - as long as they follow a few basic safety rules. (You can check out this DWS Guide for Newbies to make sure you know them all.)
Before heading out to Mallorca to mimic Sharma’s epic moves (the best one was even immortalised as a GIF), some rock climbing experience will definitely come in handy. However, with climbing gyms springing up everywhere, learning to climb indoors and then transitioning to cliffs over water is an entirely possible option.
Best US deep water soloing
Mallorca is definitely the psicobloc capital of the world, but good DWS opportunities can be found closer to home too. The sport can be practised not only over the sea, but also over lakes, rivers and recently even artificial pools.
As Texas has some of the hottest summers in the country, it is fitting that it also has some of the country’s best psicobloc cliffs. Lake Travis Pace Bend Park is located a short drive west of Austin, and many climbs are accessible without a boat.
Arizona’s best DWS venue is Clear Creek Canyon. In this beautiful video, you can see two climbing moms escaping for a weekend among the cliffs. Accessible by boat, the climb caters to all levels and many of the cliffs are not too high.
In Hawaii, the appropriately named End of The World Cave draws cliff jumpers and climbers from the Big Island and beyond.
More excellent psicobloc americano venues are listed here.
If you want to see some of the best climbers in the world racing up an outdoor climbing wall suspended above water, be sure to watch the Psicocomp series. To try it yourself, visit the US National Whitewater Park in Charlotte, NC, home to the world's first permanent commercial DWS wall.