By Allison Ong
I am frozen, 25 feet up a limestone wall, and my hands are sweating. “Don’t look down,” I tell myself. I look up at the rock, but I still can’t move. The lack of harness and rope make me feel naked and exposed in a totally different way than my new bathing suit. The water below appears alarmingly distant and my one way of getting down is the one thing turning my knuckles white. I look down and look back up. How long have I been here? Thirty seconds? Five minutes? I look up at the sky trying to notice something. The sun is just starting to set between the dramatic karsts of Halong Bay, Vietnam. I can see the sun mirrored in the water and a pink blush creeping up the clouds. It is so beautiful that suddenly I feel calm again. That’s right, I’m here to have fun. Keeping my eyes trained on the horizon, I take a deep breath, and force myself to let go.
It’s an easy mistake for beginners to make, to underestimate how high you will feel once you’re on the rock based on how high it looks like from below. But after the first jump, the freefall and ocean become your new best friends.
Deep water soloing is a new and particularly adventurous chapter in the history of rock climbing. Many describe it as the intersection between rock climbing and cliff jumping. Simply put, it is un-roped climbing over a confirmed deep body of water. The climber typically starts from the deck of a small boat and finishes their climb with a controlled jump. As a relatively new activity, there are currently only a few established deep water solo locations in the world. Two well-known areas among rock climbing aficionados include Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean. All you need is your bathing suit, a towel, climbing shoes, and a little audacity!
While leaping into the ocean from some of the most breathtaking locations in the world is certainly a thrill, the thing that truly distinguishes deep water soloing from other methods of climbing is the feeling of freedom it releases in the act of climbing itself. Other types of climbing designate a specific starting location, a designated finishing spot, and a line to follow, but deep water soloing is flexible. First-time deep water soloers are often at a loss asking, “Where do I start?” “Where do I go from here?” “Can I use this hold?” When you’re deep water soloing there are no rules or restrictions. Though many opt to pick a start and finish, the lack of climbing gear allows you to climb in whichever direction appeals most to you. Left? Sure venture left. Right? Go for it! The pressure to succeed, which is sometimes enough to keep people off the wall, is completely gone. You decide where your climb starts, where it ends, and how high it goes. Those who are intimidated by heights are free to climb sideways, two feet above the water, if they so desire. Deep water soloing allows climbers to forget the ropes, the nuts and bolts, and enjoy the act of climbing itself, free from expectations. And of course, once you’ve worked up a sweat, nothing beats the heat like a quick dip in the drink!
- Go with a group of friends! While one person climbs, the rest can watch, rest up, and get dry again.
- Spot each other as you get off the boat. It’s important to make sure that if the climber slips while getting onto the rock, they don’t hit their head on the boat or the rock. Have one person steady the boat by holding the rocks and another person watch the climber.
- Rinse your climbing shoes with freshwater and let them dry in the sun after climbing, to prevent damage from the saltwater.
- Try any fancy dives, cannonballs, or bellyflops. Proper entry technique is pencil style: feet first and hands by your sides.
- Go with novices. Make sure that you are going with people who actually know the depth of the water of the area you’ll be climbing. Better yet, do your own research and be the expert.
- Take a lot of chalk with you. It will get soaked when you take the plunge, so it’s better to leave the bag on the boat and chalk up in between climbing.
This article was originally published in Women’s Adventure magazine’s Summer 2013 issue.