Player Profile: Paige Claassen
Photos and Interview by Andy Mann
Photo: Paige Sending White Wedding 5.13d Smith Rock, OR
Name, Age, Years Climbing, Hometown, Current residence:
Paige Claassen, 20, 11 years climbing, grew up in Estes Park, Co. Currently going to school in Boulder, CO
You grew up in Colorado and at an early age became a comp killer. In the last few years your focus has been ticking hard routes on the stone. What sparked this transition?
Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I think my transition had a lot to do with my relation to the sport, myself, and other people. Climbing in the gym was all about me. My focus was to get stronger, so I would avoid talking to other people and would only concentrate on training. I grew really frustrated with training in the gym on gorgeous Colorado days to prepare for competitions and soon realized how much I enjoyed climbing outside. A day outside is less about winning and more about enjoying the people you’re with, the beauty of the area you’re in, and the process of working a difficult route. I think competitions are super fun and they definitely have their place, but I was competing to beat others instead of to have fun and that is not a good feeling. Now I can go to new crags and meet tons of amazing, unique people and form incredible relationships. The reason I climb has really evolved, and that inspires me.
You've been able to accomplish some sick hard goals in outdoor climbing, most recently the FFA of "Grand Ol Oprey" 14b/c. How do you approach projecting such a hard route?
Grand Ol Oprey was a very new experience for me. I had never tried a route that felt that far above my level. I kind of dabbled with it on and off and just figured it was way too hard but I knew I would get really fit working the moves. I remember the moment I decided I wanted to commit to the route. When I say something out loud, that means it has to happen, so it was scary to say, “Okay, I’m committing. I’m going to do it”. But from that moment I wanted it really badly and just kept trying until I was able to do it. I don’t think I could be that committed to a route all the time. But it’s a very unique feeling that is definitely worth the sacrifice when you find the right line.
Is there any fire in you to be the first American women to climb 9a?
Honestly, no. I mean, if I found a route of that grade that I really loved and felt super inspired by, then that would be awesome, but I wouldn’t seek out a route of that grade just for the status. 9a would take a whole new level of commitment and sacrifice. There are a lot of things I want to do in my life besides climb, and I’m not willing to give those up just to climb a specific grade. There has to be more to the process and goal than that.
This summer you’re heading overseas to climb. Have you been there before? If so, what draws you back and what are your goals and plans?
I’ve spent some time in Europe, but mostly to compete. I did a few World Cups and then decided if I was going to pay to travel to Europe I’d rather be outside. I climbed at Ceuse for a few days two years ago and fell in love. Prior to that, I would only climb on very steep terrain and I was terrified of run outs. Ceuse changed my entire perspective. Now my favorite type of climbing is just off vertical on tiny holds and I don’t mind sparsely bolted lines anymore. I can’t wait to return to Ceuse. My friend Neely and I are going to Spain for a month before I go to France. I’ve never been on a girl’s trip, so I can’t wait. I’ve also never been away from home for this long, or traveled on my own, so I think this will be a really incredible (and undoubtedly challenging) learning experience.
You grew up in a Christian family. Do you still stay connected to your religion? If so, how?
Yes, very much so. I really value my upbringing, and it definitely defines who I am today. My faith is very different from the majority of climbers, and nearly all my friends, but I think it’s very cool. I’ve found that being around people who don’t share my beliefs constantly challenges my faith and ultimately makes me a lot stronger. Exposure to alternate ideas is very important. If you only hear what you think is right all the time, then the choice you make isn’t a choice, it’s the only option. It’s important to be informed. I would like to be more informed about other religions. That’s one of the reasons traveling is so interesting.
What are studying at CU? What's it like being a full time student and sponsored climber?
I’m in the business school studying marketing. I really like school because I’m very achievement oriented. When I’m only climbing and don’t have another goal I get very antsy. I actually climb better if I have to earn my climbing days. When I know that this is the one day I have to climb and tomorrow I have to go to school, I’m more motivated. That said, I can’t wait until the next 5 weeks are up and I get to board a plane without carrying any textbooks along. As a student, traveling can be difficult since spring and fall are the best seasons to climb in most areas. But a lot of people think climbing hard and going to school full time don’t match up. I’ve found that really committing to two major things is ideal. For me, that is school and climbing. That means I don’t have a job, and I’m more apt to go to bed early on a Friday night instead of going out so that I can wake up early and go climbing. It all works out: you just have to prioritize.
Photo: Claassen sending the iconic Eldorado Canyon, CO classic The Web 5.13b.
How do you handle being a sponsored climber? Do you think you are treated fairly? You've had some monumental accomplishments last year. Do you feel like you need to accomplish more in their eyes?
Climbing is odd. There isn’t a lot of money in the sport and so support can be pretty minimal. But it forces you to pursue your passion because deep down that’s what you want, not because you’ll get paid for it. It seems like the media is changing that a lot lately though. Since climbing still has so much potential for expansion, I think it’s tempting to pursue grades and push the limits for media attention and praise rather than as a personal investment. Sometimes I feel like I could be a much better climber if I was only climbing for me, instead of putting pressure on myself to perform at a certain level. But I have to remember that ultimately it is me that is creating this pressure, not companies or the community. Ultimately, climbers are all just excited to go out and scramble around on rocks. No one will think any less of you if you don’t finish a certain route, but it’s easy to loose sight of that. Sponsorships should allow climbers to pursue their goals, but they can’t be the reason people climb. That’s when it gets twisted, when your goal is sponsorships and support instead of rock climbing.
What would you change about the climbing community if you could change one thing?
I would take climbing back to its most basic level. Again, when you break it down, what we’re doing is somewhat silly. We’re all aware of that, but we, myself included, lose sight of it amidst all the hype. If everyone could just go out and enjoy a day of climbing, that would be awesome. I know that I put a lot of pressure on myself to make every single day the hardest day ever. If I don’t accomplish something, or at least try super, super hard and come home exhausted, then I’ve failed. But the other day I just went out and climbed a bunch of easier routes and had a fun day of friends. That’s what climbing is about. I’m realizing I don’t have to train every day, and that I’m actually a lot more motivated when I just climb instead of panicking about not getting enough pitches in.
At the end of the day, what is the most important thing to you?
On the surface: food. If I get hungry during the day I crash. Hard. And then I’m miserable to be around and I complain and want to leave and go eat (ahem, remember Andy?). But truly, it’s the people. If you took away the community, this pursuit would be worthless. The opportunity to meet new people each day, support one another, laugh together and trust one another is so valuable. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Without sponsors and grades and magazines, we would still have friends and rocks. But without the community, this sport wouldn’t mean much at all.
What do you want to do with the rest of your life? What will bring you the most satisfaction both on the stone and off?
That would be the question of the day. I wish I knew what I wanted to be when I grow up. That would really help with my plan. I like to have a plan. I’m very schedule oriented and not having a plan scares me. But it’s really exciting and if I knew what each day would hold, things wouldn’t be very interesting. I do know that I wouldn’t be fulfilled just climbing. It would be fun to travel for a bit after school and climb, but I would have to be doing something else as well, like research or teaching English. I would like to learn about other cultures and experience other ways of life beyond Boulder and the United States. I want to become fluent in other languages. I want to feel like I made a difference in someone else’s life. And I want to live in a house on a vineyard in Spain and ride horses through the rows of grapes, like in the Parent Trap. I think climbing will always be a part of my life because it’s so deeply engrained in me. I’ll push my limits for as long as I’m able and for as long as I’m having fun. As soon as climbing at my limit becomes a burden rather than a joy, then I know it’s time to pursue something else for a while.