What do climbing and hiphop have in common?
In this week’s Climber Spotlight, dedicated climber, coach/owner/trainer of The Power Company, and longtime rapper, Kris “Odub” Hampton shares the parallels he’s drawn between music and the sport, the single trait that makes for the most successful climber, and why all of us should take ourselves a little less seriously. Get to know him:
How did you get into climbing? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
To make a long story short, I started climbing to keep myself out of trouble. While locked up as a dumb 18-year-old kid, I realized that I needed a better outlet than stealing cars, so the day I was released, I bought a gym membership and went every day for months. Somehow I got lured into trad climbing, which swallowed the first decade or more of my climbing.
After becoming a little disillusioned with climbing, and a short break, I rediscovered it in the form of sport climbing, and couldn’t believe that I had been so shortsighted for all those years. Now sport climbing is taking a back seat to bouldering and trad climbing. I suppose old bad habits die hard.
In becoming a trainer, what have you learned about what makes a successful climber? What are the most important traits you’ve recognized in successful climbers?
This is actually a simple question to answer. Passion.
I don’t think 5.14 is more successful than 5.10 if it comes with being jaded and a giant sized ego. That said, passion nearly always leads to other qualities that are important for a long career in climbing: dedication, a willingness to work hard and suffer when necessary, and the ability to be genuinely excited for the successes of other people.
Those are the top qualities I see in every single climber who I deem successful. I don’t care if you’re modest and never talk about your accomplishments, or if you spray all day long … if you get psyched when you see someone do their first 5.10, then you’ve got what it takes.
Related: In Defense of Spray
In your opinion, what training techniques are the most important to adopt to be a strong climber?
The ability to adapt and be honest in your self-analysis. We all need different things, and those things are going to change over time. Your weakness today, when worked on, will become your strength.
It can be tough to accept that what was once your strength is no longer what you’re best at, but if you take a step back, that’s an exciting place to be. It means you’re seeing real progression. That’s why coaches are so important … they provide an unbiased mirror in which to see your deficiencies as well as your accomplishments.
How has becoming a trainer changed the climber that you are?
Besides feeling like I’m a source of accountability for my clients, I also feel accountable to them. I want to be an example of how to approach training and climbing, so I am constantly analyzing my own philosophy and trying to improve it. I don’t believe in leading from the sidelines, so I work even harder to be out there on the field of battle, looking for my own limits.
You also create music. Do music and climbing share any common facets that you are drawn to? How does music change or effect your climbing?
I draw two parallels between climbing and music, in particular, hiphop. Hiphop is something of a counter-culture, born of young people who were attempting to form their own identity. It was, and is, largely misunderstood.
Climbing, particularly free climbing, was born of the same type of people—people looking to make their own mark on a lifestyle that to them felt stiff and stodgy. When I was a trad climber, I connected hiphop to climbing in this way, romanticizing over both the “golden era” hiphop artists like Rakim and KRS-ONE, and the Stone Masters, like Bridwell, Kauk, and Bachar.
Now that I’m better versed in sport climbing and bouldering, I make that connection differently. There is a rhythm to hiphop that captivated me the moment I heard it. I’d never connected to the rock and roll that my parents listened to, but hiphop spoke to me.
I find that same rhythm in the movement of climbing, as I did in skateboarding. There’s something about the fluidity and deftness of movement that is breakdancing, which is the visual display of the rhythm of hiphop, that feels like gymnastic climbing to me. Some people equate it to ballet, but it feels more raw to me. More punk rock. More hiphop.
Tell us about one of your most proud climbing achievements.
Possibly my proudest moment climbing was a failure. I was working on what would become my first 14a, Transworld Depravity, in the Red River Gorge. I knew I was closing in on it, and decided to rest the 2nd half of the day in order to have a better shot at it the following day. In the morning, inexplicably, the top half of the route was soaked. It hadn’t rained, and it was nearly dry the day before.
Being a weekend warrior, I can’t cherry pick the good days, so the only thing I could do was try. At the mid-route rest, I had a great conversation about commitment with my friend Katy Dannenberg, who was on a neighboring route. I left the rest knowing I was committed, and stuck the crux move for the first time from the ground. Everything above there, including the 3rd crux, a V6 mantle, and the 12d techy headwall, was running with water.
I battled on, with the whole crag cheering, only to fall at the last move. I felt like I was fighting for everyone on the ground who was screaming up at me, and it didn’t matter that I fell. I know I fought harder than I knew I could.
Tell us about a not-so-proud moment in your climbing career.
I’d like to answer that I’m proud of even the dumb things I’ve done, because I learned from all of them, but I know that’s not the answer you want. Actually, I’m pretty grateful that I was called out for what might be my most “not-so-proud moment.”
I was a young and stupid rule-hating throwback to the golden era of trad climbing, and I wore it on my sleeve. When the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition was just starting, I definitely picked battles with them that were pointless displays of ego on my part. I saw them as trying to make rules, and I didn’t want rules. The president at the time was a woman named Shannon Stuart-Smith, and she (extremely) patiently dealt with me, asked if we could meet at my favorite crag, and showed me that I was wrong. I’m glad I had the sense to listen, and that she was brilliant enough to figure out how to make that happen. Now I support the RRGCC any chance I get.
What climbing aspirations do you have for yourself in 2016 or beyond?
I reached my sport climbing goals, so now I’m going to the two extremes. I’m 41, and not getting younger, so I definitely want to take some time to become a better boulderer before it gets to be too hard on my body.
Also, sport climbing was originally a way for me to get better at trad climbing, so I want to make good on that idea, and apply what I’ve learned to bigger free routes. We’re moving to Wyoming soon, so I hope to help those guys out there develop some of the extensive bouldering around Lander, as well as get into the Winds for some alpine free routes. Beyond that, I plan on climbing forever, and I fully believe that I’ll climb 5.12 into my 70’s.
What is the best climbing-related advice you’ve ever received?
I was talking to Ron Kauk sometime around 2000, in Vedauwoo, and he asked about my last trip to the Valley. I was young, and definitely a little afraid of the walls there, so I mostly avoided the long routes to focus on the shorter ones. He wanted to really talk about my experience there, and I was hesitant to tell him that I was proud to have onsighted Short Circuit, a short 11d finger and tight hands crack on a boulder. I mean, it’s on a boulder. In Yosemite.
I figured it would mean nothing to him since he was a legend there … having done the FAs of so many big, classic, hard routes. Not the case. He was more psyched about it than I was, and proceeded to tell me stories about the day of the FA, and how lucky he was to be a part of it. Looking back, that conversation has definitely changed the way I want to approach and reflect on my own climbing, and how I want to relate to other climbers when they are excited about what they’ve done.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
When you ask an open ended question like that, for some reason, the cynic in me wants to talk. So, yes, there is. Stop taking yourselves so seriously. Or better yet, don’t expect everyone else to be as serious as you. This shit is personal … nothing more.
Grades are just fine. Spray is just fine. Shirtless dudes in the gym and girls in booty shorts are just fine. Your opinions don’t mean anymore than those of someone else. When you think they do, you’ve lost the point of all of this. The good news is, this community is accepting and will forgive you, as long as you can admit to being an idiot, which we all are occasionally. And that’s my opinion.
Kris Hampton is supported by Maxim Ropes, Evolv, and RockQuest climbing gym. To learn more about Kris, give his rap music a listen and visit The Power Company website to learn more about his training programs.