When you get more into climbing you are likely to stumble upon deep water soloing or psicobloc. This is a type of climbing where you fall into water if you are unsuccessful on the climb or sometimes after topping out you jump down in to the water. This cliffdiving style of falling or routes makes it safer to fall and opens up a lot of new crags to climb. Deep water soloing is a lot of fun, especially on hot summer days with a nice group of friends.
In this article we summed up how to get started in DWS climbing, what gear you need and where are the most famous spots for DWS.
How to start deep water soloing safely
- Know the area and what to expect: Check out where and how to enter the climbing area. Do you need ropes and harnesses? Can you traverse the cliff to the site and is that safe? Can you go in with a paddle board, kayak or boat? How do you get out of the climb, do you top out or jump in to the water. Can you get back to the traverse from the water?
- Check the weather and the wildlife: You should prepare for changing weather as well as what lives in the water. If its too cold there is a big chance to get cold water shock of hypothermia when DWS climbing. If the weather is or turns cold or you get a storm or even rain at the spot it can make the activity turn from fun to survival. In the ocean there can be different kinds of corals, jellyfish, sharks or seasnakes. These are often not dangerous, but should be taken into consideration as well. Another thing to consider is if there are animals that are nesting or rare might mean that climbing should be ceased in the area. You should find out if there are currents that can sweep you away after falling or if the weather is going to take a turn for the worse.
- Make sure the landing is safe: The first tip is in the name itself as its important to make sure that the water is deep enough to safely fall into. Even if you go to an established and popular DWS site its always your own responsibility to make sure its safe to climb. Somethings to take into consideration are also tides as the shallower waters at low tide can have the rocks a lot closer to the surface. Even larger waves in the water can expose rocks quite suddenly. Also there might be something floating on the surface, like another climber or a tree trunk that can be dangerous to fall on. If the cliff is not overhanging, it might be necessary to push off the rock when falling to make sure you hit the water in a good body position and spot.
- Know what you are doing: Before going DWS climbing you should know at least the basic climbing skill. You should also know how to swim in water that can be moving due to natural forces such as waves or that can be dark and intimidating to some. Although the water is there to break your fall you should know how to fall as well. As falling face first, on to your stomach or in a multiple other ways can be bad for you. You should hit the water with your feet first and have your body straight. If you fall off suddenly and in a bad body position you can try to fix it by swinging your arms. If the water is not really deep you might want to have the feet a little bit to the front and arms to the side to slow down the descent once in the water. Its a good idea to have the legs close to each other and not to look down at the water on impact. You might want to either close your nose with a hand (also protects the face) or blow out of the nose to prevent water from getting in through your nostrils. Its also a good idea to take some practice falls from lower parts of the cliff so you get this dialed in and can focus more on the climbing.
- Bring the gear you need: The most common things to bring are shoes for climbing and you should bring a pair that you won’t mind getting wet. Another thing is chalk. I like to use liquid chalk and the bottle is easier to keep dry and stashed at the start of the routes, but you might want to bring a chalk bag, especially for longer routes. Its not a good idea to fill the chalk bag to the brim if you expect that you are going to fall, but rather have some chalk at the start or on the boat to fill it up. You might also want to consider bringing two pairs of shoes and two chalk bags so that you can switch after falling. Quite often the wind and sun can help dry the first pair while you are sending the route.
- Bring some climbing friends: Like with most climbing activities DWS can be a lot safer and a lot more fun with friends. Having someone look after your SUP board, kayak or the boat while you are climbing or to help out in case of an emergency is really important. When you or your friends fall the others should take a good look at how the fall goes, and make sure the climber is ok when surfacing. A good policy is to always show the ok when surfacing if you are in fact ok. When the sign is not made, others can immediately get started to help you out.
DWS climbing technique
Deep water soloing is mostly done on overhanging routes, as falling from them it is easier to hit the water. Therefore the climbing skills mostly needed are similar to climbing overhanging routes with ropes or when bouldering. Take a look at our Basic climbing techniques article here!
Psicobloc climbing: the start and history of deep water soloing
The history of DWS started in Mallorca in the 1970s. DWS was first called psicobloc which translates to psycho boulder. In the 90s DWS was getting traction in Britain and in 2001 a group of British climbers went to Mallorca to establish a lot of routes. In 2006 and also in Mallorca Chris Sharma climbed the hardest ever DWS route with a 5.15a/9a+ grade. The climb was shown on the climbing movie King Lines which is included in our Best Climbing Movies And Documentaries article that you can see here!
Best places for DWS
Mallorca and Menorca: Mallorca considered as the birthplace of psicobloc and it still is one of the best locations for DWS climbing. An other great option is its neighboring island of Menorca. These islands are on the Balearic sea off the coast of Spain
Maui, Hawaii: Hawaii has some of the best DWS spots in the world, besides being a great trip destination in itself. There is some great volcanic rock and views to be enjoyed. Make sure to check out Ka’anapali.
The Azores islands: the beautiful Azores islands offer some great deep water soloing as well as many other activies like hiking and water sports to enjoy during your trip. There are rafts available for rent to get access to some of the best DWS spots in the world.
Sardinia: besides being a hidden gem in European climbing, the island of Sardinia offers some world class DWS routes.
Malta: Malta is another island in the Mediterranean that has some great DWS possibilities. Make sure to check the cliffs of Comino and the Blue Grotto while you are there.
Tonsai, Thailand: Thailand is one of the most affordable DWS locations, at least when you get there. Cost of flights might me bigger depending on where you start from. Well considering that you might want to stay for longer as there is a lot of climbing to do in Tonsai and a lot of excellent DWS routes.
Pembroke, UK: British climbers really got the ball running for DWS climbing in the 90’s and therefore its not a surprise that you can find a lot of quality DWS routes in the UK. Compared to the other locations listed here its good to remember that UK doesn’t always have the best weather conditions, so DWS climbing is limited to a certain degree by the weather window.
Punkaharju, Finland: A similarly weather influenced DWS site is found in Finland. There is a nice touch in this DWS site as typically for the Finns, the main cliff has a floating sauna where you can warm up after the fall.
Common questions about DWS
What does DWS mean in climbing?
DWS refers to deep water solo which means that the climbing is protected by the climber falling into water.
What does psicobloc mean?
Psicobloc was the original term coined for deep water solo climbing and it translates to Psycho boulder.
How safe is deep water soloing?
Just like most climbing, deep water soloing is as safe as you make it. With good preparation and following the tips given in this article DWS can be really safe and fun. On the flip side there are many dangers to take into account when deep water soloing!