There’s nothing that screams ‘summer’ more than a day spent deep water soloing, followed by a refreshing beer or ice cream on the beach. Combine this with some cliff jumping, sailing, snorkelling, sport climbing, a good crew and great parties, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a perfect holiday.
That being said, if you’re new to the sport, deep water soloing can feel a little daunting at first. When you find yourself doing a hard move high above the water with no option but to top out or fall in… well, it’s an experience!
For this reason, we teamed up with Sail Next - who are running our Mallorca Climb & Sail trip - to bring you 10 tips to get the most out of your first deep water soloing experience. But first…
Deep water soloing in Western Sicily © Ilaria Occhipinti
What is Deep Water Soloing (DWS)?
As the name suggests, deep water soloing (DWS, or psicobloc as it’s known in Europe) is a form of solo climbing - meaning that you have no harness or rope to catch your falls.
However, unlike traditional soloing where a fall means plummeting to the ground, you’ll be climbing over a body of water (usually a lake or the sea). So when you get pumped, tired or even just too hot, you can jump straight into the water and land with a refreshing splash. Easy!
Like any style of climbing, deep water soloing can be taken to different extremes. Typically, most amateurs will do short climbs or traverses a few meters above the sea with relatively safe landings. A typical deep water soloing day out might include other fun activities as well, such as cliff jumping, paddling, snorkelling or surfing.
Deep water solo isn't all about climbing! It's an opportunity to participate in some other fun activities, such as cliff jumping. © Sail Next
At the other extreme, you have the pros like Chris Sharma who do tall, hard routes with the potential for some pretty hairy falls… Just check out the video of him climbing Es Pontas and you’ll see what I mean.
Depending on where you’re climbing, you’ll approach the route either by land or by sea. The ideal situation, of course, is to have a sailboat nearby, so you can sunbathe on the deck between attempts, take some cool photos of your friends, and cheer them on from a place of comfort.
Travelling by sailboat is the best way to experience deep water soloing, in our opinion © Sail Next
10 tips for a great Deep Water Solo day out
1. Safety first!
Under ideal conditions - and with the right knowledge - deep water soloing is a sport with minimal risks. However, minimal does not mean zero, so bear these things in mind before you head out.
The greatest risk is hitting hidden rocks or obstacles under the water, or jumping into water that is too shallow to accommodate your fall. A guidebook of the area should give you an idea of how safe the falls are on each route, but remember that the water depth changes according to tides and other conditions. Plunging into rough waves is a very different story to jumping into a calm and clear sea…
If you are heading to a new deep water soloing area for the first time, we recommend going with a local climber or guide who knows the area well. Why not book onto one of our Climb & Sail trips, so you can give it a try without having to worry about the logistics?
It's important to minimise the risks when participating in any extreme sport. For this reason, we recommend going deep water soloing with someone who knows the area well. © Sail Next
2. Don’t look down…
If you’re used to sport climbing or bouldering, deep water soloing can feel a little scary at first. You may find yourself 10m above the sea, pumped out of your mind, fingers uncurling, with no option but to jump in or top out…
When I first started deep water soloing, it felt very counterintuitive to climb so high up without being tied into a rope. Our advice is simple: just don’t look down! In most cases, though, this is easier said than done.
A good tactic if you’re feeling a little nervous is to try and focus on the task at hand (climbing!). Shift your attention to the moves ahead of you, rather than the possibility of falling off.
If you’re struggling with fear of falling, you have a few options. 1) choose a really easy route to build your confidence; 2) choose a route that’s way too hard for you so you fall off low down; or, 3) stick to short climbs and traverses just over the sea.
3. Look down when you’re falling!
Tip number 2 only applies to when you’re climbing. Unless your route tops out onto dry land, the only way down is to jump into the water (if you don’t fall before reaching the top, that is).
At this moment, it’s time to finally look down! Quickly study the trajectory of your fall, try to relax as much as possible, and get ready for a big splash.
Falling is a big part of deep water soloing, so we recommend you get practicing! Start from a height you feel comfortable at, and work your way up © Sail Next
4. Practice falling from a height that you are comfortable at
Familiarise yourself with the sensation of falling by taking some time to practice. Start from a height where you feel totally comfortable letting go, and gradually work up from there. While it’s important to slowly push out of your comfort zone, try not to rush to process as it can end with you just feeling even more afraid.
In deep water soloing, as in bouldering, falling is part of the discipline. Hitting the water with the wrong part of your body may not be very pleasant, but it’s a risk you have to be willing to take. With time, though, you will learn how to contort yourself in the air so that you land feet first no matter where and how you fall. Just build up to this gradually!
5. Bring multiple pairs of shoes
The sea is wet, and so your shoes will be wet when you fall in. Wet shoes, however, don’t stick to the rock very well! You’re going to have to wait for them to dry between attempts. Luckily, you just have to wait for the rubber sole to dry which takes a few minutes in warm weather.
That being said, if you’re planning on doing any other type of climbing during your trip, we recommend you bring an extra pair of shoes (or two). The whole shoe might not dry in time for your next session and sport climbing with soggy feet isn’t much fun.
Sail Next also recommend bringing an old pair of shoes that you don’t mind damaging to wear for the first few days deep water soloing, as chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time in the water :)
Deep water soloing brings you to some really cool spots, like this one... © Sail Next
6. Invest in a waterproof chalkbag
Chalk is essential to helping you have a good grip on the rock, and it’s especially important when the rock is a little wet (for example, from sea spray). To avoid getting your chalk wet, why not invest in a waterproof chalkbag? There are models specifically designed for deep water soloing on the market, so you don’t have to worry about destroying your chalk whenever you take a fall.
7. Learn how to rest on the rock
Deep water soloing isn’t a discipline where you can shout at your partner to ‘take’ when you feel the pump building up. But to save you from falling into the water time and time again, you can learn how to ‘rest’ on the route. The goal is to recover enough energy to allow you to make it to the top.
There are a few tactics that will help you get the most of your time on the rock. Before you start, read the route: study the rock and try to figure out what moves you need to make as you progress up the route. Are there any big holds or places where the climbing gets easier? Make a mental note of these, as this is where you will rest.
As you climb and reach these easier sections, you should be able to stop and rest one arm at a time, shaking it out a bit to get rid of any pump. Take this opportunity to chalk up as well, study the next section of the climb, and take some much needed deep breaths.
Learning how to rest on the rock won't just help you deep water soloing, it's a great tactic for any climbing discipline © Sail Next
8. Don’t forget to eat and drink (not just beer)!
It’s easy to get swept up in the fun of deep water soloing and forget to stop to drink or eat. However, dehydration is a real risk when doing sport on a hot day. Keep a water bottle handy and take some sips between attempts, and drink lots throughout the day before and after you climb. This is especially crucial if you are planning on celebrating with a few beers…
If you’re going to climb or deep water solo for a few days in a row - or have a long session planned - it’s recommended to have some snacks too. Avoid anything too heavy, and prioritise simple carbohydrates as these will help you to keep your energy up. I personally like to nibble on biscuits, dried fruit or energy bars - but choose whatever is most tempting on the day. Consuming some salts and sugars over the course of the day will also help prevent you from becoming too dehydrated.
Deep water soloing may be an individual sport, but new people and cheering on friends is all part of the experience © Chris Burkard via Rock & Water Mallorca
9. Climb with a good crew
Deep water soloing is an individual sport, but like bouldering, it’s also a pretty social one! True, spotting or belaying isn’t necessary (the sea looks after this), but sharing the experience is a fundamental part of the sport.
When you are not climbing, your main job is to support your buddies: cheer them on, take photos, watch how they climb, and offer them advice (if they want it - no beta spraying!). If you have a paddle board or small boat, you can even go pick up your mates when they fall off so they don’t have far to swim. Deep water soloing is a great way of making friends, meeting new people and improving your climbing together!
10. Relax and have fun!
It’s easy to get caught up in performance anxiety, frustration and fear of failure. But you have to remember - you are on holiday! Take the time to relax, be in the moment, and appreciate your surroundings: the lapping waves and orange rock, the sun, the cawing gulls, that calmness that comes with spending time by the sea.
After all, climbing (and deep water soloing) isn’t all about sending hard routes or performing to your max. It’s time spent in nature, laughing with friends. It’s an opportunity to play a little and be a bit silly, to connect with others without the intermediary of technology.
At the end of the day, you're on holiday, so the point is to have fun! © Sail Next
To sum up…
Deep water soloing is a great way to make new friends and get your climbing fix, even when it’s too hot to go to the crag. No matter whether you’re a complete beginner or bordering on pro, it’s possible to have a fun and successful day out - just follow our tips.
If you want to combine climbing, deep water soloing and sailing, then book onto one of our Climb & Sail trips departing this summer. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.
Davide 'Cata' Catlano deep water soloing in Western Sicily © Massimo Cappuccio
A huge thank you to Sail Next for the photos and help with this article.