Kaylee Voss grew up hearing her parents talk about rock climbing “all the time.”
Frequently at the top of those discussions was the legendary climber Chris Sharma. On Tuesday, the subject that dominated the first-year Cal Poly student’s climbing-centric youth became a real-life experience when Sharma showed up at the campus rock wall to the enjoyment of a small group of in-the-know enthusiasts.
“I think it’s super cool that he’s here,” said Voss, an Apple Valley native who said her parents started her climbing as soon as “I could walk.”
The pleasant surprise came about on short notice as part of an informal “California road trip” Sharma is on to visit climbing sites throughout the state. The Santa Cruz native hit Cal Poly’s wall in between stops in Bishop — considered one of the country’s premier rock climbing destinations — his hometown bouldering walls on Panther Beach and Red Rock Canyon State Park in the southern Sierra Nevada.
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“It’s always good to be back in California,” said Sharma, 35, who has been climbing since he was 12 and began climbing full-time as a professional at age 16.
One of Sharma’s sponsors, Red Bull, asked if he would stop by the Cal Poly wall on his way back to Santa Cruz. It was then promoted by the local gym SLO-Op Climbing in a Facebook post just days before the event.
“I basically texted all my friends asking, ‘Is this real?’ ” second-year Cal Poly student Adam Simon said. “And we all showed up, and it was real. It’s pretty awesome.”
Sharma, labeled by NPR in 2007 as the world’s best rock climber, is known for mastering some of the globe’s most difficult climbs, not to mention his expressive style of yelling and grunting while often climbing shirtless. He’s established a number of routes with a high degree of difficulty and has been featured in numerous climbing films. He lives in Spain and has since opened climbing gyms in Santa Ana and Barcelona.
“I just recently got into climbing this year, and I got into (Sharma) through my roommate who would show me videos,” Simon said. “About half of them were Chris Sharma sending ungodly routes in Spain and screaming with his shirt off. It was just so bad ass and awesome.
“He’s a really awesome inspiration in the climbing community, so I was stoked.”
Joined by Spanish climber, Pol Roca, a Sharma-sponsored athlete, the two casually mingled and posed for photos with the group of 30 to 40 fans while testing out routes on the Cal Poly bouldering wall. Sharma then offered his insight into the sport in an informal question-and-answer session.
“It’s cool for me, I mean climbing is my life, so it’s cool to be able to connect with other people through climbing and in some way have a positive influence,” said Sharma, who said he’ll return to Spain in a couple of days to continue work on a “couple of really difficult climbs that are going to be pretty groundbreaking.”
“I feel like it’s super important, so yeah, it’s cool for me to be here, for sure,” he added.
One of the more poignant themes during the Q-and-A was a topic often broached in climbing circles: pushing past barriers, something in which Sharma has clearly excelled.
“First, you have to be passionate about the thing you want to achieve and then set out and, piece by piece, try to put it together,” he said to the crowd sitting in a semicircle around him, “especially things that are at our limit. Climbing is such a cool metaphor in that way for a lot of things.
“That’s what I try to find anyways, things that are even beyond my limit that force me to grow as a climber and as a person.”
Voss, of course, follows Sharma’s exploits intently, often through the dramatic photos posted to his social media accounts. Up next: a series of videos on Sharma’s YouTube account documenting his “California road trip.”
After excitedly posing for a photo with him, Voss now has her own personalized Sharma social media content.
“I was super stoked,” she said.