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Malcolm Smith

Name: Malcolm Smith
Born: Dunbar, 27.10.1973
Living in: Glasgow, Scotland
Height: 5'10'' (178cm)
Weight: 78 kg
Job: rope access
Began Climbing: 1988
Best Onsight (sport climbing): 8a+
Best Flash (Sport climbing): 8a+
Hardest Redpoint: 8c+, Hubble
Best flash (bouldering): 8a Waz up (Ailefroide), and Surprise du Chef (Ailefroide)
Hardest boulder: 8b+ (Monk life in Northhumberland and Pilgrimage at Parisella's cave in North Wales)
Favourite climbing style: overhangs, onsight
Favourite sport climbing crag: Céüse (France)
Favourite bouldering spot: Fontainebleau (France)
Favourite Route: Cry freedom, Malham (UK)
Favourite Boulder Problem: The Ace, Stanage Plantation (Sheffield, UK)
Competition Results: 1st place in BWC Birmingham 2003, 3rd place in BWC Rovereto 2002, 2nd Bouldering Rock Master Arco 2002, more
Music: I'm not a big music fun, I don't buy a lot of music
Favourite drink: Buckfast, Whisky
Favourite meal: curry
Hobby: climbing, weight lifting
Website: -

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Malcolm Smith interview by Daniel Vecchiato and Mike Gray © all rights reserved


Hey guys, it has been an hard hunting, and hectic task: we have been on Malcolm's steps for quite a while, but in the end we managed to find him... in a phone box!
...and as usual we tryed to be professional!

Hey Malcolm, given that you are a tough Scotsman, we wonder whether you have never climbed in a a kilt!
Mmmhh, I've never done it, you know, if you are a real Scots man, you don't wear anything under it, quite embarrassing!

You repeated Hubble (8c+/Font 8b) when you were only 18 and relatively unknown. Did you realise at the time how significant this was?
I realised that it was quite a significant ascent when I did it, in fact Ben Moon did the first ascent of this route just 2 years before I repeated it. Of course when I was 18 I did not feel very young, I thought I was grown up, but if I look back it just seems a very young age to climb that hard a route!

Reports say that you've done a few routes while away in Europe this winter. Why did you switch from bouldering to sport climbing after so many years dedicated to the former?
Ehmm, climbing in Britain it's basically hard to onsight all the time and I ended up working a lot of routes at the same crags, and I stopped enjoying sport climbing as much, because it became more like hard work, then I got more and more into bouldering. But after long I was bouldering, I went to Europe last year, and I spent 2 months purely doing routes, and I really enjoyed it! That reminded me how good routes are!

Did you do it because you got injured?
Well, I got a bad injury about two years ago: I broke a bone in my hand and that bone never fully healed, and now there is a little bit of dead bone in my hand, and that gave me a lot of bother for about a year but it seems ok now!


Malcolm Smith on Pilgrimage (Parisella's cave - Wales) - Ph: David Simmonite
Malcolm Smith on Pilgrimage (Parisella's cave - Wales) - Ph: David Simmonite

You developed your climbing in isolation in Scotland/Northumberland before bursting on to the scene with hard repeats (e.g. Hubble). Was it difficult? Was it the lack of benchmark that made you so strong?
It some ways it's even easier, because when you do a hard problem in training, there is nobody there to say "that's really hard, you have done really well!", so I never assumed it was really hard, so I was always pushing myself! I think that if you do things at an higher standard it is easy to become complacent, to rest on your laurels a little bit, and not try to push yourself harder. So in some ways I think that some isolation is therefore quite good for your training because you are always pushing yourself, and it is less easy to become complacent.

When did you first realise that you were good?
Well, I progressed quite rapidly. I started when I was 15, and by the time I was 16 I did a 7c+, when I was 17 I reached 8b and then, when I was 18 I did an 8c+! When I started climbing and training for climbing I felt quite big improvements quite fast, so I think it was quite easy for me to get strong!

What about broccoli?!
Ah aha ah! Broccoli?!? I love broccoli! It's a perfect dieting food! If you want to diet for climbing, for me the best is broccoli and steak, it's really healthy and it has no calories, and… it taste nice!

Like many top climbers, you've been lucky enough to climb all arond the world, so where is your favourite spot?
I still think that the best spot I had ever bouldered in is Fontainebleau, and another favourite is Magic Wood in Switzerland. In Magic Wood it is like bouldering in a kind of Lord of the Ring atmosphere: it's a wooded valley, with a river running at the bottom of it, and the boulders are scattered in the wood, with the tops covered in moss. It really is a beautiful place, it's gorgeous.

If you could have done the first ascent of any climb/problem (other than one of your own!), which would it be?
Action Direct!


Malcolm Smith on Dremtime (Cresciano - Switzerland) - Ph: Roberto Armando
Malcolm Smith on Dremtime (Cresciano - Switzerland) - Ph: Roberto Armando

Why Action Direct?
I think it was just an amazing climb, it was the hardest route in the world when Wolfgang Gullich did it. And it seemed like a big leap forward in standards. I've never seen it but from photographs it looks amazing: a big steep prow, with shallow pockets up it, so it is quite impressive looking at it even on photographs!

There are a lot of strong youths out there now, but do you think they will climb harder problems, climb hard problems more easily, or just climb more hard moves? Will they still ride the scene in few years?
For myself, I think I'm getting a little bit stronger, but I think it's easier for people….they don't have to get much stronger, and they link more and more moves together by becoming fitter and getting sequences more and more wired. So I think there is quite a big room for improvement in that area so I think that people can climb things harder and harder without becoming much "stronger".

At the beginning of 2004 you declared on : "I see Monk life as a bottom end 8b+, only just scraping into the grade. It's a bit harder than some things I've done like The Ace which get 8b. I think in Britain we have a harsher scale than in Europe and there's loads of room in 8b+ for absolutely sick things which are harder than Monk Life. I can't see any reason to give anything 8c. That grade is unbelievable and I struggle to believe anyone around can climb it. We've got to be sensible about these things.") What did motivate your words?
I just think that in Britain there is a slightly different scale, and a lot of climbers are really reluctant to grade really hard staff anything higher than 8B. They tend to be quite conservative in grading. I think that it is a totally different scale in grading perhaps. It seems than in Europe people are more ready to grade hard staff 8B+ or 8C. Just two different scales basically.

Malcolm Smith on La Prue (Cresciano - Switzerland) - Ph: David Simmonite
Malcolm Smith on La Prue (Cresciano - Switzerland)
Ph: David Simmonite

You've always had a strong training mentality, do you still train hard and what do you do in a typical week?

Yeah, I still do a lot of training: I love it! At the moment I'm trying a hard project, so basically I try that whenever I can, and apart from that I'm doing things like campus board, dead hangs and one arm pull-ups. I've always done quite a lot of that sort of basic training: just hanging off edges, campus board and just bouldering. Recently I've done a lot of weights, I've done weights throughout my climbing career. I'm not sure whether they benefit me a great deal, because I'm a reasonably strong anyway, but I think they can really benefit climbers that are skinny, and lack a bit of overall strength in their body.

What single thing has improved your climbing more than any other?
Training my fingers! of fingers, I do a lot of dead weight hanging on finger board, Fingers are the thing that separate out the best climbers from everyone else, if you have weak fingers you can't get away with it. A lot of the best climbers probably aren't that strong in their bodies, but because they have got really strong fingers, they can get away with that. So working my fingers from an early age, just using finger boards: doing normal training, fingers is the most important thing I could have done!

Who or what has influenced your climbing?
Ben Moon and Jerry Mofatt have been the most influential climbers in my career I would say. I first met them in Sheffield in 1992, and they were at the peak of their powers at that time, and I was 18 years old and I was trying to emulate them, so they had a massive impact on me. Also their training philosophy really appealed to me.

Why after taking part in the Bouldering World Cup did you disappear from the circuit?
I wasn't enjoying it really! Even if I got good results and I'm a kind of shy person I don't really have a competitive and exhibitionist personality to enjoy climbing in the crowd so much. I think that most of the best competitor climbers also like to stay in the show!

Other than the usual kit, what things do you always take out bouldering?
An extendable toothbrush, and a lot of kit like a nail file, nail clippers, finger tape…

And what do you drink while bouldering?!?! Whisky?
Ah ah, no that's for the partying… coffee for bouldering!

Being a full-time climber in the UK is pretty hard work despite the generosity of some sponsors, so how do you make ends meet?
My sponsors helped me a lot, especially SCARPA, and afterwards Moonclimbing, but I also had to do several seasonal jobs in order to survive, and I had to step from one job into another. I've managed to climb full time for a couple of years supported by a grant from the Scottish Sport Council.

Describe your perfect day at the crag.
Quite an early start, maybe start climbing at 10am, 5°, blue sky, a bit of frost and snow on the ground, and if possible climbing somewhere like Fontainebleau or magic Wood!


Malcolm Smith on La Rondeur (Cresciano - Switzerland) - Ph: Roberto Armando
Malcolm Smith on La Rondeur (Cresciano - Switzerland) - Ph: Roberto Armando

What do you like most in a day's climbing: ticking loads of classic problems; a day spent camped on a desperate problem; flashing something hard; taking the piss out of your mates (etc. etc.)?
It depends, if I'm abroad I try to do a lot of things very fast, rather than just work on a really hard problem or route, but more often, on my local crag for example, I work on an hard project, and I try that exclusively for long time. When I'm abroad I try to flash problems, and if I can't flash them I'll try to do them quickly.

What is the most recent thing you've learned that has improved your climbing?
Working on technique! In this last period I have been trying projects around Glasgow, and watching other climbers working the moves and improving time by time, this has helped me in working more on technique, while I've usually concentrated more on power!
For me it's hard to get a lot stronger, I think I'm toward the limit of how strong I can get, I guess I'm quite near my genetic potential, but I can still get big improvements working on my technique because compared to a lot of climbers I've probably not done a lot of volume of climbs on different rock types and in different styles, I've always been somebody that's trained quite a lot and applied that training to certain problems. I'm not somebody that's climbed all year round on a big variety of different clibs so definitely technique is a thing that I could improve the most.

Is your climbing day any different now from when it was when you were starting out? Do you still get nervous about some problems and psyched for others, even if they are way harder?
I think that the difference is that when I started climbing I used to go to the crag and stayed there the all day until I was completely exhausted, while now I'm a lot more focused, I go climbing for 2 or 3 hours and after that, once I start feeling a little weak I can move on. Now I am a lot more focused, and I go to the crag with the intention of doing certain things rather than go out and do everything!

What about women in the climbing scene?
Women and climbing?!? There seems to be a lot of women climbing in Europe, but especially in Scotland there are very few! And, in particular, no women that really boulder in Scotland! I do know why that it is, it must be culture or something. Is not a sport to get into in Britain if you want to meet women!

What can we do to change this trend?
To change it… I don't know… don't really know!

Well maybe climbing in a kilt…
Yeah, or maybe get some good looking male climbers, so maybe that will make them start!

What about your current projects?
Well I'm getting a lot closer, I think I need to loose a little bit of weight fast, I'm 78 kg now, which is a bit heavy for me, I think I need to loose a couple of Kg, but I'm improving, I'm improving!

Boulder hard FreakClimbers!


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