Meet the adventurer: Team GB’s Shauna Coxsey on the UK’s top climbing spots

Ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games taking place this summer, we speak to Shauna Coxsey, Britain’s most successful competitive climber, about the UK’s best climbing spots, how she trains and what’s next for her after the Games.

By Nora Wallaya
Published 10 Jul 2021, 06:07 BST
Shauna Coxsey will represent Great Britain at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, taking place in ...

Shauna Coxsey will represent Great Britain at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, taking place in summer 2021.

Photograph by Shauna Coxsey

You’ve gained international recognition in your sport. What achievement are you most proud of?

The thing I’m most proud of is that I can sit here now and say that I still love climbing as much as I did when I first started — more than any gold medal I’ve won and more than my ticket to the Olympics. It’s been a fight. At times I’ve started to fall out of love with the sport, but I’ve managed to rein it back in. The joy that I feel when I climb and the passion that I feel is still the same as when I first started.

Where did your passion for climbing come from?

When I was four, I watched a woman on TV called Catherine Destivelle climbing cliffs in Africa without ropes and just thought, I’d love to do that. About a year later, my dad and I found a local climbing wall. I started in the kids’ groups, then asked my dad if he could learn to belay (assist my climbs by holding the other end of the rope). I’ve been obsessed ever since.

What are your favourite outdoor climbing spots in the UK?

We live in Sheffield, which is, I believe, the only city in the UK to have a national park within its city borders — the Peak District. It’s a playground on my doorstep. So gorgeous, with so much history and just so close by.

After Tokyo 2020, I’ll retire from competitions, and I’m excited to be able to get out to the Peak District to climb and not have to hurry back for training, or worry about reserving my energy for training. I’m from the Northwest originally, so North Wales holds a close place in my heart too. It’s incredibly beautiful, and there’s so much climbing to do there.

There are definitely a few that stand out. But mine and my husband’s favourite place to climb has to be Västervik in Sweden. It’s an archipelago, and the boulders are right next to the sea. I love the sea and being near water, and it’s quite rare to find bouldering and the sea in one place. It’s incredibly beautiful — we absolutely love it there.

Are there any legendary climbs you’re keen to tackle?  

The list goes on and on, and there’s endless potential. But I think because my focus right now is on Tokyo, they’re tucked into the back of my mind. But it’s definitely starting to creep forward. More than anything, I just want to be able to get outside and climb with my husband, which we’ve not been able to do recently.

Amid the pandemic, how have you managed to stay motivated for climbing?

During the first lockdown I did a lot of training at home as we weren’t allowed to go outdoors. We’ve got a really good basement gym set up at home, with a few training climbing boards too. The subsequent lockdowns were a lot easier to adjust to. I live with my other half and two housemates, and they’re just such motivated people — they’re psyched all the time, so it didn't feel hard to keep training and keep active because I was surrounded by people who inspire me daily.

How do you prepare for a bouldering or climbing trip?  

I’m quite meticulous about having everything I need in my climbing bag. I’m always the one that turns up on holiday with a massive suitcase filled with stuff. I’m the same whether I’m going to an indoor wall or to a crag outside. I take multiple pairs of climbing shoes, because I never know which ones I'm going to need. And snacks. I can get pretty ‘hangry’. People always come to me for food because they know my bag’s full of it. I always take bananas, then loads of fruit bars, nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. Finally, I have a little pouch that’s got everything I could ever need inside, like nail clippers, tampons, you name it — it’s all in there, ready. Even if I don’t need it, someone around me probably will.

Do you have any favourite indoor climbing spots in the UK? 

Definitely The Climbing Hangar centres. And I don’t say that just because I work with the company — I say it because the company has been so innovative and incredibly passionate about the climbing community — putting time into what works for the people who go climbing. It’s got to be mentioned too that its cafes are next-level. The food is great at every single one. Traditionally climbing walls are built in industrial places and are all about the climbing. But, as the sport is growing, there’s been a transition into making them comfortable, clean spaces. My older sisters don’t climb, but they still love coming to the climbing wall to hang out or to watch me compete. Jed, the owner of The Climbing Hangar, has made his centres across the UK great places to hang out in.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into bouldering or climbing for the first time?

Jump online and find your local climbing wall and book an induction. Climbing is a sport for everybody — it’s really inclusive. It’s so natural for us, too — as kids, we want to go climb up trees and climb around the house when we’re not supposed to. That desire doesn’t go away as we get older. Go and have fun with it.

What does adventure mean to you?

Adventure is exploring beyond our comfort zone. Looking towards things that feel challenging and exciting for us. And that could be an adventure in the kitchen, making something you’ve never tried before, or it could be going climbing for the first time. It’s pushing boundaries when it comes to your physical limits — from trying to do your first pull-up to your first one-arm pull-up. Mostly, it’s exploring your own potential.

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