Chat with Naomi Buys // Women's Climbing Symposium 2018
Naomi buys, the woman who climbed three E7s in one week, is an inspirational climber who simply loves the sport. Naomi climbs as much as possible and her local climbing spots are Lancashire, Yorkshire, Grit and Limestone. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to Naomi at the 2019 Women’s Climbing Symposium.
We started off discussing the climbing community, and how white it is. Last year’s WCS photos seemed to be a white sub-section of the female population. Naomi discussed with me how she helped organise the Association of British Climbers (ABC) AGM earlier this year. We also considered climbing experiences from a female perspective, what makes a good climber, and how far female representation has come since she started climbing.
What is ABC?
Association of British Climbers. They had their AGM. It was like a trade show. They had a few different speakers as well, and they had a guy called Mikhail Martin, from America. He’s the founder of ‘Brothers in Climbing’. Basically, the idea was, he was really surprised that there were no African Americans climbing so he started this thing, and gradually, it’s not just African Americans now, there’s all different ethnic minorities. He came over to give a talk about how we can increase diversity at UK climbing walls. The whole audience was white and I was so embarrassed. I mean, you look around and how many ethnic minorities are at climbing walls? Hardly any. I think that was the main thrust of what he had to say. That you should let people know that they’re welcome. It’s very sort of, white middle class privilege, climbing, isn’t it? It’s like a luxury sport.
What makes climbing with other women a positive experience?
I mainly climb with my husband, but I still climb with other women from time to time. I do actually really enjoy it, more. This is quite a niche viewpoint, but I’ve been trying a really hard route at Marlon Cove, a sport route, and a friend of mine [Tanya] has been climbing it at the same time. She knows where to keep the rope tight and where to pay it out and she pays attention, and you know when [i’m] climbing that she is belaying how i would want to be belayed because she belays how she would want to be belayed. Whereas when i’m climbing with my husband, he just doesn’t get that. He’s pretty good and I trust him, and in fact almost every hard thing i’ve ever done, he’s belayed me. But still, I have to tell him, take in, to tell him pay attention, watch me, stuff like that, that I wouldn’t have to do. I think it’s because, I’m totally generalising here - women do get scared at different times or they worry about things more, and guys don’t really understand that. So they don’t climb the same way or pay attention the same way. Whereas if I climb with Tanya, [she] totally gets that, [and] does it instinctively.
What characteristics would make a good climbing partner for you?
Somebody who lets me make my own decisions when i’m climbing and supports me in that whatever I want to do and doesn’t point out things that they think i’ve done wrong. We call it suckers and blowers. The crag psyche. So a sucker, they suck all the psyche out of thecrag [-Naomi demonstrates by sucking in air-]. And then somebody else will, [-Naomi demonstrates by blowing out air-] blow psyche, and you’re there and it’s positive. So some people are just really really positive aren’t they, like, yeah that was really good, I know you fell off there but the way you did that move was really good. Whereas somebody else might be like oh yeah it’s just rubbish isn’t it.
Would you say that feminism has shaped your climbing career or that climbing has shaped your views on feminism? Or are they completely unrelated to each other?
Erm, I have been inspired by female climbing role models. I always have been. And we talked about this at length recently in an article that Keith Sharpols did in Climber Magazine. He wrote an article in Climber Magazine and I had to contribute some thoughts to that. And it did make me think, yes, get inspired by, when another woman climbs something, and you think oh maybe I can do that, in a way it that wouldn’t happen if a man did it. And sometimes it’s also inspiring if guys are like ‘oh yeah this is a really macho climb’ or they don’t think that you’ll be able to do this and you’re like ‘right ok’. So yeah definitely. But most of the time I just don’t see much gender divide. It’s not really that much any more. It was a big thing when I started climbing 24 years ago. I was the only female climbing at my local wall - I think there might have been one other, and everybody else was macho guys and it was really intimidating. [It’s] a lot more accessible [nowadays]. I’d say that at indoor walls you’re approaching 50:50. Not so much on the crags but it’s not far off.
Why do you think there’s such a difference between the indoor and outdoor?
Um because outdoors kind of sometimes, in this country, it’s a bit like suffering. And women are too clever to suffer unnecessarily.
I like how that’s put.
But, I think you’re definitely seeing a lot more very psyched focused women going out themselves. I’m not one of these, I go when it’s convenient and when it looks nice. I like not suffering. My friend Tanya, she’ll go and suffer at the crag when it’s bad conditions, cause she’s so psyched. Me I’m just like 'ehhh, I’ll go to the indoor wall'. She’s achieved. She achieves because she does that, so kudos to her.
What would you say constitutes or makes a good climber?
That’s a really difficult question. A good climber is somebody who loves climbing and is willing to learn and keep applying stuff all the time. Somebody could be brand new at climbing but they could be good at climbing if they’ve got the right attitude. You could get somebody who’s been climbing forever and they’ve done loads of hard stuff but their attitude sucks. So, yeah, being humble, listening to, and learning from other people, applying it and keeping moving forward in your climbing, because you love climbing. Actually i’ve seen people climb something really hard in terrible style. And it’s like a car crash watching them do it. In fact, we were at Kilnsey on Tuesday and Ben Roo was there and he was trying Northern Lights. It’s 9A and it’s got a lot of history. And he got really high, and I said to him ‘oh good effort Ben it looked really good there’ and he was like ‘no’, he said ‘I was climbing it really badly, I don’t know what was wrong with me, I was shaking’. It didn’t matter to him that he [had] gotten really high up on the route, it mattered that he’d climbed it badly. And then he was watching Jordan climb and Jordan also got really high on his project which is just to the left, but Benny said ‘that was lovely to watch’. He just climbed it so well, it was really a pleasure to watch. He’s one of the best climbers in the world, ever, of his genre, of his era. But what he values is climbing in good style. You almost feel like if he’d done his route, he might have wanted to do it again. Better. You need to choose foryourself your own climbing. That’s the most important thing for up here [-Naomi points to her head-]. If somebody tells you to get on something, you’re gonna have an epic on it. Whereas if you’ve decided to get on it, then, you just deal with it, because it’s your choice to be there. So with trad, when you’re ready, you’ll be inspired by something, and you’ll say ‘I want to do that’ and that, that’ll be a completely different experience to being scared witless.
Have you got a plan for the rest of the workshop?
Haha, no plan at all. I just wanted to get through my talk.
You can keep up to date with Naomi, and her husband Jordan, and their adventures on instagram (@cannyclimbing) and their website.