Profile: Ben West
South West climber Ben West is scaling new heights on the international climbing scene. A former British team member and current coach for the South West junior team, the 21-year-old climber talks to Adventure Cornwall about his experiences.
AC: When did it all start for you?
BW: When I was 14. I went climbing with my school and just loved it. We were supposed to climb outdoors but it was wet so we went to an indoor wall instead. The instructors said I was a natural.
AC: Were you hooked straight away?
BW: Yes. I ended up going very regularly. I was living in Bath at the time and my Mum would drive me over to the Bristol Climbing Centre so I could climb.
AC: What was your competitive breakthrough?
BW: When I was 15 I entered the South West round of The British Regional Youth Competition Series (BRYCS). I came first. I then went on to the nationals and finished ninth. As I did so well I was invited to the British team trials and made the team.
AC: What are you biggest achievements?
BW: Being British bouldering champion and finishing 15th in lead climbing at the World Championships.
AC: What’s you favourite type of climbing?
BW: If I had to pick one it would be bouldering as it tends to be more social.
AC: What’s your connection with Cornwall?
BW: My parents live in St Ives so I visit regularly. But I was climbing in Cornwall long before my parents moved there.
AC: Where are your favourite places to climb in Cornwall?
BW: I think it would have to be Sennen. There are two routes there I particularly like – Samson Arête (E2) and Demolition (E6). But I also love the climbing at Bosigran and Carn Barra.
AC: Why is climbing in Cornwall so special?
BW: It’s just beautiful down there. It’s very peaceful and the landscape is stunning. Plus the quality of the rock is superb – Cornish granite is one of a kind.
AC: Where’s your favourite global climbing destination?
BW: For bouldering it’s hard to beat the Rocky Mountains in the United States. I also enjoy climbing in Thailand and Spain.
AC: Have you had any scary moments?
BW: I was caught in the Tsunami in Thailand. There was a group of us climbing the Ao Nang Tower, which is only accessible by boat. I was Deep Water Soloing when I noticed that the water wasn’t so deep any more. It got really shallow so I got back in the boat. Then I looked out on the horizon and saw the wave. We managed to get the boat behind the rock; we went over a couple of waves but eventually capsized. We jumped on the back of the boat and got washed up on rocks in the middle of nowhere.
AC: That was a lucky escape!
BW: All our gear was lost, so we had no shoes or T-shirts. I did find a T-shirt with two dice and the lucky number 7 on it! How strange is that? We then spent hours trekking through the jungle. When we got back we eventually found all the members of our group, which was amazing.
AC: I guess travel is very important for your climbing?
BW: Travel is a big thing for me. It’s the reason why I haven’t done competitions for two years. I first got into travel when I went to China for the World Championships – it was fantastic chance to see new things and meet new people.
Working to Climb
AC: What are you climbing ambitions?
BW: At this point in my life I’m not entering competitions. It’s really hard to be a full-time climber and make a living at it. I do a bit of coaching for the South West junior team. I’ve also been building a lot of climbing walls and help a lot with route setting. But I’m now considering getting back into competitions.
AC: What advice do you have for people thinking about taking up climbing?
BW: Just give it a go. Find a local climbing wall and learn. If you want to do competitions, get ready to be committed. But most of all enjoy it.
Interview by Elliot Walker