At the Whitewater Center’s Tuck Fest this weekend, 3 Charlotte teens are ready to rock | WFAE 90.7

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At an annual celebration this weekend at the US National Whitewater Center, three Charlotte teenagers who have trained together since college are local favorites in a wild rock climbing sport you’ve probably never heard of.

It was called “psycho bloc” – psicobloc in Spanish – when it was invented almost 50 years ago on the island of Mallorca, Spain.

But it’s called deep water soloing at Tuck Festival, a three-day festival of music, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, running and other events at the 1,300-acre whitewater center south of Charlotte. In the festival’s signature competitive event, two athletes free-climb in a race up a four-story wall, without any ropes, before falling back into a 20-foot-deep pool of water. Forty thousand people are expected.

Julia Duffy, Alyssa Smith and Mary Ellis Stevens have been training together for five years on Charlotte’s Inner Peaks Climbing Team. For the three of them – all 17-year-old students at Myers Park High School – the collaborative culture of sports is its biggest draw.

“Climbing is different from other sports because there’s a sense of camaraderie that doesn’t really exist in something like football or running,” Julia Duffy said during a break from recent training at Inner Peaks. ‘ South End. “Because everyone pushes each other, and ultimately you focus on yourself and what you need to do. Climbing is a way for me to push myself, but also a way for me to explore the outdoors, and also for me to make lifelong friendships.

Duffy is a member of the U.S. National Team and the International Sport Climbing Federation classifies him as a 60 best climbers in the world. In December 2021, she finished fourth in lead climbing at the IFSC Pan American Championships in Ibarra, Ecuador. Duffy has been climbing for nine years and now trains two sessions a day, four or five days a week.

What is Deep Water Solo, anyway?

Spanish climbers in Mallorca formalized the sport in the late 1970s as a safer way to do solo free climbing, which is performed without ropes or people to belay the climber. Falls from a free solo height onto rocks or other surfaces result in injury or death. Athletes must also practice falling in the water. Solo in deep water rock climbing is often located over lakes or oceans, but there are at least two man-made deep-water venues in the United States – at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte and at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah.

“To get better at climbing, you have to fall over and over again,” said Mary Ellis Stevens, a first-time Tuck Fest participant. “So you’re constantly falling and failing and it’s really hard not to have that affecting you. But that’s really the spirit of the sport, to keep falling and getting back up. Because if you don’t fall, it’s that you’re not trying hard enough.

Stevens led youth climbing expeditions last summer in western North Carolina and competes on the US National Youth Climbing Tour. She is also an active environmentalist and event organizer for social justice and the environment.

Overcome bullying

Because rock climbing requires full-body strength, climbing facilities include indoor weight rooms to help strengthen your upper body and core. finger strength is important, and sport is hard on joints and skin.

Alyssa Smith also competes on the national youth circuit, and this is her second year competing at Tuck Fest.

“Tuck Fest is against very, very talented and skilled climbers, and I’m a local,” Smith said. “I’m a bit of an underdog. And I think that’s special. I can compete with people who are better than me and gain that experience.

Duffy, Smith and Stevens’ favorite outdoor rock climbing spots include growling bald at Lake Lure, Mountain Crowdersand Red River Gorge in Kentucky.

“The height aspect is really cool to me. We’re going to some pretty high heights at the whitewater center, it’ll be up to 45 feet, but it’s over a pool of water,” said Smith said. “Whereas if you were on 45 foot walls in a gymnasium, you would be on a rope. So there is a difference between the two. I also love climbing outdoors, enjoying all the views and experiencing something unlike any other sport.

Tuck Fest Deep Water Solo Climbing Schedule

Preliminary competition for deep water solo starts at 2 p.m. on Friday. The final competition begins at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Jordan Grantz of Louisville, Kentucky, and Palmer Magri of Charlotte are students at the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University in Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news. Samuel Earley and Ethan Rudnet of Charlotte also contributed to this story.

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