Mumbai: Sport and adventure have never had a love affair in the past, but rock climbing is such a sport where people savour the integration of the two. The sport is slowly catching pace in India and many talented climbers have emerged in the foray in the past few years.
Red Bull athlete Tuhin Satarkar is one of them, who is already making waves in the sport. For the Pune-based lad, rock climbing runs in the blood and Tuhin previously became the first Indian to complete India’s toughest rock climbing route, Ganesha. The 21-year-old spoke about his journey during Red Bull’s Jod ke Tod event in an exclusive interview.
You were exposed to climbing by your parents. What motivated you take up it as a profession?
Since I grew up in a family of climbers I didn't really have anything else to think about. So that's what has kept me going through life. And since I had a climbing wall inside my house, since I was born, that's all I could do. I've always watched my father climb and I always wanted to do something better than him. And that's the thing that has always kept me pushing. Also, it was very interesting for me to see my parents climb when they used to go out. That's what has kept me motivated throughout my journey and will always keep me motivated.
Did you face any challenges to pursue this sport?
Since I used to travel a lot, my school was not comfortable with me bunking a lot, so my parents took me out of school and since then I have been home-schooled till SSC (10th standard). However, the sport is changed now. Since I left school after that, at least 10 people have taken up the sport. So it was a give back to the school.
What according to you makes climbing different compared to other sports?
I've done quite a lot of sports but one unique thing about climbing is that it's a whole body workout right from your brain to your toes. It's a full body workout.
I haven't seen any other sport in which you need to put all these things together. Like right from your mind thinking what next step you're going to take, to moving your legs from one pole to the other. So it's basically a whole process.
Plus the other thing that comes with the sport is you get to travel a lot, which I love doing. You get to meet so many new people, everyone has a different story to tell so it's very interesting to travel and to meet new people. Even if it's a beginner, I get to learn a lot of new things from people. So it's quite an adventure.
If people are inclined to climbing, why should they choose it over other sports?
Till now whoever has started climbing has been more inclined to the sport. So once you give it a try, you get hooked on to it. Till date, I haven't found the exact reason why people get hooked on to it but I also haven't found anyone who has left the sport. Once you get into it, you're likely to get hooked on to it. It's an addiction. The gym which I have in Pune, there are around 20-30 climbers who come to climb every day and it has been growing. It’s been 3 years now and there’s been a major growth in the climbers who are taking up the sport. Not just as a profession, but as a fitness regime. So whatever it is people are getting into the sport.
How was your experience of becoming the first Indian to ascend Ganesha that is India's toughest rock climbing route?
Ganesha (500 metres above sea level) is one of the hardest routes in India which is bolted. And when the whole bolting was happening I was there in 2007 when Alex Chabot came down. Back then I wasn't climbing tough routes but that day I decided that I am going to climb it.
What happened, later on, is that people used to think that none of the Indian climbers can do it since it's so hard. So I wanted to change the mindset of people that even we can do this. And I trained over the years and in 2013 I actually completed it so it's been quite a journey. Every single day I had been training towards climbing Ganesha and the perceptions have changed after I climbed it. Three to four Indians climbed the route later on. So it was just a narrow mindset by people and even if Indians could do it, people wrote them off. So that motivated me!
The sport requires few qualities such as strength, endurance and proper technique. But how vital is concentration and taking calculated risks?
Taking calculated risks in climbing is very necessary cause when you're up there 2000 feet above the ground, you need to know what you're doing. That’s the reason I always have this fear in me. It's always good to have fear. When you don't have the fear, accidents start to take place. So it always keeps me on my toes and it's always good to be cautious about things.
Climbing in India lacks infrastructure, funds, artificial walls, standard equipment and other things. Is this responsible for the sport's sluggish growth?
I know there is not enough infrastructure but we cannot sit and complain if we don't have it. We have so many rocks where you can go and climb, it's as good as training indoors. There are few climbers who’ve faced financial problems but that’s how life is. You cannot have everything, but there are other ways those guys have been getting support. For me, I have been really lucky that for the association with RedBull for three years now and since then I have achieved a lot of things.
The problem in India is we officially do not have a national governing body apart from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF). Has this been the hampering the growth of the sport?
The IMF has been looking after the climbing scenario in the country for all these years but there are people in the field who want to make a separate body. People are working towards that, but that's how it is.
The IMF organises zonal competitions and winners from each zone are selected for the national team who go on represent India abroad. However, there doesn't seem to be any new faces in the competition and it's just the previous winners who end up getting selected in the consecutive years.
That's my responsibility and the upcoming climber's responsibility to change the things and we are working on it. So hopefully in the coming years, we will have something complete which will support the future climbing scene in India.
India hosted the IFSC Climbing World Cup in 2016 and 2017. The sport has even been included in the upcoming 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Do you think such exposure will help the Indian climbers?
Well, definitely it will help the Indian climbers. I was part of the 2016 Indian World Cup team. Competitions definitely do help but I just believe you need to keep climbing. Competitive climbing is a completely different game but the experience is the key.
The International Federation of Sports Climbing (IFSC) is considering combining all the three formats of sports climbing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Lead, bouldering and speed climbing. Are you in favour of this move or against it?
I support it because the sport has been included in the Olympics. This is the first year, so some rules and regulations shouldn't be a problem. Maybe, the change can be made in the next Olympics, but I'm very happy regarding its inclusion.
And will also change the sports scenario in India. Because people won't send their kids for any sports if it does not have any recognition. Now it has been implemented, I'm pretty sure things will change for good.
From a global perspective, the sport has been dominated by the European Countries while countries like India are playing catch-up. What do you think is lacking from our side?
Well, there’s a lot to learn from the athletes of these nations. But I think that India is also capable of doing things and people are supporting us. As I said we cannot sit and complain that we don’t have things like a climbing wall. We have tons of rocks in India if we go to Leh, Karnataka we have rocks. It is how you get yourself to train. I know finance does make a difference, but we have to go with whatever we have and we are doing it very well. So maybe in the few upcoming years, we might be up there.
You had the opportunity to train with Kilian Fischhuber in Italy and Australia, who is one of the world's most renowned rock climbers. Could you share your experiences of the journey?
Kilian has always been my role model. I have always looked up to him and that's where things fell into place for me when I travelled to Australia. I trained with him for a month there and he's also travelled to India. There's so much I got to learn in that one month and that's where I got to know about a lot of things. After that, I came back to India and finished Ganesha. So you can relate to how much things have helped me. It's not just about strength but also about the technique and many other factors, so Kilian has always been there to support me.
How difficult it to maintain a particular weight and avoid being bulky?
For me, I have always been on the leaner side. So I do not have a lot of body muscle and I like the way I am. I know people who are on the heftier side, but they climb as well as it gets. So weight is never an issue because at the end of the day you have to pull your own body weight and it’s all about the technique.
Any specific workout that is a part of your routine?
For me, the best thing which has been working out is just climbing. That’s how I get all my strength, energy and also more practice. I prefer staying on the wall as much as I can. I do a lot of other exercises also, but what I get majorly is from climbing.