There’s no other way to put it: Ashima Shiraishi contains multitudes. The 17-year-old pro-climber has numerous championship titles under her belt and was the first female and the youngest person to send a V15-rated boulder climb. She’s a self-described foodie and a budding hypebeast. She’s busy finishing up high school. And, most recently, she’s one of several spokeswomen for the North Face’s global initiative aimed at celebrating and amplifying the voices of women in the outdoors, Move Mountains.
Despite her age, Shiraishi already has a decade of experience as a climber. She hasn’t just witnessed women’s progress in the sport — she’s played a lead role in it. And, she has no plans to quit racking up accolades. In a conversation over the phone, we talked about the 2020 Olympics (in which climbing will be an event for the first time), her current workout playlist, and the one form of praise she’s sick of hearing, before Shiraishi had to get back to school.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As a casual climber myself, I was so excited to hear about the Move Mountains initiative. Why do you think it’s important that women in climbing have a bigger platform right now?
“I think that this moment is a really pivotal change in history, because women are given the chance to do things that people normally wouldn’t expect them to be doing. Even 10 years ago, climbing was a very small sport. It wasn’t taking over big cities and it wasn’t as accessible, so you wouldn’t find as many women, compared to men, climbing on rocks. But, now there’s kind of a boom in climbing, so there’s a lot of females climbing at the climbing gym or outside. It’s diversifying. It’s really important to share that and to encourage people to go out there try things like climbing.”
Has seeing this uptick in women getting interested in climbing motivated you personally?
“It’s really amazing to see so many female climbers [in general] and also female climbers who are pushing the limits of the sport. That’s a big motivation, but it’s hard. I’m finishing up high school and have a lot going on, but it’s so much fun going to competitions and climbing with so many amazing female climbers.”
I know I’ve experienced sexism at the gym, like when a guy approaches you and sprays beta. Have you had to deal with people treating you differently because you’re a woman in this sport?
“I haven’t really experienced too much sexism, because whenever I climb, I climb with my friends who I really trust and I know that I’ll have a good training session with. [But] I’ve definitely seen it a lot, where men would, you know, mansplain. [It seems like] they feel it’s their responsibility to show women how things are done, even though that woman knows exactly what to do, and she really doesn’t need that advice.
“Also, I’ve been climbing for 10 years now, and with each accomplishment I make, people say, like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing — for a girl.’ If I was a guy, it would still be really cool, but [people think], ‘She’s a girl, so that’s what makes it better,’ or something. I wish people wouldn’t think of it that way, that [what I can do] is only cool because I’m a female climber … Even if I was a male climber doing that same thing, I would still be making history with that accomplishment. I wish that they wouldn’t categorize me like that. I’ve had to stick up for that for a long time, and it still gets to me.”
With that ongoing problem in mind, do you have any advice for women who might be interested in getting into climbing, but find the gym intimidating?
“Climbing can be very social or you can choose not to be social. It’s very therapeutic. It really relaxes you. And it’s exercise, so you’re getting to work out, but also it’s a way of finding balance: You need a lot of physical strength but also mental strength in climbing. As you improve in climbing, your love for it increases … As you get stronger, it’s like you’re competing against yourself, seeing how far you can go … It’s not a competition against someone else, necessarily. It’s like, ‘If I’m on V3 right now, let me try this V4 and see what I can do.’ Once you get it, it’s the most satisfying feeling ever.”
You get a lot of attention from the larger climbing community, like last year when you announced a sponsorship with Coca-Cola and were met with criticism for that decision. Did you feel obligated to respond in a certain way?
“These climbers are like family to me, and they’ve supported me for so long. I’m really honored to be growing up with these people. When I announced my sponsorship, some people reacted in different ways. I definitely understand their opinions about it, because Coca-Cola is a company that has never entered the climbing industry. It’s very different from other, I would say, ‘crunchy’ brands. But in the long run, I’m really happy to have joined the Coke team. They’ve been really supportive of me. I feel like it’ll help diversify the climbing world and help spread climbing as well, so I’m really happy with my decision.”
The 2020 Olympics are only a couple years away. What are you looking forward to?
“I think that the Olympics is a big question for a lot of climbers now. It’s one of my big goals. I’m excited to be preparing for it, to see if I can compete, and hopefully do well. I’m really excited that climbing has finally entered the frontier of a more mainstream sport.”
What other personal goals have you set for yourself right now — is there a grade you’re chasing or something like that?
“I definitely want to focus [more] on climbing outside, but if I want to chase my Olympic dreams, I know I need to commit more time to indoor climbing and competition style climbing, which is very different from climbing on actual rocks. So, as of now, that’s what I’m doing, but I’ll be climbing outside more if I don’t make the Olympics or after the Olympics. I definitely want to put a lot of my time into climbing outside and making history on the rocks. That’s more of what climbing started as, and that’s what I love about it.”
That’s a tricky balance to strike if you’re trying to be a competitve level climber but still want to play outside.
“Yeah, it’s so hard because even though they seem so similar, they’re very different. The types of climbing you would generally be strong at as a rock climber, you don’t need those same strengths when you’re competing. It’s more about show, and it’s more gymnastic. It has a very different style.”
You’re pretty into streetwear these days. What are your favorite sneakers that you own right now and what pair do you want most?
“I love Air Force Ones and I’ve had some for a very long time. My favorite ones are black and they have this shiny material on them, so in the light they glow a little bit. The shoes that I want to get are probably the Balenciaga Triple S’.”
Finally, what are you listening while training these days?
“As of now, my favorites include Lil Yachty, Lil Skies, Cardi B, Lil Uzi, Drake, and some other hip hop and pop.”
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By written by Sara Coughlin
April 17, 2018 at 10:30AM
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