Photos: Toronto IFSC World Bouldering Cup by Jessica Lee

I shot the IFSC World Bouldering Cup in Toronto recently, the same event I shot last year in Hamilton. I think the key difference between this year's shoot and last year's is this year I wanted to document exactly what was happening in a photojournalism perspective, whereas last year, I focused on the event from a climber's point of view; shooting climbers in strange positions that I knew were hard to do.

As a result, I focused more on angles and thinking ahead to where climbers would be, rather than relying on "luck" aka being in the right place at the right time. Also, I trusted myself more on judgement. Previously, I would gather around where all the other photographers were because I thought maybe they knew something that I didn't, but honestly, everyone's shooting with a different lens, so they wouldn't be thinking the same way I would in terms of frames anyway.

I won't caption the photos because they are strong enough images where you can figure out what's going on, but I will explain a little about how the competition works: basically, the climbers get four minutes each to climb each "problem", which is from the bottom of the wall to the top, so it's an intense situation where the climber has to perform in an efficient manner, while under the gaze of two judges and the crowd. The winner of the competition is the one who climbs most of the problems in the final round. Many climbers don't even make it up to the top of most problems because the moves you need to make to get to the top are tough and require great skill, which is what separates the champions from just good climbers. But isn't that just like life? 

Goat Rock and Highway #1, California, baby! by Jessica Lee

Ever since hearing the catchy Phantom Planet song "California" in middle school at the height of when the T.V. show The O.C. was popular, I've always wanted to drive down highway #1 while playing that song.

I finally got to do that when I visited Sonoma County and went climbing at Goat Rock, about an hour away from San Francisco. Highway #1 stretches all along the shore and makes you wonder why Californians are so lucky to witness this beauty regularly.

The drive reminded me of when I drove along Great Ocean Road in Australia. I realize I've been lucky to experience so many adventures already at my age and I've seen so much first-hand. But really, check out that link. It shows how my photography skills and my eye has only gotten better since these last three years. Go on, here is another one.

Nothing's ever absolutely perfect as you can always improve your craft, but over the years, I've definitely developed a greater personal style and the confidence to try new things, such as purposely shooting into the light, or experimenting with light flares, because who says there's only one way to do photography? And sometimes overexposure looks good. And maybe once in a while, I actually want my photos to look blurred or grainy. Check out one of my first travel photo essays...

Of course a lot of it is subjective. But here are photos from that day I went to Sonoma County and drove along the Pacific Coast highway. We stopped for food at a Mexican market, then continued on to Goat Hill, where allegedly the large rocks there are smooth from mammoths rubbing their itches on their backs against the surfaces. There, we went bouldering for a good couple of hours, until magic hour hit, then we took a few snaps, and watched a sun set from the rock; which by the way, sunsets will never get old for me. Neither will singing California obviously, which we did on the way back before hitting a favourite French restaurant, tucked into a corner of slanted street.

IFSC World Cup Bouldering in Hamilton by Jessica Lee

I had the opportunity to shoot photos this weekend for the World Bouldering Cup in Hamilton. Best part of the weekend? Definitely being part of the excitement. The crowd was WILD! Other than that, it was cool to watch so many top-level athletes working on the problems. There were so many different ways to climb a route, this was especially evident in men's problem #3 where Guillaume held the last hold facing the crowd, whereas everyone else faced the wall. Jan Hojer used his upper body strength to pull up from the problem, while others used their legs and hung upside down.

Anyway, without further ado, here are a few photos:

Between a rock and Waterloo, Ontario by Jessica Lee

I spent my weekend in Waterloo, Ontario, which is known for:
a) A university town which houses Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo
b) the headquarters of phone company, Research in Motion
c) and for an abundant population of Canadian geese apparently.

I arrived by Greyhound just before midnight as the student night life was revving up. Young freshmen walked in swarms on the streets to house parties. It's strange thinking that I used to be one of them- the idea of going to a university house party would have excited me four years ago, but now as I'm on the verge of graduation, I realize I'm all past it.

Things that excite me now include:
1. Exploring the big, wild world
2. Trying new things
3. Graduating university and never having to pick up a textbook in my entire life again ever! (Unless I want to)

I stayed over at my friend, Kat's place. She lives in a party neighbourhood. When I woke up, and left the house at 10 am, there were already celebrations starting up again because it was homecoming weekend.

Waterloo isn't a bad town to live in.

The main street has lots of cute cafes and is pleasing-enough to the eye, but I know for sure I would want to kill myself if I were stuck here for four years of my life, finishing university. There is just nothing going on here!

It could be a nice place to settle down for a while, or a good place to "refocus" because there wouldn't be many distractions. If I were to write a book, I would choose a place like Waterloo to live in.

This was one of the cafes I walked by: I snapped a photo because the drinks "Vanilla Almond Steam" and "Cotton Candy Creme" intrigued me.

I never did get to try the drinks however as I had to make my way to Grand River Rocks climbing gym for The University Bouldering Series competition.

This is what it looked like as I got there:

It was an exhilarating atmosphere as I had never been in the presence of so many skilled climbers at once. At times, I felt like I was being judged for picking easier routes to climb.

How the bouldering competition worked was like this:

There were 50 routes you could climb and the six hardest climbs you picked and completed would be tallied-up to your final score.

This is a photo of a climber scaling climb #50 aka the most difficult climb in the competition. He had to leap for the hold and it wasn't even a good hold.

A crowd had gathered around to watch, and cheered when someone finally made the jump and stuck on to the hold.

It's moments like this that make me really like climbing.

I also like when I get to the top of a really hard climb.

Here is a photo of everyone crowding around the score results.

I placed 10th place out of 19 competitors in the girls beginners division, which is okay for my first competition, given that I had just gotten back into climbing several months ago. My goal was to not come in last place, which I achieved. My goal for the next competition happening in a month from now is to place in the top 5- which could have been totally achievable this round had I strategized for this competition. I had trained for a month prior, but on the day of, I missed breakfast because I was running late and I used up all my energy on the easy climbs. There were a few harder climbs which I was one step away from completing, but just couldn't push through at the end because I had lost my strength.

My goal is to eventually place in the intermediate category- sometime before I graduate- which is coming soon.

Picking up the slack in my climbing life by Jessica Lee

Greek philosopher Epictetus once said "tell me the company you keep and I'll tell you who you are".

Never before now have I believed in this statement more.

Since coming to University of Sydney, the group of people I hang out with the most besides my housemates are rock climbers. As a result, I've been going rock climbing quite frequently and I've been learning a lot about the sport. Also, my forearm muscles are now huge and my finger nails are never painted. I'm coming back to Toronto real buff.

We went bouldering in a park the other week.

Bouldering is climbing, not up, but sideways. Or just shorter, more intense routes.

This type of training is good for you because typically it is more difficult (harder to hold holds) than climbing up. It trains your muscles so you can climb better.

I don't usually like bouldering because it doesn't seem like I'm achieving a lot since you don't really cover a lot of distance compared to regular rock climbing. I originally got into rock climbing because my mom wanted me to stop climbing trees since it was dangerous (this was when I was very young). And I first got into climbing trees because the playground just started to get boring.

I was scaling 5.9s as a kid and was doing pretty well. I didn't stick with it though. And the inconvenience of going to the gym and too many other interests got in the way climbing frequently. I did meet someone else who rock climbed eventually in my teens but both of us did it more socially rather than trying to improve ourselves.

I have since lost my agility but it's nice to finally dive back into rock climbing and learn so many new things from seasoned climbers. Rock climbing is great because not only do you get to go places many people wouldn't be able to see, but the people are usually friendly.

I really like the rock climbing community. Everyone is just so supportive of each other.

At the bouldering event, people kept saying encouraging things like "you got this" while other people were climbing. Little things like that just makes things seem so much more do-able hearing that while gripping onto a terrible hold. People also were spotting each other in case someone would fall.

I was learning lead belaying at the gym from my friend Dan last week at the gym and I shared a laugh with a complete stranger over something specific to rock climbing. These kinds of connections are usually rare among strangers but I love them. 

Dan was climbing and practicing some falls while a rope was attached from him to me. If you are familiar with how a see-saw works, you can imagine what would happen if a heavy person fell while climbing when attached to a light person on the ground. Answer: the lighter person flies upwards.

This is not really supposed to happen because usually you're supposed to belay someone closer to your weight. The first time he "fell", it caught me by surprise because I was jerked upwards really quickly. This caused the belayer next to me to burst into laughter and we had a moment. I like this so much more than going to a regular gym to work-out. In a regular gym, everyone is just so focused on improving themselves they don't have time to share. It's hard to start a conversation in a regular gym!

In rock climbing however, everyone works together to solve a bouldering problem by making suggestions. It really is a nice community. Everyone is more intelligent than the usual people you would meet in a weight room too. This is because you have to use your problem solving skills to get to the top of the climb.

Here is a photo I took of the group at bouldering last week. I like this one since it's pretty candid.