Wessel climbs out of his comfort zone


Navi Chawla

This article is from volume 40, issue 4 of the printed edition of the Oracle originally published Feb. 14, 2020

As a child, junior Kai Wessel spent most of his time climbing anything he could get his hand on. He would often mount large play structures and tall trees, climbing faster than his peers and higher than his parents desired. Today, Wessel has honed his skills and become an avid rock climber at Planet Granite, a rock climbing gym in Sunnyvale.

Wessel climbs competitively at Planet Granite, which has numerous climbs with varying levels and heights. Wessel climbs at least two times a week on a team with athletes of different skill levels and professional coaches.

Wessel said his passion for rock climbing is fueled by the feeling he gets after completing a route. 

“It feels gratifying because it’s purely individual, so I know it’s one-hundred percent me, my effort,” Wessel said.

He said that as a climber, he devotes an immense amount of time to perfecting his abilities in practice in order to become stronger both mentally and physically. Wessel said that while committing yourself to a particular climb is exhausting, it is ultimately worth it.

“I enjoy being able to work really hard at something and then finish it and feel a sense of relief afterwards,” Wessel said.

He added rock climbing entices him because it requires mental strength and forces him to calculate each step and hold he takes. 

“People think climbing requires a certain physical ability where you have to force yourself to do one more pull up, but really it is the mental aspect,” Wessel said. “You need to focus on your state of mind in order to push yourself to the next part of the climb, as it ultimately comes down to how much you want it.”

He said at some point, climbing is more of a mental “game” than a physical one. Wessel said the sport forces you to mentally push yourself beyond what you feel comfortable doing and what your body can handle.

For example, one of the styles of climbing Wessel practices is known as the Dyno style, where climbers jump far distances, from one hold to another. He said many of these large scaling jumps seem impossible at first, but after he settles his mind and encourages himself, he realizes that the challenge is not as hard. After enough attempts and practice, he said he is able to complete the once seemingly impossible climb with ease.

When I’m climbing, I can just sort of zone out from everything that’s happening at school. It’s a good mental break

Wessel said he applies much of what he learns in rock climbing to his everyday life. He said that when something may seem difficult or even impossible, you must push yourself to keep trying, stressing the importance of dedicating yourself to whatever you may be aiming to accomplish by focusing your mind on your goal.

Although a major part of rock climbing entails the mental aspect, Wessel says that he must still focus on his physical ability, as the two go hand in hand in the sport. He does many pull-ups at practice, as well as training to strengthen his arms and core. Specifically, Wessel said the muscles in the forearms are very important because they provide grip strength by pulling tendons in your fingers. He said that as a result of climbing, he is able to learn a lot about the body, like how it functions under pressure and how to handle exhaustion.

Wessel said that by participating on the competitive team at Planet Granite, he can watch how his peers attack certain climbs and learn from them, as everyone climbs a bit differently. 

Wessel said he is lucky enough to have experienced coaches, some of who are nationally ranked in indoor rock climbing, who teach him important skills and correct his mistakes. Wessel said he is definitely not the best climber, but by watching other people he becomes motivated to continually push himself to attempt harder and harder climbs.

“When I’m climbing, I can just sort of zone out from everything that’s happening at school. It’s a good mental break,” Wessel said.

He said that climbing has a certain quality known as the flow state. The flow state is a mental state with increased performance, creativity, decision-making and innovation, where people experience peaks in their athletic ability.

“I’ve experienced this in climbing where I am no longer thinking about how I am getting up the climb, but my instincts take over and I am just going through the motions,” Wessel said.

In the future Wessel said he plans on continuing to climb at Planet Granite, as well as on other natural rock settlements outside of the local area.

“It is just a really cool feeling, climbing really high.”