The Powerscream: from Sharma to Ondra

I was watching the trailer for King Lines this morning – to psyche myself up for some hardcore editing here at VL headquarters – and I was once again struck by Chris Sharma’s powerscreams. No route Chris Sharma climbs is free of the powerscream, it is an integral part of his climbing repertoire. Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova have the powergrunt, Sharma has the powerscream. Personally, I prefer the powerscream to the powergrunt, because Sharma only pulls out the powerscream when he needs it (which is often), but not every fucking time that the racquet hits a ball (which is a lot).

The Sharma and the Ondrawad mid scream each. Images Anna Piunova/Vojtech Vrzba (with apologies)

Sharma has been the top dog of powerscreamers for a long time, however, I have noticed – like the aging Alpha male of a wolf pack – that his powerscream has started to lose some of its former vigour. But then I guess it is only the natural arc of evolution that younger, more powerful powerscreamers will supplant him, and we have to look no further than the Czech wunderkind, Adam Ondra, to see this in action.

The Ondrawad has taken powerscreaming to the next level. People have called the Ondrawad’s powerscream many things, but to me there is only one way of describing it: the ‘Possessed Powerscream’ (PP). The PP is unlike your regular powerscream (which doesn’t deserve capitals), in that one moment you leave the ground an awkward-looking teenager and the next you sprout muscles where there were none and climb with all the intensity – groans, growls, screams, barking, spitting and screaming – of someone whose body has clearly been occupied by the Dark Lord. (Has anyone else read Dante’s Inferno? How else can someone climb so hard without having sold one’s soul to the Devil?) And that is just the climbing bit – I won’t even try to describe the scene when the Ondrawad falls, except to say it resembles the death throes of a many-headed hydra*.

Such is the allure of both the Sharma and the Ondrawad that powerscreams are now quite common at the crag, especially among young blokes. Sometimes you even hear them in the confines of the gym. I always feel embarrassed for young blokes when they do it in the gym, because they obviously don’t realise that it’s ‘the gym’, not the real rock and as such oughtn’t be taken seriously. Occasionally, I like to bring out a bit of a growl when I am trying hard in the gym, but it is no place for a full-throated powerscream (unless a 120kg punter has stepped on the end of your Miuras).

Outdoors, however, things are different, and powerscreams can be a useful tool. I have used them myself from time to time. In my book powerscreams are up there with taking-your-shirt-off-for-the-redpoint-type tactics (a whole other blog), it is a sign to the rock that you are deadly serious – that unless it submits to your will things are going to get nasty. Powerscreams can often shock the rock into momentarily submitting, allowing you to claw your way through the crux. Sharma is the master of this, the rock is constantly dropping its guard. You would too if someone was clawing you and screaming like a banshee (and they had a rugged surfer charm). Of course, the Ondrawad has taken it to the next level again by siding with the Dark Lord, which the rock fears like overzealous bolters and Edward Chiselhand-types.

Personally, I haven’t climbed with a lot of powerscreamers, but I have heard my share of strange noises: girly screams, nervous self-talk, nervous self-flagellating talk, gibbering, hyperventilating, endless excuses. And that’s just me. I have also heard strange Darth Vader–like breathing (yes, Nathan, that’s you), raging tantrums, stream-of-conscious inner dialogue, really girly screams (my girly screams are quite manly) and noises that can’t really be described except to say that if someone was pushing out a baby this is what I imagine it would sound like. There is also a certain kind of silence that takes on the quality of sound: the ‘Death Silence’, which is the silence you have when someone is in four kinds of shit and you think they are just about to die and everyone is watching with their hearts in their mouths. Death Silence. It has a nice ring to it – pun intended – except when you are the cause of it.

I have actually been busy workshopping my own version of the powerscream (in between calls to the Dark Lord, who strangely never gets back to me), it’s called the powersob. It usually follows in the immediate aftermath of a powerlob, and while it doesn’t help me climb any harder it usually generates a bit of sympathy at the crag, which is better than nothing.



* ie. Geryon – any of you literary types getting what I am laying down?

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