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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

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In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

Whilst pictured with ropes here, Steph often free solo’s without any equipment at all. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 25, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 3 – Transforming Your Body

Tony Riddle recommends small changes in our daily lives that will add up to massive lifestyle benefits over time.

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WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony Riddle about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle in line with our ancestors. In Part 1, we introduced Tony’s outlook in Rewilding. In Part 2, we learned about how children internalize behavior from their environment and how we can better preserve their innate abilities. In this installment, Tony discusses how his individualized coaching practices can restore our bodies back to the way they were designed to be.

Training with Tony can help you get in touch with your primal self.

HANG IN THERE

TOJ: When someone comes to you and asks for coaching or attends one of your retreats or workshops, what kinds of changes or transformation are they hoping to achieve?

Tony Riddle: It’s multifaceted. I always use a classic example of my long-time client, Yahuda, who came to me when he was 72. His story gives you some understanding that it doesn’t matter where you are in your evolution, there’s always a point where you can change. He came to me when he was 72, so we’ve been working now for six years together. Initially, he just wanted to re-learn how to walk. This stooped, crumbled up old man arrives at my gym door and his neck is bent forward, his head is bent forward, he’s completely bent in his posture and he wants to learn how to walk.

“Since working with me, he’s walked to Everest Base Camp, Bhutan, the Atlas Mountains, and Mount Kenya.”

I videoed him on a treadmill firstly to show him his posture, because without showing someone what’s happening, they’re subconsciously or unconsciously incompetent. So by showing them the video, they’re now consciously incompetent. He was shocked, “I never knew I walked like THAT!” The first stage with him was to rewild his feet and transform his feet from being shoe-shaped into more wild, natural feet because the foundation is everything. And then I went through various different ground rest positions with him.

Tony demonstrates a series of resting positions that are more natural for our posture than sitting in chairs.

Then we learned how to hang. Hanging is so important for unraveling the spine, lifting the rib cage, opening up the arteries, and even restabilizing where the shoulder blade should be on the thorax. It also develops grip strength. We have all the brachiating abilities as all the other apes, we just don’t hang anymore.

Tony practices his balance on a tree branch.

Once we have all that we start working on the squat. From squatting, we start to walk and so on. Since working with me, he’s walked to Everest Base Camp, Bhutan, the Atlas Mountains, Mount Kenya, and he loves walking.

On the way to work, Yahuda walks to the tube in his Vivobarefoot shoes. Most people ask if he wants to sit because he’s 78. But he doesn’t, he hangs on the bar. When the train’s going he’s hanging, when the doors open he squats. He alternates between hanging and squatting the whole ride. And we’ve just introduced breathing techniques. So he now works on nasal breathing and he does a few breath holds on the tube as well.

Once at the office, in addition to a kettlebell and mobility mat, he has a pull-up bar inside his office with gymnastic rings that he hangs on. At his standing desk, he has a platform that he can stand on with stones in it, so he gets different feedback rather than being on a linear surface.

“If I just make a small change to the way I move today, it will have a massive impact in future years.”

So that’s a person who was completely crumpled up at the age of 72, now at 78 years of age he’ll tell you he’s moving better than he ever has in his whole life. That’s how profound it is. And that’s just by making the small changes.

It’s my understanding that if I just make a small change to the way I move, breathe and eat today, it will have a massive impact in future years. You don’t have to do it all at once, you could pick a month and decide that, “This month, I’m just going to work on my movement brain, next month I’m going to work on my nutritional brain, next month I’m going to work on my breathing brain”. And each time, even if you drop stuff off, you’re still making improvements. Some of it will remain and you’ll figure out what works for you individually. The key to all of this is I have to learn how to be a Tony in this world, not like everyone else. Part of the coaching is to help people recognize that it’s individual specific. On a retreat even, it’s still individual specific. I can hold a presentation and I will be gifting to different people in the room what I feel they need at that particular time and what resonates with them.

Tony offers workshops and retreats to pass on his rewilding practices.

TOJ: When you are teaching someone new coordination for walking or running, are those changes happening in their body or are they happening within the brain?

Tony Riddle: Well it’s both. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the movement brain and the body. We have this obsession with physical muscles, but really there are two systems – you’ve got kinetics, which is the forces and you have kinematics which are the shapes you make to produce those forces.

Let’s take running. Running is a skill, right? In terms of the kinetics of running, there’s gravity. And how does gravity become tangible? It becomes tangible through body weight. I make the appropriate running shapes using the appropriate muscles and tendons to produce that force through body weight. It’s a whole system, a hierarchy starting with perception in the brain and moving down through the muscles and tendons. If you were in a petri dish and you surrounded yourself with amazing movers and you were cultured into that petri dish, your mind’s perception of that environment is how you behave. So everyone ends up as amazing movers. If you have a petri dish full of compromised movers with sedentary, poor hip mobility through to the spine and down to the ankle, and you only observe that behavior, that would be your behavior base. The mind’s perception of the environment is the most important thing and it has to go through that tool before you can make physiological adaptations.

REFUSE THE CHAIR

TOJ: What’s a small change that people can make today to rewild their bodies?

Tony Riddle: For some people, their HR department won’t allow them to have standing desks or they have to drive on their commute to work. Sitting is just part of our culture right now. So my view is that once you get out of that chair, or whatever that sitting position is, do something that will rewild the behavior of standing, which is generally squatting or one of the rest positions. I’m about to fly to LA next week, which is an 11-hour flight, and there’s going to be some brutal sitting going on there. But the thing is, I’ll get a pre-fight squat going, and during the flight I’ll be squatting and post-flight as well.

Even in an airplane, Tony finds space to squat and practice mobility.

TOJ: How do you deal with instances where it’s not socially acceptable to move freely?

“They’re raising socially extreme eyebrows and I’m raising biologically extreme eyebrows.”

Tony Riddle: I used to live between Ibiza and London and I would do two flights a week. I would choose between various different methods. You can kneel on a flight in the aircraft seat. You can even squat in an aircraft seat. You take your shoes off and walk up and down the aisle or go into a larger area and have a squat, move around and do mobility work. And yeah, people might be looking at me as if I’m nuts, but I’m looking at them thinking they’re nuts for sitting down for that length of time. They’re raising socially extreme eyebrows and I’m raising biologically extreme eyebrows.

Check in with The Outdoor Journal next week as we further discuss Tony’s motivation for running barefoot across the island of Great Britain, daily practices for building the body into a “superstructure,” and how Tony moved past childhood trauma and stepped into his power.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

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