“Soloing Freeborn Man is like leaving school, passing your driving test, or burning down your first public building.” (Into the Blue)
When I read that as an impressionable teenager, and thought it was the most inspiring exhortation to go and do anything I’d ever read. Into the Blue was the first deep water soloing guide, produced over ten years ago and covering Dorset. Deep Water extends its scope to cover venues all over the world, but has it retained the inspirational power of the original DWS guide?
I’d defy anyone who can swim not to enjoy deep water soloing. It’s going climbing, without loads of heavy gear to carry. There’s little admin or expense, and failing to get up a route is pretty much as good as succeeding. It’s a fantastic medium to forget about any acquisitive route ticking, revel in the joy of pushing yourself above the sea, and plummeting into it.
Deep Water is inspiring and informative. It pulls off the trick of any quality guidebook of telling you how to get to places and find the routes, but also making you want to climb there.
It pays considerable attention to the often pretty dangerous nature of DWS, with tips on falling style, and regular reminders to check landing zones before plummeting from 30 feet up towards an unknown bit of water.
The photo topos are particularly suited to DWS, since you get an idea of what the feature you want to climb looks like before getting down there, rather than trying to memorise lefts and rights before a swim in / downclimb / abseil.
The diversity explored in Deep Water is amazing; pulling jug pockets above the Mediterranean couldn’t be much further from scratching your way up the grey-purple slate walls of Vivian Quarry, trying not to think about a 50 footer into the freezing, pool. The safety of the route varies from boulder problem height above perfect water, to the full on dangerous pretty-much-solos such as Rocket USA or Caveman.
Deep Water falls somewhere between the ‘Stormrider’ surfing guide that it owes a little of its spirit to; and the bog standard Rockfax climbing guidebook. In some ways this is a good thing, as it details most of the routes at popular European venues, and contains ideas for travel to more exotic locations. But it also feels like it’s not quite doing either quite as well as it could. It would almost be better as two books, one with topos and knowledge and one with quality pictures and outlines of the more far flung areas.
The tick box and symbol format seems a little at odds with the nature of the activity. I’d rather have more text of Into the Blue quality, instead of arbitration on whether the route is pumpy or not. These are pretty minor complaints though, in general Deep Water is an awesome guide.
So should you buy Deep Water? Yes, and for one major reason: Mike Robertson’s boundless enthusiasm for the activity. It shines from every corner of the book. It’ll take you on crazy, memorable adventures to some amazing places. Buy one, and get down to the seaside.
Still got to get around to doing Freeborn Man, and seeing whether it compares to the other experiences.
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