First 8B for Sam Whittaker Interview

© Lucinda Whittaker

Sheffield strongman Sam Whittaker has recently climbed his first Font 8B Le Dernier Atrocity at Parisella's Cave in North Wales. A key figure in the Sheffield scene, Sam tries his hand at many things and does rather well at each of them - climbing hard on sport, boulder and trad, DJing, fathering a 2 and a half year-old son and owning both a successful bouldering wall and Britain's Biggest Biceps. How does he do it? UKC caught up with Sam to find out more...

Sam on Le Dernier Atrocity 8B  © Lucinda Whittaker
Sam on Le Dernier Atrocity 8B
© Lucinda Whittaker

How long have you been climbing and how did you get started?

I've been climbing for about 25 years and I got into it through my Dad, climbing at the weekend with his chums on gritstone slabs. I was pretty hyperactive and the only time I ever concentrated and focussed was when I was climbing, so Mum and Dad sent me to Whitehall outdoor pursuits centre in the Peak District in the school holidays where I became hooked.

You've just climbed your first Font 8b - tell us a bit about it! (the process of working it, feelings on doing it etc)

It's been a tough journey. I was trying it back in April and could do all the moves but I wasn't fit enough to link it all together. I then had a family holiday with Lucinda and Arnie to the Frankenjura in June and just went onsighting and took it easy.

Sam and son Arnie   © Lucinda Whittaker
Sam and son Arnie
© Lucinda Whittaker

When I got back I trained a bit more specifically by focussing on top-end power endurance, lots of footless circuits with not much rest...I went back and then fell off the last move a couple of times so I knew I was close to being able to complete it. After a couple of rest days I went back and then despatched it. It's safe to say we now know Chester services pretty well!

Had it been a long term goal of yours to climb this grade?

Yeah it's been a personal goal since 2011 after a really sucessful trip to Rocklands. At the end of the trip I tried a Font 8b called The Vice and could do all the moves but couldn't link them together. That was it! My next goal was set.

I tried a couple in Switzerland on a short 10 day trip last May and the same thing happened - I could do the moves but couldn't link them. But with Arnie now older, these days of going on a month-long projecting boulder trip was over really, I needed to find a problem which was a bit more 'local' (well, no more than a day trip away from Sheffield) so that I could try it on a regular basis. The advantage of Le Dernier Atrocity in Parisella's Cave was that generally it's not affected by conditions or the weather, so I could always climb there on our days off, it fitted the bill and allowed me to climb and keep the balance with family life.

Sam and his wife Lucinda   © Lucinda Whittaker
Sam and his wife Lucinda
© Lucinda Whittaker

What do you consider your greatest climbing achievement to date?

Climbing this problem is currently at the top!  It's definitely physically the hardest climb I've ever done. 

You're a man of many talents, it would seem - you climb hard, own a wall, have a young child and are also a DJ! How do you manage to fit all this in?

I love to keep a very busy but balanced life, me and Lu enjoy all aspects of climbing and varying the focus from time to time really helps me stay motivated. The last few years I have been focussed on bouldering and training but the next few years I would like to switch back to some more sport climbing and trad.

The Climbing Works has nearly been open for 9 years and is still evolving and growing. I work about 3 days a week and I'm involved in all aspects of the business which again keeps things fresh and exciting. My son Arnold is now 2 and half and starting to become more independent. I try to climb hard midweek and then leave the weekends for doing fun stuff with going to Diggerland and weaselling at Stanage!

I still love DJing although I have had to give up late night sets while I've been training so hard to climb my age sometimes something just has to give! My next big gig will be The Climbing Works 9th birthday party in December.

Sam and Arnie go bouldering  © Lucinda Whittaker
Sam and Arnie go bouldering
© Lucinda Whittaker

Your wife Lucinda is also a strong climber. With such good climbers for parents, do you think your son might be tempted to follow you into climbing?

We would love Arnold to enjoy climbing like we do, but that's for him to decide when he's older. We are very cautious about what climbing we do with Arnie, we are trying to keep it really fun, exciting and adventurous for him. Now he's past the baby stage where we could pop him at the bottom of the crag, we don't really take him with us. We have had him swinging on the ropes in the Frankenjura and scrambling around the gritstone boulders which he has loved, so we keep it as a fun day out and try and keep our personal climbing separate. He also has the occasional vist to the Mini Works where he has now started climbing one handed so hopefully he'll appreciate climbing when he's older and come and give me a belay and put the clips in for me ;-) 

You are renowned for having large biceps - what do you have to do to maintain their condition?

One arm lock offs until I black out!...

...But I should really thank my 'Nanna Herbie', who also has big biceps so I think it's in the Whittaker genes, that mixed with my Mum's shorter arms.

Biceps in Hueco  © Rowanne Bennett
Biceps in Hueco
© Rowanne Bennett

Who or what inspires you?

What?  Hard moves and travelling around the world.

Who? That's a hard one, but it's back to the old Prana days for inspiration for me with Chris Sharma, Fred Nicole and Dave Graham 

What's next for you - any big goals?

I'm looking forward to a bit of rest while supporting Lucinda with some of her goals now. She's been training hard for a while now and recovering from pregnancy and having Arnie so she's also back feeling better on the rock. It's hard for both of us to be projecting hard at the same time as it all gets too much especially with a little one, so we tend to alternate - whilst one projects the other picks up the slack at home and vice versa. It just makes life run a little more smoothly, so it's her turn now for a bit!

I've got some more sport climbing goals I wouild like to achieve but genally just to stay fit and healthy and see what the next few years bring.

Describe yourself in three words...

Psyched beyond belief.

Quickfire Questions

Leg day or arm day? 
Arm day
Biceps or triceps?
Limestone or grit?
Both obviously - dont want to offend anyone!
Lycra or Spandex?
Techno or some other sort of sub-standard music? ;) 
Drumcode Techno all the way.

Watch a video of Sam on Le Dernier Atrocity below:

Sam is sponsored by: prAna, Scarpa and Metolius and is an owner of The Climbing Works.

Sam's Athlete Page 5 posts 1 video

Sponsored by: Scarpa & The Climbing Works

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26 Aug, 2015
Nice work on the arms Sam. Those things (biceps) are a constant inspiration!
26 Aug, 2015
Like the way he has ticked his proj and is adult enough to take a step back and support his partner while she tries her projects, think alot of couples could learn alot from that! ;) Also, those biceps really are outrageous, wtf!
What a legend. Nice one Sam!!
31 Aug, 2015
Great effort and great interview - inspired to do lock offs till I black out now! :-)
1 Sep, 2015
Good god, that's the same Sam Whittaker I took pictures of on Appointment with Fear at Wimberry in c.1996 for my Peak book ... he was quite spindly then :-) Great interview and good to see him still going (so) strong.
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