The name Tyler Landman is synonymous with British bouldering. At age 15, he repeated Jerry Moffatt's iconic problem The Ace which overlooks Stanage Plantation. The ascent was a key milestone in Tyler's progression and afterwards, he continued through the upper echelons of hard bouldering.
He started climbing at an indoor wall in 1995 and though he didn't know it at the time, would become a prime example of where training inside could lead. In the mid-2000s, Tyler was the first of a new generation ticking hard problems in rapid time and at a very young age. After school, he spent time in the US, Switzerland and Fontainebleau repeating some of the world's hardest problems including Jade and Practice of the Wild.
Over time and various changes to his lifestyle, his relationship with climbing has changed. He became sporadically disillusioned with the sport, although he never stopped. He would occasionally surface in the media and then quietly return to his other passions.
Recently, Tyler featured on the Outspoken Podcast and talked about finding 'balance, perspective and commitment' in different walks of life; from climbing to studying neuroscience and medicine. He explains the valuable lessons that climbing taught him and how he applied them elsewhere.
Listen to Outspoken below:
We spoke to Tyler about the podcast and asked him about the key moments in his climbing career, how they shaped and influenced him going forward and where climbing fits into his life now:
You speak about your ascent of The Ace as an important moment in your climbing and you have a lot of visual memories from that time. Could you expand on how that ascent influenced and moved your climbing forward?
In objective terms, the Ace was my first 8B so it felt as though I was stepping into a new sort of bracket. However, it had intangible implications for me. My ascent followed Jerry Moffatt, Malc and Ben Moon - my climbing idols, so it was a paradigm shift mentally to see myself as able to climb things that I previously had seen as reserved for legends only. I was only 15, and this was 2006 - a time when young whippersnappers were not ticking big numbers all around the world like they are today. There were definitely bigger barriers for younger climbers.
How has your relationship changed with the sport since those early days on the Ace?
I started climbing in '95. It is 2020 now. The longest I have taken off is about a week, and I could count the number of times I have done that on one hand. This is all to say my relationship with climbing has been through ups and downs and all arounds, but even through love/hate periods, I have really never stopped.
You discuss moments when you realise you don't have to follow established beta when repeating problems – I'd imagine this is quite a realisation for a 15-year-old – did you have a moment where you realised that your ability to problem solve and think around problems had perhaps improved from the previous generation?
I would never dare compare my problem solving abilities, or beta creation to someone else's. But it was cool to gain awareness of the creative component of the sport. I was terrible at art at school, but this was a domain where I could come up with totally novel ways to do things and transform that vision into a real life dance. I enjoyed that process.
It is also worth pointing out that before youtube and the total saturation of climbing media on the internet, you had to really scour and dig around to find little climbing videos and clips scattered around. I loved searching and finding videos of random people climbing all over the world in different styles. I think studying and exposing myself to as much as I could find, helped in my ability to generate new solutions and think outside the box a bit.
I remember from my own personal climbing going up to the Peak District at weekends and then sitting in classes at school, not concentrating and running over moves in my head or reliving the highs of the weekend. Is that how it felt for you and are you still able to get that feeling through climbing or other sports these days?
I always had an active imagination, a good memory and a strong ability to visualise things. Perhaps this is innate, or maybe it was strengthened by starting climbing at such a young age and getting trained to visualise beta and sequences and transform that into movement. But either way, climbing was a great distraction and outlet for me during times where I was generally unmotivated and uninspired by school. I also lived in London, so I needed things to fantasise about and get me through the week. This technique worked pretty well. I spent long days at school thinking about climbing, weekdays in the gym training and talking about what climbs I would love to try, and then on weekends I got to quite literally harness my psyche and excitement onto the rock. I can still remember sequences, holds, beta from climbs I did of all difficulties over 20 years ago. Hopefully one day my tactile/spatial memory will apply more to my medical studies, and less to climbs I did when I was a youngster haha.
In the podcast, you talk about how you head back to school to regain some life balance. What I didn't realise is how active you were around that time – had you separated yourself from professional commitments that you had, or from climbing scenes where you were based?
During high school and my gap year I was definitely excited to tell my stories on the Moonblog, and feature in whatever videos my mates were making. There was less climbing media those days in general, I was younger and less disillusioned, and it just seemed like a fun and entertaining way to contribute to the climbing world. But when I started college in 2009, I shifted my focus to school. I was still climbing a lot, outside and at comps, but I just did not feel the need or desire to share what I was doing.
It felt nice for climbing to be my own again. I was no longer being paid by any companies and I felt as though my attention toward climbing should revolve solely around doing it, rather than talking about it. I chose to study neuroscience at an academically rigorous institution in Connecticut, which isn't considered to be a hotbed of climbing potential. However, it turned out there was a good amount on the East Coast to be discovered, and I had a fun and easy going crew to explore with. It was a real treat to move to climbing in a very small, local and uncompetitive scene, after spending so much time in places like Sheffield and Boulder that I often found disenchanting.
In 2013, you climbed Smiling Buttress – did you find that you were only able to get motivated for big projects such as this? Was it a sense of unfinished business?
After graduating college in May of 2013, I decided I deserved a little break from the full time studying and medical research jobs I had been working. I was excited to go back to the UK and reconnect with many of my original climbing mentors, in the places I learned to climb, indoors and out. I did not feel a sense of unfinished business, or a desperation to jump back on things I had tried before. I just fantasised about returning to the place I grew up in, as a more mature adult, with a different perspective on things. The Smiling Buttress lived in my mind as a 1-minute clip of Moony trying it in Hard Grit, but nothing more. I don't really know what planted the seed to get back on it. I think more than anything I just wanted something to visualise and think about trying before making the journey over from the States, but it could have been anything really.
You talk about your 'toxic' relationship with climbing where you weren't getting a great deal of enjoyment from it and treating it like a job in a sense. Have you been able to regain any love for the sport, or is it a matter of time?
There were a couple of rough years there for me. I was living in New York City as a Masters student and did not have access to the outdoors and other non-climbing related activities that I find peace in. Climbing became my sole outlet and as such, I spent way too much time doing it, around 20 hours a week. I was competing on the world cup circuit too and so a lot of the fun and artistry was lost for me, and replaced with objective measures like hours spent in the gym, sets completed, tops etc. Things became way more serious than I ever wanted. I was aware of the unhealthy shift that my relationship with climbing was undergoing, but it was still extremely difficult to step back and give things the space that was needed.
In the Summer of 2018 at the end of the season, I was able to acknowledge the situation head on and move towards remedying it. I took a bit of a breather on climbing, and put more energy into the other sports that challenge me and provide fulfilment. Rediscovering the fun and magic in my climbing over the last two years has been an absolute joy, and in a lot of ways, the rocky years were a necessary process and learning experience for me.
One of the strongest themes through your climbing and academic life is problem solving. Are there any other lessons that you've learnt from climbing that you've been able to apply to other areas of your life such as academia?
I like to reflect on the many things climbing taught me, that I use on a daily basis - there are just so many. Beyond problem solving, I think the biggest is probably in learning to persevere towards your goals, and being able to deal with failure. It is entirely necessary, in sport, and life in general, to be able to commit yourself to something and keep trying when it doesn't work out immediately. It is hard to say who I was before I found climbing. But climbing undoubtedly shaped me into an extremely dedicated and determined person that is not phased by setbacks or falling off.
It has also allowed me to appreciate the fine details in a certain problem, whilst not losing sight of the bigger picture or construct that it's a part of. Some of that might sound abstract, but I truly think that being able to see things from multiple scales, and fitting that into a coherent and cohesive bigger system is applicable to the way I interpret the world.
Lastly, climbing has allowed me to travel to places I would not have otherwise and exposed me to people and cultures very different from my own. It has been a brilliant lens to see the world through and allows me to this day to feel as though I am part of something bigger than myself.
Climbing is just one part of who I am. I have not felt like 'a climber' since 2009 when I chose the books over my boots. That being said, I will always be climbing.
Do you think you'll always be a climber, or is it just one part of your life that you'll move on from?
Climbing is just one part of who I am. I have not felt like 'a climber' since 2009 when I chose the books over my boots. That being said, I will always be climbing. I don't really have a choice in a lot of ways. It is a constant I need in my life, and one of the primary ways I check in with myself. Some days are easier than others to get to the gym, or the rocks, but I am always glad to make the effort. I am so glad to have climbing in my life, and even more so, a healthy relationship with it. This balancing act is for sure something I intend to maintain and practice for the rest of my life.