So You Want to Go Deep Water Soloing?

© A. Huddart
So you want to go deep water soloing? It's not a bad idea! But let's start at the very beginning: How did deep water soloing (DWS) come about?

Freefall from the top of Freeborn Man
© A. Huddart

I'll stick my neck out here: DWS came to be because it's the purest form of climbing. Let me clarify this: I mean climbing as in fingertips-on-rock, as in aesthetics of movement, as in unencumbered, as in FREE. You won't get the same feeling from dragging a full rack and two ropes up a classic trad pitch, and you won't find the same experience on a hard sport route, with a harness and rope always to hand.

Will celebrates an ascent of Troubled Waters by jumping off the acapulco ledge... oh dear
© Simon Richardson
So we do it because it's fun, it's simple, and it's unencumbered. The next question is where?

DWS involves climbing on rock that has been developed in one of three ways. Here's the gen, and with examples:

Traditional cliffs. These includes venues such as Conner Cove in Dorset, and Berry Head in Devon. The routes at these venues were first developed as traditional routes; even the traverses were first climbed with ropes and gear! The routes then fell prey to the deep water soloists...

Sport cliffs. The most famous example of this is Dorset's Lulworth Cove, which was developed as a sport crag in the early nineties. It has since lost just about all of its 'roped attention'!

DWS cliffs. A look at the routes and the history of Cave Hole, down on the Dorset Isle of Portland, tells us that this superb area was mostly developed as a solo cliff, ie. just about all the routes here were first climbed without ropes. Pembroke's Barrel Zawn is another great example of this.

So how do I get started with DWS?

It won't cost a lot to get going with DWS! You'll need a selection of rock shoes (three pairs should be enough), a slightly larger selection of chalk bags (say half a dozen), and a short rope and a little gear to set up the occasional abseil or safety/exit rope. Add to this a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts - and a camera, of course.

What else do I need to know?

There's slightly more to DWS than just jumping on a route. Here's a short list of the things you'll need to think about before you put your rock shoes on:

The crag.

Get familiar with your venue. Know the height, the top-outs, the depth of the water, even the height of the crux, if possible. Always know your shortest/fastest exit from the water, especially in early season, when the water's cooler.

The tides/sea state.

Get a tide timetable, and get well acquainted with it! Tides are your key to DWS, so get familiar with EVERY aspect of them – their timing, their (mood) swings, and their variations from venue to venue. For on-line tide information, go to


The art of falling. Some practice jumping will get you acquainted with your 'entries', but always start these from low down... You'll need to learn how to hit the water with reasonable finesse – this art becomes more important as you venture higher.

Good style......bad style.........Ouch!!!!!!
© dr. evil

General safety.

Go to the crag in a group, and climb within sight of other folk. Also important is someone who can jump in at short notice; a bad fall might result in need of a little assistance. Also bear in mind that being a strong/confident swimmer will assist you greatly – it's true to say that weak swimmers have less confidence when deep water soloing. With this in mind, you might consider a boat of some sort at the crag – these are fun, and provide a little additional safety – even a basic inflatable kiddy boat will give good value!

DWS starter venues of choice?

Here's four venues that offer the DWS beginner with enough water and accessible routes to get started.

Tim Emmett on Snake Pass (F6b+), Barrel Zawn, Pembroke.
© Mike Robertson

Barrel Zawn, Pembroke

One of the best beginner's venues in the UK. Excellent short routes on perfect sandstone, and all above nicely-placed above good water.
Neil Bentley on the burly Horny Lil’ Devil (F7a), Lulworth Cove, Dorset.
© Mike Robertson

Lulworth Cove, Dorset

A little tougher with the grades, but a stunning venue, with pockets galore. The traverses prove a little easier than the vertical routes.
Ken Palmer on the second pitch of the amazing Rainbow Bridge (F7a+), Berry Head, Devon.
© Mike Robertson

Devon/Berry Head

Just brilliant. Devon's long traverses include Magical Mystery Tour and Rainbow Bridge – two of the best sideways expeditions in the known world. Add to this the vertical routes, and you have utopia.
Hazel Findlay on the classic route Crab Party (F6C), Cave Hole, Portland, Dorset.
© Mike Robertson

Cave Hole

Dorset's more tidal crag, but none the worse for it. Time it well, and you'll find plenty of short and spicy routes on great limestone.

DWS Guidebook

Deep Water Rockfax Mike Robertson is the author of the new Rockfax guidebook, Deep Water. Mike was one of the first climbers to ditch the rope and security of traditional protection and rely upon the safety-net of the sea. Areas covered in this guidebook include: Swanage, Lulworth, Portland, Devon, Cornwall, Pembroke, North Wales, Scotland, Portugal, Costa Blanca, Mallorca, Sardinia, Croatia, Thailand, Vietnam and Tasmania.

The routes in the guidebook are described in full and are attributed Sport Grades in conjunction with the now accepted S-grade that gives an indication of the climb's seriousness, with regard to height above the water, and tide considerations. The difficulty of the routes included spans all grades, ranging from dreamy grade 4s, 5s and 6s above the warm waters of Asia and the Mediterranean to many hard grade 7s and 8s, some above the less-tepid seas of Northern Europe and the Southern Ocean.

All areas are covered by colour photodiagrams and the book is enticingly illustrated with many stunning action photographs, the majority taken by Mike Robertson.

Mike has climbed worldwide and in Dorset for over 20 years. He is a professional outdoor photo-journalist.

Deep Water is avalable

Other DWS Media and Resources

DWS World See some DWS photos at here and here, including the gallery of Dr. Evil's, here

Keith Sharples has a Deep Water Soloing - Photo Gallery at

Also check out, a web site dedicated to the art of Deep Water Soloing.

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22 Jun, 2007
I want to know how to avoid salt water enemas, and perforating an ear drum (again). Where's Barrel Zawn too?
22 Jun, 2007
. . . and how to avoid landing on jellyfish, how to ensure that your glasses float, and most importantly . . . how to stop your arse looking fat in a bikini! ::oD
22 Jun, 2007
I love DWS, but does anyone else feel a bit sad about corporations jumping on the bandwagon? It's just too much fun... <sigh>
22 Jun, 2007
Which corporations are those: BP, Eron, Burger King, Donald Trump?
22 Jun, 2007
Red Bull, Wild Country, and now Rockfax too.
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