Canadian climber Alannah Yip hits the World Cup circuit ahead of bid for Olympics
North Van local had a few good mentors including Sean McColl
Newly minted and three-time Canadian open bouldering champion Alannah Yip has just begun a new World Cup season in Europe with her eyes firmly on the climbing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
It’s the first time climbing has been added to the Olympics, and it is in one combined category exclusively, instead of a medal being awarded for each category of lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. Not ideal, but it’s something.
“It’s not my favourite, because of how different the three disciplines are, but I understand why they had to do it,” says Yip, who grew up and lives in North Vancouver. “They only had one Olympic medal available so they couldn’t just choose one of the disciplines.”
Although Yip has the inside track on the Olympics in Canada, the competition is definitely getting stronger with each passing year as the popularity of climbing continues its meteoric rise as evidenced by the recent Canadian open bouldering championship.
“The field of competitors has definitely gotten a lot deeper and stronger in the last few years which is exciting,” says Yip, who also won the competition in 2016 and 2017 and finished second last year. “There are a lot of strong young guns in the field now - the future looks bright for Canada!”
Canada’s top women’s climber grew up in North Vancouver and got interested in climbing watching her brother and this other kid Sean McColl (Canada’s most decorated professional climber).
“He’s a family friend,” says Yip. “I always looked up to him and his brother, so when they started climbing I wanted to try it too. When I did, I was hooked.”
She started climbing when she was 10 years old at The Edge Climbing Center in North Vancouver (now Climb Base 5 North Van) with the same coach she has now, Andrew Wilson.
“My early mentors were definitely Sean (McColl) and his brother Jason, as I mentioned earlier, and other climbers such as Stacey and Vikki Weldon, and Katie Mah,” says Yip. “At one point or another, I either climbed with or was coached by all of them.”
Although she was admittedly not very good at team sports, climbing was something that combined problem-solving and athleticism in a way that Yip found appealing for which she had obvious talent. And although it was an individual sport, there is likely no other individual sport that involves so much support and camaraderie among other team members and athletes in general.
Yip started entering competitions almost as soon as she started climbing as well as lead climbing outdoors, which offers different rewards.
“What I really like about outdoor climbing is that there is no immediate pressure to do any climb,” says Yip. “It’s a lot more relaxed and consistently fun. With competitions, it’s a lot more high stress but potentially high reward.”
With bouldering, Yip says her biggest strength is mental.
“ I can usually read the boulder problems well,” she says. “And I have the mental strength to stay focused through anything that may happen during the round. I am able to move past a bad climb and focus on the remainder of the competition.”
As a testament to her problem-solving abilities, Yip recently graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Mechanical Engineering specializing in Mechatronics, which she describes as a combination of mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering.
“The best way to describe it is that I learned to build robots,” she says.
When she’s not climbing, or building robots, Yip says she enjoys mountain biking and skiing, along with baking and cooking.
Her favourite place to climb locally is Squamish, as well as a few international favourites.
“I have absolutely loved climbing in Spain in various areas around Catalonia, areas in Ticino in Switzerland, and Rocklands in South Africa,” she says. And, although her concentration is on competition leading up to the Olympics, she does have some lead climbing goals for the future.
“I have some projects in Squamish that I would like to be able to put time into, and I would also like to spend a lot more time climbing in Spain,” she says. “The two weeks I spent there this past fall was not nearly enough! For now, my goals for lead climbing or just outdoor climbing, in general, are to get out as much as I can and enjoy myself.”
Yip usually does a few “local” competitions before hitting the World Cup circuit, such as a Tristate Bouldering Championships in New York City, which she won for the second year in a row.
“I love that competition, it has such a good vibe,” she says.
Over the past few years, Yip has noticed the rapid growth of the indoor sport, especially at bouldering competitions. It’s nothing like when she first started.
“It is definitely a lot more popular now than when I started out. There were basically three gyms in Canada that put out all of the strong competitive youth climbers when I was growing up,” she explains. “In my first youth world championships, I think 50 per cent of the team was from my gym. Nowadays that would never happen, there are hundreds of competitive youth climbers spread over the entire country.”
Her advice to those starting out in the sport? “Dream big! Also, focus on technique first and strength second.”
Follow Alannah as she competes on the World Cup circuit this season via her Instagram account @allanah_yip.
(Portrait photo: Annette Cheung)