Interview: Skipping Grades With Josh Levin


Josh Levin Sending Livin’ Astro [Photo] Ian MacLellan

Josh Levin is hands down one of the strongest climbers in the Northeast and he’s only a Sophomore at Northeastern University, where he studies Mechanical Engineering. Between studying, Levin likes to jump letter grades, train hard and is focused on one day making it into the World Cup circuit. Watch Ian MacLellan’s video of Levin making Livin’ Astro (5.14c) look easy. We caught up with Levin in between his classes to talk grade jumping and balancing responsibilities and climbing.

Tell me a little about Livin’ Astro (5.14c). What was the hardest grade you climbed before that?

Before that, I climbed three 5.13d’s. The first one was in Spain a couple years ago, then I did two more in Thailand last summer. I really wanted to get 5.14, that was a firm goal of mine for many many years. I’ve tried multiple 5.14s in the past couple years or so, but it’s always been on climbing trips and I’ve always run out of time. It was really cool to come back to one climb all fall and really work out the different moves so I could actually complete one.

You skipped a few letter grades, any reasons? Did it just fit your style?

I wasn’t really shooting to go 5.14b/5.14c necessarily I just really liked Livin’ Astro (5.14c). I love the wall it is on and I had tried China Beach (5.14b), but after a couple of times, I wasn’t that psyched about it anymore. Then my friend convinced me to try Livin’ Astro, which I liked a lot more. It matches my style of climbing more and I started projecting it instead.

How long did it take you to complete Livin’ Astro?

More or less than a month. I was going up every weekend, figuring out what moves I was struggling with, understanding what kind of body position goes into those moves and then training for exactly those kinds of body positions in the gym.

Any other projects you are currently working at Rumney?

Not really. I haven’t been up to Rumney since I sent Livin’ Astro. It’s gotten pretty cold and I’ve been busy over the last couple weekends with final exams coming up. I think the next time I’ll be able to project something will be in spring. For right now I’m focused on getting through the last little bit of the semester and finishing out two more Dark Horse comps.

Who is your biggest source of climbing inspiration?

I guess I have a couple different sources of inspiration. I guess around here Vasya is a really big inspiration of mine. He’s really been dedicated and trains really hard and he has put up a lot of really hard climbs in the area, like Jaws II (5.15a). But he’s also a super smart and intellectual guy. One of the Dark Horse competitions last season he started telling me all the research he’ was doing in chemical engineering. It’s so cool the way he is really passionate about that and climbing. Internationally, I would have to be Jakob Schubert. He’s a really great guy, super easy to talk to but he is also one of most dominate competition climbers in history. He won seven or eight world cups in a row, which is ridiculous, but he’s not full of himself. Back home I’d have to say my coach Stacy, my first climbing coach when I started out climbing. She was diagnosed with a lung disease in 2002. She’s had to get several lung transplants and she’s a nine year survivor of a double lung transplant, which is four years longer than the average life expectancy. It’s pretty incredible. She’s been active the entire time; she still climbs 5.11+ at the gym. She’s always energetic and super excitable.

How long have you been climbing?

I started when I was 4 years old.

How did you get into it? Are your parents climbers?

They are now. They got into it after I did. When I was younger, two or three years old, I was climbing everything in the house, bookshelves, tables…my mom once found me on top of a lamp post. I got into climbing when I went to an amusement park in California called Great America. There was a climbing wall there, I decided to try it, and I liked it. So my mom found me private lessons at the local climbing gym called Twisters and that’s where I started out, with Stacy.

How do they feel about your climbing?

They are very supportive. They really try to encourage me to go and challenge myself and compete whenever I can. Because of them I’ve been able to travel all around the world too.

Have you done any climbing out west?

Yea, absolutely. When I was in California I would go out a lot to Jailhouse, Castle Rock. I’ve been climbing all over the West coast and the Rockies. I’ve been to Yosemite a bunch of times, Smith Rock, Red Rocks, Joshua Tree, Tahoe, Maple Canyon and Rifle.

You’re on the USA climbing team?

Yea. I’ve been on the youth US National team since I was nine years old.

Do you compete in all styles?

Yup. Bouldering, sport climbing and speed climbing.

How does the process work? If you compete here and do well, do you go to the rest of the world cups?

The way that works is that if you qualify for the Youth National Team, which is placing top four in the US National Championships, you’re invited to go to the Youth World Championships. That’s held every year. And then every other year, they have the Pan American Championships and you can go to that no matter what age. The benefit of making the National Team for youth is that you get invited to both of those events. For the Open National Team, if you place in the top four, then you’re qualified to compete at the World Cup events, but the US doesn’t offer a travel stipend for athletes to compete, like some other European countries do, so it’s very rare that people will actually go and compete in the World Cup Series. I would like to make it there after I graduate college. I would be really excited to be in the World Cup circuit. It’s a big goal of mine.

It sounds like school is taking up a lot of time.

It is all consuming.

How are you dealing with the balance?

It’s tough. When I go to the gym to train, I won’t have that much time, so I try to do a very hard, intense workout in the short period of time I have. I’m doing a lot of power-endurance and campus board training. That helped a lot, especially for the climbing at Rumney.

How do you stay motivated?

Having a project has helped immensely. And the comps around here have been really really fun. That’s one of the cool things about New England: there are comps all of the time. I’m a pretty competitive guy, so I like doing that a lot.

Do you see yourself trying to hop on Jaws II (5.15)?

Yea, I would love to get up it. I’m hoping to project it next spring. I’m starting this rotation at Northeastern College Co-op. I’ll be doing a rotation of paid internships. My first is in January, in Boston. I’ll be making money as an engineer, and I’ll have a lot more time to train and climb I think.

1 Comment

  • It’s so inspiring to to see amazing climbers that don’t climb full time yet figure out how to balance life and become incredible climbers. Truly motivational. Great interview. :)

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