Progression
Climbing|Issue 159

How Keenan Takahashi is pushing the highball envelope.

James Lucas

IN SEPTEMBER 2014, the Californian Keenan Takahashi grabbed a crimp with his left hand. He curled his right hand around another crimp on the 30-foot Kush Boulder, below Yosemite’s Lost Brother formation. His moustache formed a thick broom on his upper lip, which quivered with exertion. He steadied himself and then swung his left foot hard across the wall, double-clutching a sloper, maxing out his plus-six-inch wingspan. Takahashi finished the first ascent of the highball V11 with El Cap as a backdrop. The problem, with its wild movement, marked a progression not only in Yosemite’s modern bouldering style but in Takahashi’s climbing as well.

When it came time to name the line, he took inspiration from a great horned owl feather he’d found, shed by a bird that had been hooting nearby. “One of my favorite animals is the owl,” Takahashi says, and in fact a three-inch tattoo of an owl adorns his left ankle. Takahashi received his only piece of body art the summer before his senior year in high school. He’d traveled to France on an exchange program, a trip that introduced him to climbing. And so the problem became Winged Tiger, named after the airborne predator.

Winged Tiger is just one climb in the El Portal, California–based 26-year-old’s expanding résumé. Beyond his occasional roped exploits, where’s he’s climbed the trad routes Broken Arrow (5.13c) and Top Gun (5.13d), both in Tuolumne, Takahashi has established over a dozen double-digit boulder problems across the western US and in Rocklands, with an emphasis on highballs. These include the 30-foot Zephyr (V12) in Yosemite, the 35-foot Terminus (V12) in Bishop, California, the 30-foot Hokusai’s Wave (V12) in Roy, New Mexico, and the 35-foot Ubuntu (V13) in Rocklands, South Africa.

“They’re big and beautiful and pure,” Takahashi says of the climbs, adding, “I only climb tall things because I think they’re pretty and inspiring.” However, with his background as a skater who was unafraid of big drops, you can’t help but wonder if he likes the adrenaline and the exposure.

AT THE BEGINNING of the nine-minute YouTube video Jamboree, one of a dozen skate videos that Takahashi and his friend Jonas Mueller filmed and starred in, a teenage Takahashi climbs into a tree in his hometown of Davis, California. He then drops five feet into a cement ditch, sticks the landing, and skates off. Takahashi, born September 1991, grew up in the central California town, the only child of Barb and Eugene Takahashi, a Sierra Club employee and a state epidemiologist, respectively. At nine years old, Takahashi asked his parents for a skateboard. Over the next eight years, he skateboarded daily at the courtyard of the local junior high and in the flat suburbs around Davis. As he progressed, he and Mueller started filming their tricks; at the end of Jamboree, Takahashi sticks his best trick, a 360 flip off a series of ledges. “I skated so much,” Takahashi says. Though he stuck kick flips and other basic tricks early in his skating career, pushing further required practice and obsession. He estimates he spent 10,000 attempts over three years to stick the 360 flip. “That really plays into my love of bouldering where I just obsess over little things,” Takahashi says.

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