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Indoor Weekly: Will Johnson Talks Comps and Singing

Will Johnson Photo Matt Chapman

Will Johnson is based in Toronto and first competed in route competitions at Joe Rockhead’s the late 1990s, has competed on Team Canada and is a professional choir singer.

Since 2007, Joe Rockhead’s has been his home gym and he recently Qualified in third at the Canadian Bouldering Nationals.

Be sure to follow his Instagram below and check out one of his choir performances if you get a chance.

What are three big changes you’ve seen in the way indoor problems are set? It’s no longer about how “thuggy” you are as a climber. You still need the raw power and strength to get through difficult boulders but flexibility, movement and quick decision-making skills are equally important, especially in competitions.

The Risk, Intensity, Complexity (RIC) system is also standard these days. My friends Ayo, Sachi and Siu (setters at Joe Rockhead’s) also trained us over the years on the element of ‘doubt’ (can you make the climber doubt their decision mid-way through a boulder). It really messes with your head! Your mental game must be as or even stronger than your physical ability – confidence is key.

When was your first competition? I did a Wall Crawl event at Gravity in Hamilton back in 1996. It was a toprope competition and I competed in the rec. category. I won a quickdraw as a door prize and I was super psyched about it. I still have it along with the T-shirt

How did you feel heading into Boulder Nationals 2018 at Up the Bloc? The month leading up to Nationals was intense.

Five weeks before the competition I heard the good news that Jean-Marc and Luigi had taken ownership of Joe Rockheads. Almost immediately there were new problems set and other improvements to the facility.

The psyche was definitely high. I started training with Dustin Curtis and my old teammates and turned up the intensity. I felt fit, not quite as strong as I had hoped but mentally ready.

How were Qualifiers? Great! I was on track for a perfect round until I missed matching the final hold of problem #4 (there was clutch thumb bolthole beta that I missed). I conserved some energy by only attempting it a second time and was able to flash problem #5 for a total of four flashes.

They were a bit easier in terms of difficulty than in previous years at nationals, but they had movements with higher risk (lateral dyno, difficult slab, etc) making them tricky to flash.

Success! I’m a bit beside myself at the moment! After a mediocre season up to this point, I feel like I finally hit my stride today. Everything lined up and just clicked! After switching up my training routine with my new coach I focussed on the things I could control like eating well and trying to get a bit fitter (“West Coast 4x4s” are killer…). But I didn’t think It would translate this quickly! I stuck to my specific rituals and routine today, and I’m incredibly psyched to have flashed four boulders and head to semi-finals in 3rd place! Grateful for the opportunity to try it all again tomorrow! ? @alibeverly #bestroundever #pushyourself #motivated #olddog #newtricks #stillgotit #Canada #nationals #bouldering #climbing #compclimbing #upthebloc #joerockheads #OBN2018

A post shared by Will Johnson (@tenorwill) on

Talk about heading into Semis and the vibe in isolation. I had never qualified in third position in a national competition before so I was a little nervous.

The one thing that struck me was how focused everyone was – once people started warming up there was very little conversation. It was clear that everyone knew the next round was likely going to be the most difficult.

Overall impression from Nationals and standout climbers? I thought it went very well. Up The Bloc is a perfect facility for a big competition like this. The problems were very well set in all three rounds with good separation in each.

I don’t think there were many appeals if any, and I believe no injuries with the exception of bleeding tips in the final round. Kudos to the setters and medics for keeping the holds sanitized! I was very impressed with Allison Vest who crushed the last round.

I was also psyched for Francis Bilodeau who climbed very well in Semis and of course Sean McColl who dominated in Finals.

What do you eat the day of a comp? A small bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter and walnuts and a coffee for breakfast. I have an apple 45 minutes before I start climbing and some dried mango slices mid round for some extra sugar to get me through problems four and five.

Any recovery foods after a normal day of training? Without fail I always have a protein shake after I train. I like mocha Vega protein powder with almond milk. I eat a lot of kale too. Ever since doing this I’ve had no finger injuries (knock on wood!!).

Click below to watch Johnson at Joe Rockhead’s.

You’re a tenor in the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir with 21 other singers. How long have you been in a choir? I’ve been singing since I was six years old but joined Tafelmusik in 2000 after auditioning for the conductor, Ivars Taurins who was the guest conductor of the Ontario Youth Choir earlier that year.

What’s your singing background? It’s been primarily choral singing with some focus on Opera choruses with Opera Atelier.

I went through excellent youth programs in the Guelph Youth Singers, Ontario, National and World Youth Choirs as well. My specialty is singing music from the Baroque era. Primarily the music of Bach, Handel, Lully, Charpentier, Zelenka and some Mozart. I’m most comfortable in a good choir.

When you were 15, did you ever think you’d represent Canada at climbing World Cups and at the World Youth Choir? No! Certainly not in this order. Climbing competitions really ramped up in the 2000s but when I graduated high school in 2000, my focus shifted to singing.

I sang with the National Youth Choir of Canada followed by the World Youth Choir in Venezuela, Belgium, Italy and USA. After graduating from U of T in 2006, I slowly got back into climbing more regularly. My wife started a community-driven climbing team (@jrhbteam) where my passion grew stronger and stronger.

Once the World Cups came to Canada I was super motivated to train and began training four days a week. It paid off in 2016 when I managed to rank 10th in Bouldering and attend four World Cups as a team alternate. It’s been a complete privilege and honour to represent Canada in both areas of my life – a dream come true.

Will Johnson farthest left in back row of Tafelmusik Choir

What was/are your goals with singing, climbing and travelling?

Originally it was to become a professional concert singer. But it’s an extremely difficult career and very hard to earn a living, particularly in Canada. I abandoned that plan and started a “real job” working in the IT industry but still practice and sing regularly.

I love travelling and hope to climb in Rocklands, South Africa and go back to Fontainebleau, France again. I also hope to stay competitive for as long as possible.

Do you know any other climbers who sing or singers who climb? Yes actually! Gerry Banning was an accomplished opera singer and one of the first members of Joe Rockheads.

He’s also a tenor – crazy coincidence. We chat regularly about opera performances when we run into each other at the gym.

Are you going to compete in Lead comps this year? And/or Speed? I was so psyched from Nationals that I started training the following day for lead. I’m hoping to do as many lead comps this year as possible. I would love to try a speed competition as well.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many facilities for training speed on this side of the country so I’ll have to travel to get some speed training under my belt.

Plans for 2018? Stay fit, healthy and happy and enter as many competitions as I can.

Alison and I are going to Squamish (our “second home”) in July and I cannot wait to get back on some world-class granite and climb with some old friends.

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