By Morgan Cvetkovic-Jones
Sébastien Bouin is a French climbing legend who, by now, needs no introduction. Having amassed one of the most impressive sport climbing tick lists we’ve ever seen, Seb rocketed to the pinnacle of the climbing scene in May 2022 when he finally clipped the chains on his long-term project in France’s Verdon Gorge. After over 150 days of effort on the route, Bouin gave his latest local masterpiece, DNA, the awe-inspiring grade of 9c, becoming the second climber to ever achieve this grade.
We caught up with Seb in an exclusive UK interview to talk everything from DNA and the French climbing scene to Adam Ondra’s new baby, enjoy.
Salut Seb. Firstly, massive congratulations on your ascent of DNA. This is obviously a landmark moment in your career, is it your biggest achievement to date?
Yeah, for sure.
Could you tell us a little bit about the process, from discovering the route and bolting it to finally clipping the chains? And how did you find it in the first place?
Basically, I bolted this route in 2019. I wrote a big piece about this on my Instagram so check that out but yeah, I was like, I knew this would be the next big step for me because I know the Ramirole and it’s pretty much my style, it’s not that far from home so to have a big challenge there was great for me. I knew it would be perfect to have such a hard route there but I definitely didn’t know if it would be possible for me, that was the first question, whether it was possible for me or not and in the end it was but with a lot of doubt. In the end I knew it was possible, during the last year it was like ‘Ok, now I’m climbing on it, I just need to be a bit stronger and more focussed’, but at the start of the process I was definitely like ‘Oh, I don’t know, I’m still not doing the move!’
So, I read that it took you over 150 days of working the route, how did you stay motivated over that period of time? Was it the proximity to home or did you know this was going to be a King line?
At least, at least 150 days. Looking back, the motivation was multi-faceted, you know, it’s not that far from home, the distance is ok and obviously I bolted this route so I was really motivated to finish the process. It’s 100% my climbing style and I knew that if I wanted to one day push the limit then I knew it would be in this climbing style. So, yeah definitely many many factors that helped keep the motivation high but the most important factor was the beauty of the line and the aesthetic of the line that originally attracted me, it’s beautiful.
Did you know it was going to be around 9c when you bolted it?
No, no never, I was just thinking it was a hard route, maybe 9b, 9b+, 9c or something impossible for me. You can never tell until you’re close to sending it, maybe then you can say ‘Oh maybe it’s this grade’ or something like that.
I guess the grade is a reflection of the time you’ve spent on the route and looking back you can say you’ve tried way harder on this than anything else you’ve climbed.
It’s about time, feeling and climbing style.
So, has anybody been in contact about coming to try the route?
Yeah, Alex (Megos) is definitely motivated, Adam (Ondra) also. Adam has got a baby now so…
Yeah of course, you’re gonna be the King of the scene now he’s a dad, is he finished?
No no, he’s definitely not finished, he will just come back stronger and try super hard. I think he’ll just travel with the kid!
France was the original home of the European sport climbing movement, places like Buoux were world famous climbing destinations. It must be quite nice with DNA and Bibliographie (climbed last year) to see France at the pinnacle of the sport climbing scene again, it’s the place where all the hardest routes are going down lately. What do you think it is about France that makes it such an amazing sport climbing destination?
I think France has the potential to again become the world’s most famous sport climbing destination because of the quality of the rock and the climbing. Lately, I think in Spain, Chris Sharma and those guys made some great developments and I think the fashion has been there definitely. But, I think it’s slowly changing because Chris isn’t climbing as much anymore - he’s climbing for sure and he’s still super strong but he’s not making those big movies anymore.
Do you think you could replicate the influence Chris had but for the French scene?
I hope, I hope! Yeah, let’s see how it goes but it would be cool, no? To develop France a bit more and attract people there, that could be nice, no?
Why did you call it DNA?
Well, DNA because climbing is a sport that has rock as its DNA, the DNA of climbing is rock climbing exactly but now we have lots of competitions and things like the Olympic Games. So, firstly for this but then DNA, this crag, this route, the Verdon Gorge and tufa climbing is kind of like my DNA and I’ve been practicing this for years, I’m really happy when I do this. Also DNA because the way of processing, putting a lot of energy and hard work into one climb isn’t that easy but I think it’s in my DNA to have such a big experience like this.
So Seb, talking about DNA, you’ve been with EB for quite a long time. It could be said that EB are a part of your DNA and you definitely of theirs after such a long partnership. You’ve developed shoes with them and the current range of EB shoes we see now has largely been developed around you. How long have you been with EB and how did that relationship start?
Well, Fred (Tuscan, EB owner) has known me since I was a child. So when I started climbing hard, he contacted me and said ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ I said ‘Yeah, yeah’ and we started a small partnership. Year by year, I was growing and EB was growing too so it was a good opportunity to grow together. I like the shoes and then it was like cool, perfect, go ahead with them.
What climbing shoe did you wear on the ascent of DNA?
I was wearing a prototype version of the Balboa.
What are your favourite EB shoe models and what type of climbing do you use each of the models for (favourite shoe for bouldering/routes etc.)?
I think the Balboa is great. The Django is cool too.
You were heavily involved in the development of the Balboa, could you tell us a little bit about the this process and where this shoe fits into your climbing?
I think I had 10 or 15 prototypes where I asked for new climbing generation changes and technologies. I wanted something to suit the big overhangs and steep walls with high drop knees, not something designed for slabby walls because the Django is cool but it’s cool for the technical walls at Ceuse, Oliana and the Verdon Gorge. But, when you have to climb on the steep overhang, it’s very cool to have this kind of soft new shoe.
So, would you say this is where the Balboa fits into your climbing, in big overhanging caves?
And lastly Seb, what’s next for you? You’re obviously close on Bibliographie and going to Ceuse tomorrow, but have you got any more projects or goals lined up?
Yeah yeah but I’m only going to Ceuse for three days because I have things to come back for like meetings.
Well, it’s been great to chat Seb, thanks for this and best of luck in Ceuse!
Thank you, bye bye!