Four fingertips clamped first-knuckle deep on a tiny crimp are the only things preventing Matt Lutey from falling onto the boulder-riddled field below.
His legs are dangling from a 15-foot boulder, and as the rock slants towards the earth, the ground slopes away conversely at a steep angle, making the prospect of a fall that much more unnerving. In the Hawaii humidity, sweat forms a paste with the dusty white chalk. Matt presses his fingertips into the porous basaltic hold as he struggles to maintain grip.
He has a fraction of a second to land his right hand on the next hold- a small jagged edge above the lip. If he misses, but still manages to grab the rock as hard as he can, the friction of his hand against the rock will at least slow his momentum, and he will fall directly onto the pads below instead of swinging out into the abyss.
In other words, it is far more dangerous to half-ass it, than to commit fully and fail.
He goes for the swing with resolution, and as his hand lands the hold with a resounding thump, a camera whirs past silently, following his fingers along a thin cable.
Hidden in the bushes, three individuals are tracking his every move from a screen connected wirelessly to the camera. As Matt pulls through the last moves and tops out, director Andrew Agcaoili uses a remote to guide his gimbal and seamlessly highlight each move.
A few assorted leaves stuck in Phil Langford’s unruly beard serve as a makeshift ghillie suit as he crouches in the bushes, using a second remote to slowly move the DEFY Dactylcam (cable cam) along the line. I’m crouched under a rock, using a third remote to focus the lens wirelessly.
For bouldering in Hawaii, it’s an unusual level of climbing documentation. There aren’t many professional videos featuring the climbing community here, partially because there isn’t a high level recognition of climbing in Hawaii.
“We have a saying,” says Matt, “’There is no climbing in Hawaii.’” He even sells shirts with this quote across the back. The saying originated from conversations with curious climbers from the mainland, who often approached them with an incredulous, “But is there actually climbing in Hawaii?”
Turns out, there’s plenty. You just have to know where.
In Hawaii, there are no climbing guidebooks. Both unique access issues and a relatively small community contribute to difficulties in building the hype around bouldering. It is up to the climbers in the community to document, maintain and keep the trails cleared. Alone, it can be a daunting task, so climbers often use online resources to share discoveries and rally the community.
Matt and his friend Tyler Williams started the website Bouldering Hawaii with the goal of documenting developed climbs across Hawaii in one cohesive collection. Since then, the website has also served as a bridge for connecting other climbers and sharing information. For most climbers visiting Hawaii for the first time, this website or the local climbing gym is the best way to connect with other climbers and find detailed beta. Due to the sensitive nature of many spots, location information is rarely posted online. Instead, beta is passed discreetly from one climber to the next.
In similar fashion, Matt shared his photos from this climb with Andrew a couple months ago. A former climbing enthusiast himself, the location’s unique features intrigued Andrew. The first day, Andrew and Matt hiked out to the boulder and filmed a few runs with just a tripod and a camera, but Andrew left wanting something more.
A wide-open forest surrounding a large boulder like this is very unusual in Hawaii, and Andrew wanted to document it in a way that would really showcase the depth of the forest and the scale of the boulder against the trees. Andrew had never seen anyone film climbing in Hawaii with a cable cam before, but scanning the expansive Paperbark and Kukui tree forest, he immediately knew it was the perfect location.
We returned on an overcast Sunday with Matt and fellow climbers Karrina “K” Salazar, Jimmel Dumas, and videographer/climber Phil Langford. Armed with pads and heavy packs of gear, we hiked back through a remote valley, bushwhacked through thick swatches of California grass, and slid along loose dirt until we reached the spot. From there, we set to work. Phil hoisted himself up into the trees with a Swiss seat harness, while Andrew secured the lower anchors below.
As Phil swung from the trees above, the rest of the crew soaked in the seclusion of our secret spot. “Wouldn’t it be funny if a complete stranger appeared,” I mused, and we chuckled. In a climbing community this small, the thought of anybody we didn’t know stumbling across this remote rock oasis seemed implausible, at best.
Three minutes later, in what could only be described as a fortuitous, black bouldering pads emerged from the tree line, strapped to the backs of two complete strangers. New to the island, the couple had learned about the boulder from another climber.
Almost immediately, the two groups of climbers introduced themselves and began to chat excitedly, exchanging beta and stories.
Deep in the Hawaiian forest, the stoke was spreading.
Filmed by Andrew Agcaoili, Liz Barney and Phillip Langford // Shibby Stylee
Edited & Directed by Andrew Agcaoili
Photos by Liz Barney
Pack Mules: Jimmel Dumas & Karinna "K" Salazar
Climber: Matt Lutey on Night Terrors V8
RED Epic-M Dragon
Freefly Movi M15
Lenses: Leica-R Primes (19mm / 24mm / 35mm Summilux / 50mm Summilux / 80mm Summilux)
Music: Death Shark (Olove Remix) - Lakutis