David Ethan Graham - Professional Climber, Loner Gypsy, Cult-Sci-Fi Fanatic, Laptop Beat Maker, Nocturnal Tweaker; formerly of Portland, Maine

By Abbey Smith ,

Photo by Tim Kemple / kemplemedia.com

The hard-climbing icon Dave Graham, 26, is manic, tweaky, and opinionated. He’s also best understood in person and in his element — with friends and at the rocks, where you’ll find him in a hoody and sneakers, waving his gangly arms to pantomime Beta. Graham’s lived on the road for eight years now, ever since leaving Portland, Maine, for France, Spain, Switzerland — wherever his quest for hard FAs leads him. Anyone who knows Graham is well-acquainted with his under-the-radar gypsy lifestyle, rapid-fire rants, and streams of consciousness (see his Pro Blog). It was in the Northeast’s Rumney, New Hampshire, that Graham first made breakthrough FAs like The Fly (5.14d; 2000) while still a teenager. To this day, an endless, contagious energy powers him to climb almost daily, and Graham’s remained on top with sends like his April FA of The Island (V15), in Fontainebleau... with a finger injury, no less, and in just three days. The idea of a constant plan is nice. I like this modern, quite futuristic idea of the moving, breathing, living, liquid plan — very malleable and all relative to the weather, feelings, and sensations deep inside.

When I started climbing, Smith Rock was the shit, Chris Sharma had just been to Mount Charleston, Dan Osman was soloing [running] waterfalls in Masters of Stone, and where I was from, people climbed mostly in North Conway and the Gunks. Perhaps I started at the right time, because I feel I had a taste of the old school — the history that brought us where we are. My crew in the Northeast was small but powerful. Our faction, dedicated to the quest of development, took things quite seriously. But the motto was, never think you’re that cool — you’re still just climbing rocks...in the woods'... with bugs... and everyone thinks you’re crazy. We humbled ourselves with this logic and, in turn, never had a limit on what we expected to achieve. This helped to improve and develop our vision.

DG on the first ascent of the The Island. Photo by Stephan Denys. Download a 2000 px version of this image.

[The Swiss] have crazy bunkers in the mountains — I love them. I imagine they put entire herds of sheep in there, on [underground] pastures and apple orchards built for the post-apocalyptic existence. Who gets inside? You’ll need a Swiss passport, that’s for sure. It’s been a never-ending pursuit to grasp and improve — step by step — the art of comprehending rock and moving with it. And it’s been inspiring to learn as many styles as I can and [watch] the future generations. I went fishing my whole childhood and enjoyed hitting big ocean bluefish in the head with a mini-baseball bat, to remedy their living state. Right or wrong, I got a thrill and felt big, though I was a really short kid. I refuse to go fishing now, ever since I listened to Nirvana’s [‘Something in the Way’], about chilling and living under a bridge. I knew it was true that fish have feelings. In the ‘real world,’ no one knows me. They don’t know my name, and even if they did, it would mean nothing. I’ve always had a passion for music and making music... I use my computer and a program called Ableton to mix my favorite music. [It lets me] complete little visions that I’ve always wanted to hear.

DG on Elephunk (8b). Photo Courtesy of Dave Graham.

It’s a big challenge mentally and physically to travel forever. At eight years in the mix, I’d say the best thing is losing the Western mentality that you must make money and have stuff to prove you’ve done something in life. That you must always need more, do more, get more, be more. I DO settle in places... to remain human and sane, and to train for projects... Maybe someday, I’ll settle down for good — if I find ‘The Island’ for real. Not climbing means not being. I am a climber — therefore, I must climb. [This] presents all kinds of fundamental questions and challenges me to confront many paradoxical realizations about my life. Who tricked me into thinking that when I was 26, things would be more modern? It’s 2008, and all I’ve heard of is the massive particle accelerator they built under Geneva and the cursed Internet, which is wireless through the air but never free. Not so inspiring or modern-feeling. I am quite a victim of in-flight conversation. People always talk my ear off. Good Lord, I just want to listen to music, read books, and focus on being scared of flying. I am a nice guy, though, so I go along with it. I've been reading the same book for six flights now. I desperately wish to see real robots. I bet they have them in first class.

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