This story is part of our series, Generation 5.16: 10 Young Crushers That Could Take Rock Climbing to the Next Level. It was originally published in the December/January 2018 issue of our print edition.
It’s not easy being a professional climber and filmmaker.
“I struggle with balancing the two,” says Matty Hong, 26, of Boulder, CO. “If it’s filming someone on a climb, I have to jug a static line. It’s tiring, but I also want to try my own project that day.”
Still, he never climbs sans camera. In February 2017, this habit paid off: When Margo Hayes ticked La Rambla (5.15a) one day after he did, Hong delayed lowering her and was ready to capture the now-famous shot of her tearing up with joy.
Hong, who’s lived in Boulder his whole life, started young. His parents are Steve Hong and Karin Budding, hard-crack pioneers from the 1980s at Indian Creek, Utah; Steve, now in his 60s, continues to establish 5.14s at Rifle. His parents took Matty to the canyon as a baby, and it wasn’t long before he joined in. His older brother, Alex, climbed sometimes, too, but a fear of heights led him to quit.
Hong joined a climbing team in middle school, but things got serious at age 15 during a fateful season at Rifle when he climbed his first 5.13d, Living in Fear, and three 5.14a’s. He soon dropped out of soccer to focus solely on climbing. “I was getting more accomplished in climbing,” he says. “So I was getting more motivated to improve.” Hong later turned his sights to the Wicked Cave where he bolted his first route—La Cucaracha (5.14c)—a process that was “extremely gratifying and opened the door for me to begin developing more of my own routes.”
After finishing his degree in film production, he flew to Spain and broke into 5.15 with Papichulo (5.15a) in Oliana in March 2016. In 2017, he ticked La Rambla and Joe Mama, both 5.15a, in Spain.
Hong often films or shoots his friends, and the footage later feeds into short film projects. Break On Through, about Hayes’s ascent of La Rambla, appears in the 2017 REEL ROCK film tour. Hong plans to keep growing his multimedia career, and adds that he’d like to leave an impact by tailoring his films to represent the sport in a “good way—sending a message about preserving our climbing areas and treating the places and people with respect.”
- La Cucaracha (5.14c), Rifle, Colorado
- Planet Garbage (5.14d), Rifle, Colorado
- Bad Girls Club (5.14c), Rifle, Colorado
- Stocking Stuffer (5.14d), Rifle, Colorado
- La Rambla (5.15a) in Siurana, Spain
- Papichulo (5.15a) in Oliana, Spain
- Warrior Up (V15), Lincoln Lake, Colorado
- Ambrosia (V11 R), Bishop
- multiple V14s in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Redpoint 5.15b, free El Capitan, use film and photography to boost climbers’ careers and promote stewardship.