This story is part of our series, Generation 5.16: 11 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.
The Erbesfield-Raboutou family is the climbing equivalent of The Incredibles. Shawn and Brooke Raboutou grew up in a family of world-champion climbers with their mother, Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, and father, Didier Raboutou, setting a high bar indeed. Climbing was a natural calling for both kids from their toddler years onward. In their vacation house in France, the family had a backyard climbing gym where, says Robyn, “As soon as they could walk, we tied them into a rope and let them try to climb.” The family would also hit up their favorite local crag, Anglar in Saint-Antonin Noble Val. Both grew up as part of Team ABC Kids in Boulder, Colorado, with their mom as a coach, climbing hard but also goofing around and making friends.
Each sibling has a distinct personality and approach to climbing. Says Garrett Gregor, a coach at Team ABC, “Shawn’s training schedule is much more up and down, whereas Brooke is a lot more regimented.” He cites her doing AP homework at climbing practice as evidence of her drive—“She’s a bit more like Robyn” in that respect, he says. Shawn, meanwhile, says, “Climbing is something that I have always compared to vacation. So as soon as I’m not having fun, then I will usually stop until I get motivated again.” Both Raboutous climb quickly and rhythmically. And both have ticked 5.14 sport climbs, while Shawn has completed V15 boulder problems and Brooke has bouldered V13.
With Shawn, says Robyn, “My son is a completely different card than my daughter. He is on his own path and needs very little help.” Whereas Brooke is still a bit more receptive to her mom’s guidance—both in climbing and in decisions such as where to go to college. This year, Shawn entered the University of Colorado Boulder studying business. His real passion is climbing outdoors, so he uses the gym and competitions mainly to stay fit for the rock. In August, he ticked his latest V15, Khoikhoi, in South Africa. In response to his growing success, Shawn says, “I would always see people like Daniel [Woods] just shitting on my dreams by warming up on my projects. Now I get to call him up and we can sesh it together.”
On the other hand, Brooke spends 15 hours a week climbing, with another 9 hours of training, often under her mother’s tutelage. She is one year ahead in school, so plans to start college next August (likely out of state). Brooke admits that she “used to get scared while leading,” but has since learned to better control this fear, especially with a conscious safety check before each climb. Meanwhile, Shawn deals with his trepidation with humor: He related to me a story about having a quickdraw sever his rope during a 30-meter fall, then belly-flopping into a shallow pool at the base and surviving. He later explained that the story was a joke, but making up these “random worst-case scenarios” helps him stay lighthearted about what can be a dangerous sport.
As siblings, Brooke and Shawn are more supportive of each other than competitive. Says Brooke, “I’ve never felt competitive with my brother because we are such different climbers.” And, as a big brother, Shawn says, “I could never feel anything other than pride when my sister has success. After all, she’s my sister and I love seeing her happy.” And in classic big-brother fashion, when asked if he ever feels protective of Brooke, Shawn responds, “Yeah—touch her and you die!”
- Welcome to Tijuana (5.14b), Rodellar, Spain, at age 13 in 2011
- Spray of Light (V15) and Monkey Wedding (V15), Rocklands, South Africa
- Khoikhoi (V15) at Weighbridge in Du Toit’s kloof, South Africa
“I have no idea”—and “The future is endless.”
- Southern Smoke (5.14c), Red River Gorge, Kentucky, 2016
- Fragile Steps (V13), Rocklands, 2014
- Second in female youth B IFSC World Youth Championships Guangzhou (CHN) 2016
- Ninth in Women’s Bouldering IFSC World Cup (B)—Vail (USA) 2017
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