Episode 20: Bruce Zou and Cesar Valencia — “Pure Joy”

The winding paths we take to climbing is a story we all share, yet each journey unspools in such bizarre, unique chaos.

Bruce Zou grew up in rural China, riding buffaloes in lieu of cars, climbing bamboo in the forest, and not standing too close to a television for fear he’d get zapped into the odd device and therein be trapped forever. An ambitious student, he eventually left China for Boulder, CO to pursue a PhD in mechanical engineering. His first day in the Bubble he laced up a pair of shoes and hit the rec center climbing gym. Five years later he stood atop his first V14. Fear of deportation and a rigorous academic program left little time to dilly dally in the boulder fields. Instead of solidifying each grade, he hopscotched his way to an elite level in a furious charge, becoming the strongest Chinese boulderer on the planet.

Cesar Valencia was living the life in Miami; spiked hair, fast cars, skateboarding videos. Also pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, Cesar discovered climbing in the same gym that spit out Matt Segal, quickly falling into an addiction that consumed his studies. He skipped school to climb and watched King Lines during class. You know the end of this story. A few years later Cesar found himself in Boulder, punting his studies to the curb after three and a half years in the program, a freshly minted Friction Labs athlete and manager of the Kinetik climbing team.

And then he met Bruce, locking off to his nipples on V0 slabs, wondering what this shirtless weirdo in the silver chain was up to. A short time later Bruce was flashing Cesar’s long-term projects, the grasshopper become master. A beautiful and hilarious friendship emerged, Bruce the unlikely star of Cesar’s wildly popular YouTube page.

This one is a doozy. I’ve never laughed so hard during an episode. Although the conversation winds in and out of Bruce and Cesar’s stories, stick around to the end. Bruce, this guy who discovered a climbing dynamo slumbering in his own shadow, eventually sums up the puzzling tractor beam of climbing with such earnest lucidity that Fidi and I walked away astonished at his insight, passion, and pure joy.

Have a question, concern, pitch, or criticism? Drop us a line at thunderclingpodcast@gmail.com. Toss us a DM on Instagram @thethundercling. We read and respond to every note we receive.

Thank you, as always, to Ryne Doughty for the sweet musical stylings.

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