Psicobloc Open Series Competition

Psicobloc Open Series Umag 2024: An Interview with organizer Ulric Rousseau

We had a chance to speak with Ulric Rousseau, our friend and the organizer of the Psicobloc Open Series climbing competition, which is being held for the first time in Istria, specifically in Umag, Croatia, from October 4th to 6th 2024.

Congratulations on the upcoming Psicobloc competition. Could you explain what Psicobloc is and outline the competition format? How old must the competitors be? How hard will the routes be,…?

Ahhhhh, Klemzy. What a day. Yes, of course. Psicobloc is a climbing competition held over water. Basically, when you fall – if you fall, it’s into the water. Our series is a little different from many other deep water soloing competitions. We don’t rely on hard routes or strong climbers, on the contrary. Our competition is speed based. We’ve designed it to be accessible to a large number of competitors. Anyone can register and take their chance on winning loads of money. You race your opponent on the wall adjacent to you. It starts when the buzzer goes off, until you’ve blinked a few times and are at the top. The first to grab the final hold wins. To make this fun for almost everyone, we set the route grades comparatively low to other competitions. OPEN categories (separate for men and women), the route will be about 7b and 7a respectively. Juniors will be about 6c and Para 5c. The routes may seem easy, but not so much when you factor in speed, the crowd and the person climbing beside you (matching routes) that you’re trying to beat. It’s a lot of pressure…fun pressure! We also have a social gathering competition (SGC). It’s basically a friendly comp, with sponsor prizes. You can register with your friends, and race against them. There is no order, no timer, no podium, no rules. Just fun climbing the wall against your friends, family, parents, or gym nemesis 🙂 Anyone 12 years or older can register in the Open and Paraclimbing categories. We can make exceptions for younger climbers, on a case by case basis. The junior category is open to 10-14 year olds (you need to be between 10 and 14 years of age the weekend of the competition). For the amateur category, like the SGC or VIP registrations, you need to be older than 10 years of age.

When did you come up with the idea for this event, and how long have you been working on organizing it?

That’s a long story. But in short, we started working on bringing this competition to Montreal in 2016. It took two years to get it going and we opened our doors to the first Psicobloc Open Series in August of 2018. We had global expansion plans in place and ready to go in January of 2020, after the 2019 edition in Montreal. Obviously, covid was a huge obstacle. It took us a few years to get back on track after the pandemic, but now by the grace of Redbull and our strong partners in Europe, we are able to make it happen in 2024.

Why did you decide to move the competition from North America to Europe this year, and why specifically choose Umag in Croatia? There are also Psicobloc competitions in Marseille (France), and Leonidio (Greece). Is there also overall competition?

It’s always easy to fall into a pattern, and it provides a safety blanket. I knew about a month before the 2023 Canada edition that we were not likely coming back to Montreal in 2024. This is not to say we won’t do it again there, but effectively, by dropping Montreal for 2024, it motivated my crew and myself to really push to make another event happen elsewhere. It forced us out of our comfort zone. It was a hard decision, but I think it was a good one! 🙂 We had already made contact with some cities in Croatia, but Umag kept resurfacing in my mind. Ultimately, we decided to go forward with the city of Umag because I loved my meetings with them. The energy they have and the site where the comp will be held is just so incredibly fantastic. The wall will face north, along the port deck, right off the central city main plaza. I could not ask for a better location. My crew and myself are really excited about Umag. It’s going to be epic! All the comps are independant. We don’t award points. We are not sanctioned. If you win 1st place for the Mens or Womens Open in Umag, you will get a check for 5000€. That is your reward. I think it’s a pretty good one, don’t you? 🙂

The competition offers a significant amount of cash and product prizes. Can you provide some specific figures and mention some of the sponsors?

Every location for 2024 has its more specific partners. But our main supporters for Umag are the city of Umag itself and Redbull. Redbull is our global content partner. Their support is without question the best I could ask for. They have supported us since day one, back in 2018, and have been with us ever since. The city of Umag is also giving us a huge boost in support, like local staff, help with permits, police, water safety, and so much more. There is not one partner that is more important than another. It’s a team effort. We are all in this together; the partners, the cities, my staff, and of course the climbers who register. Everyone has a hand in making this a success. As I shared above, the Open men’s and women’s will get 5000€ respectively for 1st place, 1500€ for 2nd, and 500€ for 3rd. But that’s not all, competitors who podium in Para and Junior will also be awarded cash and product prizes. It’s all posted on our Psicobloc website. 🙂

Is the competition open to amateur climbers, or is it reserved for elite climbers only? What about para climbers competition?

NOOOOO. This is an Open Competition. Anyone can register. We don’t pay anyone to come and compete. If Janja Garnbret (example) wants to compete, she needs to register like everyone else, seed (qualify) on Friday, to then move on to the quarterfinals on Saturday. It’s as simple as that. The whole point of the open is to give the chance to anybody to become somebody. We see it at every comp, where someone who’s name we didn’t know walks out from the crowd, chalks up, and ends up kicking ass all weekend and taking home a huge cash purse and sponsors along the way. We want to provide an equal opportunity to as many climbers as we can. The whole heart of this series is to foster the love of climbing. No one’s getting counted out.

What does a competitor get by registration?

All the competitors (Open, Para and Junior) as well as the VIP tickets get a load of cool stuff. First, they have access to a VIP zone. This zone includes free food and drinks (alcohol and non-alcoholic) all weekend, shaded prime seating for the competition, discounts at local stores, hotels and much more. They also get a goodie bag at the start of every competition on seeding day. It has the comp shirt, a bunch of free gifts from our partners, product samples, and more! It’s like those surprise bags you had from the corner store when you were a kid 🙂 It’s pretty cool.

How much is it to attend the event?

The event is free to the public and anyone can attend. Watch the competition, climb on the smaller wall, and walk around the site to see all the partner booths. Check out some new gear for 2025, play games, win prizes, have a beer next to the ocean, swim and mingle. Just don’t forget to enjoy the city, which won’t be hard because the wall is in the middle of Umag itself 🙂

What can spectators expect? Are there any additional activities planned for them during the weekend event?

Yes, of course. Anyone can register for the dyno comp (one session each day of the weekend) to try and win great prizes like ropes, hangboards, and more. We have about €100,000 worth in prizes to give away for all three events for everyone. Odds are, everyone will go home with something. Of course Redbull will be there to give away free goodies too, and organize some great activities for the public. There are also all the partner booths, which we call the partner village. Each booth will have their own activities, games and contests to win more prizes and have fun doing it.

The competition is set in a unique location. Can you describe the area?

I fell in love with Istria back in 2013. I spent some time bolting in Serbia in the summer, and someone hooked me up with some climbers in Croatia. So I took a bus and went climbing with Ivan in Split, and then met Enna and Gogo a little later that summer. My whole experience in Croatia was amazing, and I have returned several times since. When I told Redbull that I wanted to do something in Croatia, they were so excited. They really love the locations we chose. Umag was just a perfect fit, with all the climbing nearby, the Venice airport is a 2 hour drive, and the city itself perched in this cove on the sea, I was immediately sold on Umag and Croatia for a Psicobloc event.

What has been the biggest challenge in organizing this event?

I would have to say the lack of sleep and spotty internet… LOL. You can’t work well without a good rest or a good internet connection. But seriously, there is no easier or more difficult part. Everything we do to put these events together takes the same time and effort. From simply getting a drone permit, to coordinating the capture crew (photo and video team) to working with the wall builder, negotiating contracts, and keeping up with all the social media aspects. The list goes on. One of the biggest challenges would have to be the time zones. I sometimes have video calls at 5am from Europe to Hong Kong or Australia, as well as 11pm calls with the west coast of the US. Depending if I am in Canada or Europe, it’s really a juggling act.

What has been the most pleasant surprise during the organization process?

Meeting you, of course LOL. Many people ask me this question. The whole thing takes so much time, so much effort, so much stress management and so much energy. My most pleasant moment is usually on the Sunday afternoon of the Psicobloc event, where I can sit down in a corner of the event, have a quiet drink and watch the process unfold. Being able to trust the people around you, and being able to let go for a few minutes and breathe, and realize that we did it ONE MORE TIME. I am always amazed that we get to do this for a living, how great is this… And then the CB radio will scream and I will have to run to someone who needs me. LOL

Thanks Ulric! See you at the crag!

NO… See you at Psicobloc in UMAG 🙂