clymb

Interview With Matt Maddaloni: Pro Climber and Tinkerer

In Outside, Writing by Steve0 Comments

If you have thumbed through a climb­ing mag­a­zine at some point in the past ten years, there is a very good chance that Matt Mad­daloni is in it. Not too long ago Matt was one of the world’s most show­cased and cel­e­brated climbers, help­ing to push the sport to new heights (no pun intended) through his efforts and travels.

Here is a good exam­ple of both his climb­ing abil­ity and his inge­nu­ity, where he cre­ated a spe­cial part to tra­verse a route he’d been try­ing to check off for years, as fea­tured in “the season.”

Matt is enjoy­ing a new chap­ter in life, jug­gling a career he has cre­ated for him­self with rais­ing an 18 month old girl. And he’s lov­ing every minute of it. His new busi­ness, Sea to Sky Cable Cam inc. is quickly becom­ing the go-to crew to call when you want a one-of-a-kind point of view, which suits Matt per­fectly, because his own point of view on life is one-of-a-kind and full of wis­dom that he was kind enough to share with us.

STEVE ANDREWS: So how did you make the tran­si­tion between pro climber and rig­ger extra­or­di­naire, even­tu­ally cre­at­ing your own cable cam?

MATT MAD­DALONI: Pretty much ever since I started climb­ing, I’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out a way to run my own busi­ness. As I got into climb­ing more and more, I got really stoked on the whole “spon­sor­ship” thing. I did the best that I could, but later real­ized that you can’t really make a liv­ing off of it. So I was always doing con­struc­tion in the back­ground to pay for my climb­ing and one day, I got hired to do con­struc­tion for Zip­trek Eco­tours — work­ing up in the trees, build­ing aer­ial plat­forms, ziplines, and sus­pen­sion bridges. Zip­trek wanted to take their ziplines to the next level, so they started hir­ing engi­neers, but they kept fail­ing time and time again.  So I said “well, why don’t you get me to build it?” And they kinda said “well, we’ve got noth­ing to lose… go ahead.” And time and time again I would solve their problems.

Ziptrek’s came to an end so I started my own busi­ness, doing the cable cam. I could use my machine designs, auto­CAD, pro­to­typ­ing, rig­ging skills, and I could also use my climb­ing and adven­ture skills. I’d carry this gear to the tops of moun­tains, across rivers, all these dif­fer­ent places.

Actu­ally the first cable cam I ever did was over the Ashlu River for a doc­u­men­tary on a power plant. We set up an actual zipline and two of us rode down it — one guy lay­ing on a port-o-ledge, and me hang­ing at cable height with my gloves brak­ing our speed down the line as the cam­era­man hung and shot kayak­ers below. So that was the first cable cam, and we quickly real­ized that car­ry­ing around all this rig­ging equip­ment was a pain in the ass, and was severely lim­ited by the shots we could get. So the boys I was work­ing with said “you should build a robot”.  And I was like “ahh, I totally want to do that!”

Fgallery1-3 copySA: Sweet! And so where has it taken you?

MM: I’ve been to Tai­wan film­ing a doc­u­men­tary with a British com­pany, next week I’m going to Hunt­ing­ton Beach to film the US Open of Surf­ing, I’ve been to the Czech Repub­lic shoot­ing the Prague Orches­tra. Local, too — I’m shoot­ing the Crankworx Moun­tain Bike Fes­ti­val in Whistler, and even fea­ture films. I was recently with the Oprah Win­frey Chan­nel doing a piece on a climber, set­ting up a ver­ti­cal cable cam on top of a tower down to the desert. I have to be very diverse and I think the biggest sur­prise is that most of the work is with live tele­vi­sion. I prob­a­bly have as much fun, as much excite­ment and adren­a­line doing live tele­vi­sion as I’ve had on any climb­ing adventure.

When I go on a climb­ing expe­di­tion there’s a lot of plan­ning involved, a lot of stress, it’s really dynamic.  And when you’re shoot­ing cable­cam — it’s a fast mov­ing device, there’s up to three guys work­ing on it at one time. I’ve real­ized between my cable cam career and my climb­ing career is that it was OK to fail climb­ing.  But as a pro­fes­sional, I can’t fail. A cable cam is one of the most expen­sive cam­eras on the set, and the client wants to see you suc­ceed so it’s a whole new level of stress. I’m not going on all these crazy climb­ing adven­tures that I used to, but I feel so ful­filled because I’m hav­ing these other crazy adven­tures and it’s just a whole dif­fer­ent world.

Fgallery1-2 copySA: Can you think of a sit­u­a­tion where every­thing didn’t go so smoothly and you had to think on your feet, yet you came out successful?

MM: In the Grand Canyon, I had to live shoot for NBC and the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel with Nick Wal­lenda, who crossed a 1500 foot gap on a cable across the canyon. It’s pretty intense to get that rope across — we had to deal with 30 mph winds, and these things come off the spool even when things go smoothly. It’s an intense moment, but we pulled it off.

SA:  Do you have any rec­om­men­da­tions for any­one who might not be doing exactly what you do, but for fol­low­ing their dreams and mak­ing an idea in their head a reality?

MM:  Well when I was a kid, you know how teach­ers will tell you to fol­low your dreams and the rest will fol­low? I tell you, I didn’t believe it. It seemed like that was the impos­si­ble thing. And now, years later look­ing back, it actu­ally works. You have to work insanely hard, and it takes years and years to get the expe­ri­ence. And a lot of that expe­ri­ence is from things that you have no clue it helps until later. It takes end­less mis­takes and fail­ures to make your dreams hap­pen. And if you don’t have the nat­ural tal­ent, then you have to learn how to do it, you know?

What­ever it is, there’s going to be some things along the way that you’re going to have to pick up. My advice to peo­ple is to just keep work­ing at it. Have a backup plan and other ways to make a liv­ing, but keep pick­ing away and it and stay focused. And it will happen.

You can find out more about Matt’s cable cam busi­ness at seatoskycam.com. To see some of his old climing media visit his per­sonal site at mattmaddaloni.com