Drew Ruana: Exclusive Q&A w/ Leading American Boulderer (2023)
The notoriously prolific climber shares thoughts on training & projecting hard, social media, college, and his insane goal to send every V14+ boulder in Colorado.
By Owen Clarke
Published on: 12/29/2022
When talking about the upper echelon of bouldering today, you can’t drop names without throwing Drew Ruana (1) into the mix. Though he only dipped on the competition scene and went full bore into outdoor climbing a few years ago, Ruana has quickly racked up a resume that stands toe-to-toe with just about any other veteran boulderer in the world.
Currently, the college junior has lasered his focus on Colorado, and in the last couple of years, he’s probably ticked off more hard climbs in the state than anyone else, ever. In fact, Ruana has made it a personal project to climb every Colorado boulder problem graded V14 (8B+) and harder.
At the time of our interview, he’d climbed 78 of the state’s 123 V14s, V15s, and V16s. These aren’t just hard problems that fit his style. They’re problems of all shapes and sizes. The only thing they have in common is that they’re hard as nails.
So it’s safe to say that Ruana knows as much about projecting hard boulders as anyone. I chatted with Ruana, currently in his junior year at Colorado School of Mines, to catch up on what he’s currently projecting, hear about his active social media presence, and glean a few tips and tricks. Read on for the full interview, including Ruana’s three biggest tips for starter climbers to get stronger and project harder.
So what are you psyched on right now, man? Is it Megatron (V17), or this “Do All the V14s” project, or what? What’s on your mind?
Kind of everything, honestly. So, I talk about school a lot, but this semester at least was like the first time where it was like, ‘Oh, sh*t, this is hard. Like, I can’t just float.’ The last two years, I’ve been able to not really give a sh*t and still get A’s. Now, I actually have to drive hard in these classes and put a lot of mental energy in, not even to get A’s but just to get B’s. And so, for the entire semester, it was a grind.
I did have one month, October, that was really good. I had like eight or nine V14 and harder boulders that just all went down. That was pretty sick. And then, after, I started trying Megatron (V17), and it basically felt like I lost all that success and wasn’t sending as much. Even though I felt a lot better on Megatron this year, it’s been rough, going from sending a bunch of sh*t to getting my ass kicked again—relatively speaking—and then also having this huge beast of tons of classes and sh*t to do that are way harder than anything I’ve had to do before.
It was just a lot to balance this year. So even though I finished [school] last week, it feels like I’m still recharging. I’m just getting wrecked right now. It’s weird, man. I’ve never in my life been like, ‘Wow, I don’t feel like climbing. Like, maybe I just want to put on my laptop all day even though it’s sunny and beautiful out.’ I’m actually maybe a little too burned out to effectively climb now. A little too much mental energy spent in other places for too long. It’s the first time in my life I’ve had to navigate that.
You’re doing a tough major (chemical engineering) at a tough school. What gives you the motivation to stay in and try hard, even though you have all this success as a climber already?
I think it’s just part of my personality… Wait, f*ck! [Brief pause as Drew cleans up spaghetti he spilled on his jacket]. But yeah, take my brother, for example. He’s a climber. But he also loves making music. He plays a bunch of different video games, goes out to parties, lifts, and skis. My roommates are like that too. All these guys I live with and hang with, they do so many things. I’ve never really been like that. I don’t really like doing stuff unless I’m already good at it.
There are a lot of benefits to being like a jack of all trades, but I’d rather not do that. I’d rather put all my eggs in one basket and really see how good I can get. And it’s impossible to do that with too many things. I can basically do that with school and climbing, and that’s it.
So I don’t even try stuff unless I know I’m going to be able to put a lot of effort into it and treat it with the respect it deserves. Especially with school in the States, dude. I got a really good merit scholarship for [college], and it’s still really expensive. I’ll skip lectures every now and then if I feel like I understand the material, but it just doesn’t make sense to not really go all in when you’re paying this much. But having to put that much effort into school is rough … sometimes after a really long day, even if it’s perfect weather out, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I just don’t want to go climbing.’
So would you say at this point in your life, school is the main priority, even over climbing?
[Laughs] No, no, they’re definitely both the priority. When I say I don’t want to go climbing, that’s the key. I still force myself to go out there. Usually, when I get to the boulder, I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is worth it. I’m having a good time right now.’ It’s always better to be outside for me than not be outside. Climbing and school are the two most important things right now for me. I’ll figure out a way to get both of them done at the expense of something else.
What’s a good day look like to you? Is it about the effort you put in or about the success you have?
It depends. [Megatron], for example, has been going really well. The bottom section feels like a different boulder now. I can basically get into the stand from the sit a couple of times per session consistently. It used to be that I’d get through the bottom once every two weeks. If I’m lucky now, I’ll link through the bottom more times in two sessions now than I have the entire past two seasons combined. But I’ll have days where I really try hard, go out there, feel like I’m trying really f*cking hard, and I won’t make any progress, and it kind of sucks because I’m like, ‘Well, it feels easier.’ Like, I’m not trying as hard on the boulder, relatively speaking. I feel like I have more to give.
That can get pretty frustrating, but it’s also part of the process. Some days maybe I won’t send, but I figure out good beta. Or I try really hard, and I feel I got closer. Or there’s some other progress.
Anytime I can see any amount of progress, whether I got a little closer to a move, went to a move more times, figured out new beta, stuff feels easier, whatever. That feels good.
But that’s only for really hard stuff. Like last week I did this really hard V15 in three tries. I was like, ‘Oh what the f*ck, that was sick!’ And other times, I go to a V14 I’ve tried for ten sessions, and I just bash my fingers against the wall. It doesn’t feel hard, but I don’t walk away with anything.
In terms of what satisfies me, I’m not as worried about sending individual boulders but about this overarching goal of sending Colorado. So every time I go out and don’t do one of those boulders, I’m like, ‘F*ck, if I’d just gotten that one done, I would not have to worry about that climb ever again. I could cross it off mentally.’ It’s a bummer, but that happens. It refines my process more, making it more likely for the next time.
This “All V14s” goal is pretty ambitious. Have you gotten other pros or any other climbers reaching out to you to say they were inspired to try something similar?
Not really [laughs]. It’s kind of a f*cked up goal.
As in, it’s not a productive use of your time, or just too intense?
Kind of both, really. I mean, it’s a lot of anti-style sh*t, which really sucks. It’s really cool sending boulders, being outside climbing with a bunch of homies. All that really fun stuff goes around it. But every single day, I’ve been going outside—since even before I moved here—with this goal in mind, regardless of style, regardless of how sharp it is, regardless of conditions.
I mean, f*ck, the last month of climbing I think it’s been sub-freezing almost every single time. It’s not that fun to be outside when it’s like 20℉ with windchill, and you’re grabbing really sharp holds. I think I probably bleed every single time I go out. That’s just normal. It’s expected. It f*cking sucks being like, ‘Oh sh*t, I need to send this climb before [my fingers] split because if I split, I’m not going to be able to do it in tape. And so there’s so much other stuff that goes into it. Like if you punt off the top of the climb, are you going back to it right away? Are you going to wait til next season to go back, so you don’t burn out?
So it’s really cool to send climbs and treat each climb as like a step along the way, but the entire process of doing the climbs is like so much beating your head against the wall, so much frustration. I’m literally just getting my ass kicked endlessly every single time I go out. And sometimes if you go like, months in a row without a win, months in a row without a send, it’s like so frustrating and hard to deal with.
It’s like, why am I even doing this? I could just go to Switzerland and do a bunch of easy boulders that are just my style.
I was going to say it seems like you’re pretty grounded in Colorado. I don’t ever see you bouldering in Europe, or Rocklands, or anywhere else. Have you done any international trips?
Not really, man, except for Squamish.
But you’re still psyched on the goal, overall?
Yeah, I’m really psyched on it still. I have like a year and a half left where I can’t really travel because of school, so it makes a lot of sense. I might as well keep doing this. Most of the climbs I have left, I’m really close on already. Megatron is really close and all these things that really matter to me feel like maybe they’ll happen pretty soon. I can see myself finishing the subalpine V14s by the end of this season.
You’re pretty active on social media. You post a lot of uncut on Instagram and YouTube, and you’re pretty active on Reddit, too. Are you on social media for yourself, for your followers, or because you have sponsors? Where does the motivation come from?
A bit of everything. There’s definitely something to be said about sponsors because it’s hard to get sponsored today if you’re not on Instagram, but none of my sponsors ever need me to do more posting or anything that I normally do.
I do get deep in follower engagement. I try to respond to every DM or comment. Like anytime people ask me questions, I try to respond because it takes me like 15 seconds to respond to someone, but for them, it could be a big deal. Maybe they just want advice, they’ve hit up all these other pros and no one’s responding.
For me, responding to people like that feels like I’m helping out. I remember reaching out to pros when I was younger, and the times I’d get a response, it was like, ‘Oh my God, so and so saw my message and reached back out to me! This is amazing; I’m so psyched!’ It’s just, like a nice thing to do when you’re in a position where people look up to you like that. And the advice by itself really takes, like, 10 to 15 seconds, so it’s really not hard for me. It’s zero commitment.
You’ve been in the climbing world your whole life. Do you think social media has had a positive or negative effect on the climbing scene?
Well, it makes it a lot easier to make a name for yourself. You can call yourself literally anything, and if you’re sticky enough, it’ll stick. Now we have this crazy period of growth and development, with hard climbing especially. Comps are starting to get a lot more real, the Olympics are here now. Instagram is really big, and you can have people basically creating a name for themselves all on their own and getting sponsors when maybe ten years ago, that wouldn’t have worked.
But also, now I don’t even know how many more climbers there are in 2022 versus 2012 versus 2002. The sport is just growing so incredibly much. With social media, it’s way easier to get your message out there, whatever that is. Sometimes you get lucky, and a lot of people are going to see your message, whether that’s good or bad.
You’re saying it’s not necessarily net positive or net negative, it just kind of like it amplifies both the good and the bad?
I’d say so. A bit of good, a bit of bad.
Before we closed out our interview, I asked Drew to give me his three biggest tips for beginner climbers, things that might not be common knowledge. Read on for these insider training tips!
Drew Ruana’s Three Biggest Training Tips for New Climbers
Tip #1: Work Your Anti Style
Train whatever skill you struggle with. You’re bad at crimps. You better be putting most of the effort & energy you have in the gym toward crimps. You’re short. You better get on some really f*cking reachy boulders.
Yeah, a lot of new climbers don’t want to do that because it f*cking sucks. It doesn’t feel good to go from whatever your project grade is to two or three grades lower for something that’s not your style. It’s just objectively not fun.
But that is stuff that makes you stronger.
Tip #2: Rest
This is very important. I don’t think a lot of beginner climbers rest as much as they should. New climbers will DM me and say, “Oh, I’m doing XYZ training program. I’ve been going to the gym six, seven days a week. I’m starting to feel kind of wrecked and not making progress. What should I do?” And I’m like, “Well, there’s your issue. You’re just not giving yourself any rest.”
When I climb outside, I’d never go more than two days on. Most of the time, I probably only get one day on. And also when grinding in the gym, weightlifting, training, man it’s so, so important to get proper rest. I know new climbers get all psyched, and they’re like, “This is the greatest thing ever. I want to spend all day, every day, doing this.” But for longevity, it’s so much more important to let your body heal, especially when your fingers are getting used to the strength and strain that climbing requires.
Tip #3: Climb Outside
If you’re able to get outside and climb, do it. And with that, it’s really important to vary the style and vary the hold and rock types as much as possible. A lot of climbers think that V4 outside is way harder than V4 because of how much smaller the holds are.
You can’t replicate that in the gym. Like my girlfriend, she climbs V7 right now, and every time she goes outside for a bit and goes back to the gym, she’s like, “Oh my God, my fingers feel so strong right now.” Just grabbing smaller holds, different holds, and getting outside, it all helps you build more diverse strength and skill.
Drew Ruana’s Instagram page
Drew is such an inspiration to me, I started following his career around 2001 and it’s amazing to see how far he’s come!