There's a typical refrain in action sports that's always needled me: the idea that just because a woman chooses to participate in what has typically been a male-dominated activity—or one where men happen to more visible—she should automatically be propped up as a pioneering model for girls the world over. Maybe it's just leftover '90s-era girl-power overload getting my hackles up a bit, but that seems like a fairly heavy burden to place on anyone's shoulders.
Angie Payne, however, bears that weight well and proudly. The 29-year-old boulderer has clambered atop many a podium, but her talents take her outside as well; according to an interview she did with trainbeta.com, she racked up a righteous 17 female first ascents of V10–V12 boulder problems between 2004 and 2010, and she holds the distinction of first woman in the world to climb a confirmed V13 (The Automator, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado).
No wonder she was selected last year for inclusion in the book Women Who Dare, a collection of profiles of 20 of America's most inspiring female climbers—and was given her own AMA on Reddit a few months ago. Her commitment to her craft is impressive—she admits to actually liking the challenge of tackling a boulder problem so nuanced, it can take up to three seasons of facing it before she sends it—but outside the gym or off the rock, her super-chill nature belies her intense focus. I grabbed some post-comp chat time with Payne after her semifinal climb during the IFSC Climbing World Cup at the GoPro Mountain Games back in June, and I'll tell you, if I didn't know she'd just come off the wall, there's no way I could have guessed. She's just that laid back.
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Describe your dream day from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night.
I wake up and I have to have my coffee. That is number one. I didn't used to like coffee, but I'm a full-fledged addict now. Have to have my coffee and breakfast—always breakfast. It would be going out into the mountains, actually, just near my home in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it doesn't have to include climbing, but ideally it would. I don't have to complete anything, but [I'd want to be] trying hard, moving on rock, and being in the mountains. And that would be followed up by complete and utter exhaustion, which I love. And a beer. I love beer. And it would all be with a very small group of my favorite people, like my boyfriend and a few very close friends, because I like small groups. So that would be it. And sleeping on my memory foam pillow at the end of the day in my own bed. That would be it. Pretty simple.
Who is in your personal hall of fame?
Lynn Hill is a really well-known female climber who I've always looked up to since I was young. She was groundbreaking in the sport of climbing, and women's climbing in particular. I've really always thought that she was great because when I was little, she's shorter, so when I was, like, 11, she was my size. I was like, "I love this woman. She's great."
Lisa Rands is another person that really was formative in my climbing career, and I really just like anybody who finds time to do what they really love doing. Because there's a lot of climbers who have to work a real job and they still go out and they go 110 percent and I have a lot respect for that. So that's a gross generalization, but the weekend warriors. Like, I've worked jobs and know enough to know that's really hard to do. So I have a lot of respect for that.
What are you reading right now?
So, I'm really bad at reading. I mean, I can read, I'm not actually bad at reading. [Laughs.] I don't mean it that way. I'm a really painfully slow reader, so when I start things I rarely finish them. So, kind of sad to admit that I don't have a book going right now. I need to, like, start reading again. But most of what I read is sort of like short-attention-span kind of things.
I love reading random articles about people who are out doing things that I don't do, actually—other sports. I really love any stories about sports in general—really, like, inspirational things. I love that kind of stuff, and that stuff's all over Facebook, so I just find myself, like, going here, going there, reading this article, reading that article, and bouncing around a lot. I guess that's, like, my generation, for better or worse. We're like the generation of Facebook. So a lot of what I read is actually through that.
What are you watching?
I love documentaries. So anything documentaries, I love. Twenty-four/seven sports, I love. And I have a lot of TV shows going. Really a big fan of "Homeland," which isn't on right now, but I watched all the way through. What was our most recent one? "True Detective" was really good. A lot of the popular shows, but I have to admit that I'm kind of a dork for, like, the cheesy crime shows. So, like, the whodunit shows—"…and they came home and she was dead," those kinds of shows. I watch those. People probably flip through the channels and are probably like, who watches these? That's me.
What are you listening to, including your guilty pleasures when it comes to music?
I'm kind of like a creature of habit with music. I have a really mellow playlist that I listen to when I'm trying to calm down or fall asleep before a competition, or just fall asleep in general. It has a lot of slow acoustic music on it, actually. So I've never really been into the super, super hyped-up music. I go more for anything acoustic or anything slow. Frightened Rabbit is one of my favorite bands. Every once in a while I get, like, a pop song in there. All the catchy ones—I get sucked into those every once in a while. But mostly slow acoustic stuff because I have this dream that someday I'll learn to play the guitar.
Do you have one?
I have one, but I don't play it. So I think I live vicariously through all the acoustic music. Someday maybe I'll learn how to play this. Still haven't, but I will.
What is your worldview—your code for living or your philosophy that you live by?
Wow, that's a really good question. I've struggled a lot with that, honestly. I grew up in the Midwest and felt like there's a certain kind of cookie-cutter life expected of me and have really struggled to break out of that. And I feel like I'm still in the process of that. But I've come to realize that everybody—this is so cliché, but everybody is going to live their life differently. Seriously, coming out of Ohio, that was kind of groundbreaking for me. Like, oh, wow, I can do something different than what all my friends did.
And I have done something very different than what my friends and family have done. I mean, there's a lot of things that I look at and think, "I would never do that," but everybody's fighting their own battles that you don't know about. And everybody's chasing their own dreams, and the way they do it is up to them. And, like, that's been really cool for me; it's so simple, but it's so hard to embrace that after growing up for a long time thinking that you have to live life a certain way.
And my boyfriend actually said something a while ago that was really interesting. It was like, I've always felt I had to decide between one life or the other. Sort of this Midwest expected life or this crazy adventure life. And he said maybe you've been making the decision all along, like one little bit at a time. And that actually is true. So I think that's sort of my philosophy, like "one day at a time." It's not a huge decision that needs to be made necessarily. It's like little steps along the way. It's all about the process and I'm still in it, always.
I don't think it ever ends.
Aren't we all? It never ends; I'm learning that slowly.
So if you're going to throw a party and you can have the most epic guest list ever, alive or dead, who would you invite?
Oh gosh. Oh my gosh. Whoa. Oh my God, I'm so boring, I don't even know who I would invite, because I don't like big parties.
Let's call it a small dinner party, then.
A small dinner party—oh my God, I don't even know. It's such a big question. I think I'd invite one of my deceased grandparents because I didn't have many grandparents around when I was little. So I would really like to have known my grandparents that I didn't know. They'd be on the guest list, as weird as that might sound. I know there's a lot of famous people that I probably want to meet. I can't think of them right now, though. I don't really know. I don't have a good answer for this one.
I know it wouldn't be more than, like, five people. I like small, small gatherings for sure. I know when I walk away I'm going to think of all these people, like, 10 minutes from now: "Oh yeah, that person. Oh yeah, all those people that I love." I'll text you the guest list.
Do you have any regrets? Anything you're sorry for?
I try to say no. I would like to think no. But I think if there is anything that I regret, it's that I didn't sort of, like, live that philosophy or realize that philosophy earlier in my life. It's kind of like, I'm almost 30; I'm not old by any means, but this is sort of the first time that I've realized [and] really started to embrace the fact that maybe I don't have to have a plan set in stone. And I wish that I would have been braver to embrace that a little bit earlier. I wouldn't say it's a regret, because I think that the process of getting to that point was just as important. So I can't really regret it, but there's days when I wish I would've been braver about it. And still wish I could be braver about it, because…it's hard to jump fully into that. Committing to this unknown of, like, I don't really know what I'm doing. This is scary, but I like it; I like what I'm doing, I just don't know where I'm going. And yeah, I guess I just wish I could be braver in general.
What is your embarrassing moment?
Oh my God. There was a pretty funny moment that I look back on. We had a national competition in Boulder, Colorado, where I was living, or I still live. And I had been injured recently and I wasn't a drinker at all. And I was injured and I was really upset that I couldn't compete. And so I didn't start drinking until I was, like, 22. I was still kind of new at drinking, so to speak. And the finals of the competition came around and we were all watching and somebody that I know sat down next to me with a pitcher of beer and started handing me beers.
And I was upset that I was hurt, and like, "OK, I'll drink a couple beers." And, like, three beers into it, they handed me the microphone. Looking back, it was pretty embarrassing to be in front of the crowd, on the microphone. I don't think I really embarrassed myself, but it's one of those moments that I sort of hide. Like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I did that. How embarrassing." So, yeah. I wasn't in the competition, but I was definitely a big part of whether the crowd liked it or not, inserting my voice into it at the end—pretty embarrassing. That's close to the top of the list.
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