Eight Amazing Asian & Pacific Islander Women Climbers on Instagram
We interviewed eight amazing Asian & Pacific Islander women who are changing the climbing scene through advocacy, representation and redefining what it means to #climblikeagirl. Keep scrolling to learn more!
1. Shelma Jun, Founder of @HeyFlashFoxy
Shelma Jun was born in Seoul, Korea but grew up in a Korean-American household in Southern California. Her early love of snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing and mountain biking gave her plenty of insight into the gender gap within adventure sports. Fortunately for us, a shoulder injury convinced her to try top roping at a climbing gym and trad climbing in the Gunks with a crew of women from NYC. Those experiences led her to found @heyflashfoxy in 2014. A year later she was coordinating 200 climbers at the first all women’s climbing festival in Bishop, CA. That number increased to 300 Women in year two! She currently manages two sold out festivals a year in Bishop, CA and Chattanooga, TN. She is also a co-founder of Never Not Collective, an all female production company that raised almost $80,000 on Kickstarter for their first full length film featuring five women climbers. There’s a reason Shelma was named by Outside Magazine as one of 40 women who have made the biggest impact on the outdoors. Shelma is # 1 on our list! You can check out her account at @heyflashfoxy on Instagram!
Photographer: Sasha Turrentine, @sashaturrentine
2. Kathy Karlo, @inheadlights
Kathy Karlo, @inheadlights, is the Brooklyn-based, Korean American climber behind the For the Love of Climbing blog and podcast. She started the blog in 2014 before spending a year on the road living out of her Honda CRV in order to trad climb in Chattanooga, Red Rocks, New River Gorge, Squamish and around the country. Kathy is a badass off width crack climber; you may have seen Instagram photos of her crack climbing in Vedauwoo, WY and Indian Creek, UT. This fearless adventure athlete chases challenges, not grades while writing about the obstacles women have to overcome due to sexism. She describes herself as a former introvert who found her voice and a sense of personal empowerment in the sport. Follow her at @inheadlights on Instagram and check out her photo and long-form caption below!
3. Nancy Nguyen, @nanci_nator
Nancy Nguyen @nanci_nator is the co-founder of the Arch Project, a Oahu based non-profit which combines community service, climbing and “respect [for] the land we call our playground.” The nonprofit is named after a popular, scenic bouldering spot in Oahu. Initially, Nancy and partner Nate Lam paid for all of the costs out of pocket before fundraising and later obtaining a small grant from Access Fund. In August 2017, they opened The Arch Project Climbing Center in a 3,800 sq ft warehouse in Waipahu. The gym donates a portion of its monthly proceeds to the non-profit; enabling them to continue hosting monthly events including crag clean ups on the North Shore and Waimea and food drives for local homeless communities. Nancy, a climber with 12 years of experience, is a problem solver who found a way to overcome the stigma of adventure sports; which are often characterized as overly individualistic, selfish and out of touch with the communities they identify as their “playgrounds.” If you’re an outdoor person who feels “doing what you love” just isn’t enough, look no further than @nanci_nator on Instagram! You can also follow their gym and non-profit at @climbpono and @thearchprojecthawaii.
Photographer: Jaydence Goya, @jaydence
4. Irene Yee, @ladylockoff
Irene Yee is a 30 year old Chinese American climber known for her playful, colorful photography of women amateur climbers. She grew up in New Paulz, NY and studied Theater Design and Technology in Boston before relocating to Vegas where she works as a carpenter for Cirque du Soleil. Despite living close to the Gunks, growing up she didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors. Instead she says wryly, “I spent a lot of time alone on my porch.” Moving west, picking up photography and learning how to climb were all pivotal moments that occurred in her mid twenties. Irene reflects that “as an adult you can make those choices to just plunge into things. I realized that I was an adult at 26.” Her advice to new climbers is this: “You have to really give something a good chance before you give it up..you have to learn to trust yourself more. Nobody is telling you what to do. You have to listen to yourself more.” Her favorite style of climbing is off width traditional climbing which she describes as involving the “mental will to stay in an uncomfortable position for a very long amount of time.” Sound familiar? Irene is a frequent visitor to Red Rocks but she can also be found at Vedauwoo WY or Indian Creek in Moab, UT and as far away as Squamish in British Columbia and China. You can check out her photography at @ladylockoff.
Photographer: Irene Yee
5. Olivia Hsu, @olicow
Olivia Hsu @olicow has been practicing Ashtanga yoga for 13 years and climbing for almost 17 years. After high school in Hong Kong she moved to Australia where she picked up both passions during college and law school. Now the PrAna ambassador describes herself as an avid climber and Ashtanga practitioner. She lives in Boulder, CO while climbing 5.13 grade and practicing yoga all around the world. She leads yoga workshops for the non profit First Descents which provides outdoor adventure programming for young adults with cancer. She also volunteers with HERA Climb 4 Life, an annual Boulder based fundraising event which raises money for ovarian cancer scientific research. Check her out on Instagram at @olicow for beautiful sport and traditional climbing photos.
6. Marisa Romero, @marisaromeroo
Filipino-American athlete Marisa Romero has been climbing for 13 years. She started when she was seven during a summer camp in Frisco, TX. She joined a local climbing team and began competing in the USA Climbing youth competitions followed by Open competitions. She has competed in indoor bouldering, sport and speed but you probably know her from the stunning outdoor sport climbing shots on her Instagram. Her most memorable sport project is a 5.12c in The Sinks, Lander, Wyoming. Even though it’s not her hardest number grade she “loved the process of working it because it really pushed my limits in a way that I never had before. It is known to be a “tall person” climb, full of big and burly moves.” Her favorite bouldering project is Orbital Mechanics (v8) in Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, AK. Marisa also stays busy! She’s a full time biomedical engineering student at UT Dallas and she coaches two local teams. Her full schedule doesn’t make it easy to train. Despite that she recently competed in the USA Climbing Collegiate Nationals where she tied for sixth place—one spot out from the US National Team—thanks to her coaches Kyle Clinkscales and Matt Dendy. Her climbing role models are “Alex Puccio (because, duh) and Akiyo Noguchi. I have looked up to Alex for so long, I named my hamster after her when I was 8.” You can follow this Butora sponsored climber on Instagram at @marisaromeroo!
Photographer: Jesse Degani
7. Swetha Ramaswamy, @sramaswamy88
Swetha Ramaswamy is a South Indian, DC based climber with lots of extended family living in Chennai, India. She started climbing in 2013 during a study abroad and was immediately drawn to the problem solving nature of bouldering. She fell in love with throwing roofs and dynamic movements. In 2014 she worked at Earth Treks in Maryland where she learned to lead climb and also climbed outside for the first time. More recently she started traditional climbing and is now starting her second season on trad lead. Indoors, she still uses bouldering to help build endurance for lead climbing. Swetha describes learning to trad lead in Kenya as a challenging and worthwhile experience. For starters, growing up she did not consider herself outdoorsy. She also came from a community that is very “anti-tanning” where she “spent years defending my brown skin” and “pushing through a lot of my internalized fears about spending time outside.” Finally, finding an accessible trad climbing community along with mentors willing to teach and welcome newcomers was no easy feat. Fortunately, she found the Mountain Club of Kenya and Blue Sky Climbing in Nairobi. We love women on lead! We also love Swetha’s candidness in tackling colorism. She writes “we South Indians have a reputation for being darker skinned, and there is intense pressure in our communities to "maintain our complexions" as a result. I'm so proud to be representing my ethnicity outside, and love bringing some color to our crags.” To follow Swetha on Instagram check out her page at @sramaswamy88!
Photographer: Fiona Heckscher
8. Leslie Kim, @dynamitestarfish
Leslie Kim is a Korean American climber and business owner with cultural roots in Los Angeles. She started climbing at a gym in Orange County during college over 15 years ago. She climbed sporadically until 2013 when she began climbing more regularly. She enjoys traditional and sport climbing as well as bouldering! Climbing has also been a process of learning to trust herself and finding new methods to deal with self-doubt, depression and anxiety. It also led to her small business, Dynamite Starfish, which sells Kim's original artwork screen printed onto t-shirts. Dynamite Starfish also works with non-profits including Friends of Joshua Tree, American Safe Climbing Association, Access Fund and more. Check her out on Instagram at @dynamitestarfish to learn more!