Santa Rosa teen Kevin Jorgeson stakes his climb to fame
With his body splayed like the letter X across a fake rock wall and with no ropes to support him, 16-year-old Kevin Jorgeson begins a complex climbing maneuver most would never try.
With lightning speed he releases his right hand and lunges for another rock high above him, barely grasping it in a flurry of chalk. The move is called a "deadpoint" for a reason: Climbers either reach the handhold and continue, or miss it and fall to the ground.
"I stuck it," Jorgeson grins sheepishly after letting go and dropping 15 feet to the padded floor at Ver-tex Climbing Center in the Pine Creek Business Park in Santa Rosa.
The difficult move he performs effortlessly illustrates why the sophomore at Santa Rosa's Maria Carrillo High School is headed to Austria this summer to compete with the world's best as a member of the U.S. Youth Climbing Team.
Jorgeson is the nation's top climber for boys ages 16 to 17 and is compared to the likes of Chris Sharma and Nick Sagar -- rock climbers who aren't just good but "sick-strong" in the vernacular of the sport.
Sagar of Nova Scotia spent three days in April with Jorgeson and his family putting his protege through a series of tests to compare his skills with those of other climbers. He left impressed.
"He's never seen a kid who has so much potential," said Heather Sagar, author of "Climbing Your Best" and an accomplished climber herself. Her husband was climbing in Yosemite last week and couldn't be reached.
Despite a national win and a berth on the world team, Jorgeson is unknown to most local people.
That's because unlike high-profile sports, such as football or basketball, rock climbing is an individual sport performed mostly to a handful of enthusiasts or in the solitude of a rock-studded wilderness.
Even his friends are mostly unaware of his abilities. "I brought them in here and they were surprised how hard it was," Jorgeson said.
Some of his anonymity is due to his reserved nature. In many ways he's a typical teen with his choco-late-brown eyes, braces and a friendly charm.
But one glimpse at his hands and it's easy to see why he excels at climbing. His long fingers are so mus-cular they seem made of metal, the result of many hours of training.
Jorgeson played Little League and tried pole vaulting, but he found those sports lacking. A trip to a sporting goods store five years ago in search of a tent turned him on to rock climbing.
"They had a wall there," he recalled. "I climbed there for the first time, and then went to Vertex for their grand opening," he said of the climbing center.
He excels at "bouldering," which is done without ropes at heights below 25 feet, using a crash pad to soften any falls. His only pieces of equipment are rubber-soled shoes, a comfortable T-shirt and cargo pants, and chalk, which is worn in a pouch around his waist.
"I like pulling hard, pushing myself to my limit," he said, "to the point where your mind is totally worked, fingers raw, arms feeling like they're going to explode -- it's a feeling you can't get from any other sport."
Climbing is in his blood. As a 2-year-old he crawled up a ladder and onto the roof of his uncle's home.
"I about died," his mother, Gail Jorgeson, recalled. "We got him down safely, thank God, but he's always been like that. He's not a huge risk taker, but he's an adrenaline junkie."
He's overcome several challenges to get where he is today, including surgery when he was an infant to repair soft tissue on his head, which left him with a large S-shaped scar.
When he was 9 he received 60 stitches in his face to repair damage from a dog bite.
"I remember him lying on the table as they stuck a needle in each and every one of those stitches," his mother said.
But she and her husband, Eric Jorgeson, a recreation superintendent with the city of Santa Rosa, have learned to accept the risks of their eldest son's sport.
Gail Jorgeson views the sport as an alternative for kids who have a competitive nature but don't enjoy team play. And she's effusive about her son's abilities.
"I think he's better than good," she said. "He's like poetry, like a ballet dancer on the wall. He makes it look so easy."
He's certainly well known at Vertex, a cavernous facility in northwest Santa Rosa with sheer rock walls, simulated boulders, dangling ropes and blaring rock music. Jorgeson is there most days after school and works there on the weekends setting new routes.
"I can't think of any other person who comes in here specifically to climb as much as he does," said Alden Short, a Vertex manager.
"Compared to other kids his age who come in here," Short continues, "he's a lot more grown up. He doesn't walk in with an attitude. It's nice having him around."
Jorgeson will have another chance to prove himself at the Youth World Championships on June 21-24 in Austria, featuring 350 kids in fierce competition.
He earned the right to compete by beating 22 other climbers in the 16 to 17 age category at the North American Youth Continental Championships held in February in Berkeley.
He won the event by "flashing" the climb up the 50-foot wall, meaning he made it to the top without prior knowledge of the route. Three other climbers made it as well, but Jorgeson took top honors based on his scores in the qualifying rounds.
The event was invitation-only and scheduled by the Junior Competition Climbing Association to select the U.S. team.
"It's a really big deal," Heather Sagar said. "There are some very strong youths in the U.S. right now. Many have the potential to excel beyond the limits of today."
Jorgeson is looking forward to the competition, training daily at Vertex, and trying to raise money to make the trip. He hopes for a career in rock climbing.
"Not a lot of people have managed to do that," he said. "Either you have to be the best to make a liv-ing at it, or you do it when you have the time."
You can reach Staff Writer Derek J. Moore at 521-5336 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.