The Ori­gins of an Of­fwidth Revolution

Gripped - - OFF THE WALL - Story by Derek Cheng

To the or­di­nary eye, con­crete joists hold­ing up a park­ing garage do not look par­tic­u­larly en­tic­ing. But to Randy Leav­itt and Tony Yaniro, two teenagers hooked on crack climb­ing in 1977, they of­fered a unique train­ing op­por­tu­nity – a se­ries of cracks, in­clud­ing four roof cracks – and a chance to rein­vent the sport. “There were 45- foot long roof cracks,” re­calls Leav­itt, who said it was a Wells Fargo garage in Los An­ge­les that they would visit at night. “One was hands, one was wide hands, one was fists and the other was an of­fwidth.”

Leav­itt and Yaniro would do laps in ten­nis shoes, with duct tape on their hands. The thin­ner cracks were eas­ier, but the of­fwidth pre­sented a chal­lenge. “We re­al­ized it wasn’t chicken-wingable be­cause it was a roof. The only way we could hang in there was to put one hand jam on top of an­other, so we started mon­key­ing around with that,” says Leav­itt. “We re­al­ized that you have to stick a leg in and some­how hang from it. We fi­nally got enough balls to start do­ing that.”

They didn’t have boul­der­ing pads, so they just sucked it up and pulled into the roof crack with 10 feet of air and a con­crete slab be­low. Even­tu­ally, they found that if they could stuff their lower body – foot, calf or leg – in the crack long enough to shuff le the hand stack, they could climb the hor­i­zon­tal of­fwidth. “That be­came what we call Leav­it­ta­tion. I know it’s bad to name some­thing af­ter your­self, but it was so nat­u­ral. It just came out of our mouths one day and it got well-known as that.”

Leav­itt and Yaniro spent hours there, hon­ing their skills and build­ing roof-crack en­durance. “We were just be­com­ing an­i­mals at the up­side-down world. It’s ex­tremely stren­u­ous – a lot of core.” Leav­itt says that they in­vented a game, start­ing from op­po­site ends of the roof. “When we’d get to the mid­dle, we would pull up and try to raise our legs high in scor­pion scissors around the other guy. As soon as you got in that po­si­tion, you’d just squeeze and hold on to the other guy un­til he’d just fall out of the roof crack.

“One time I got Tony Yaniro in a death scis­sor-grip with my legs and he came rock­et­ing out of the crack with me on top of him. We looked at each other and said, ‘We’re never do­ing this again, ever.’”

One of the first times Leav­itt used leav­it­ta­tion on real rock was on Bad Ass Mama 5.11d in Yosemite in 1978. “I was out with John Yablon­sky and some of the other Yosemite crew. Ev­ery­one was try­ing to chicken-wing up that thing and it was just ridicu­lously hard and I kept look­ing at it and think­ing, ‘That thing I was try­ing in the garage, it would work here.’”

Leav­itt had to fine-tune the tech­nique on the spot, as the garage of­fwidth was hor­i­zon­tal, and Bad Ass Mama was more ver­ti­cal. He had never tran­si­tioned from fists to stacks, but soon solved it by stuff­ing his leg in at waist-height and hang­ing his weight on it for long enough to slap a hand up inside the crack and bring his other hand into a stack. Higher, as the crack widened even more, Leav­itt re­placed hand-stacks and calf-locks with hand-fists and knee-locks.

He worked it on top-rope and climbed it with such ease that he over­heard Yabon­sky tell some­one later that night that Leav­itt had made it seem 5.8. Yablonksy added that Leav­itt could never lead it with the tech­nique. “So, later I went out and lead it,” says Leav­itt, “be­cause I re­al­ized you could get a knee-lock and let go to place a piece of gear. The perfect leav­it­ta­tion crack is what­ever your knee size is. For me, it’s like a hand-fist. You stick your knee in and you pull your foot back out so that the out­side of your foot is cammed against the out­side of the crack. And it just locks you in. You can let go with your hands.”

He later told Yaniro and they brain­stormed other routes they could try, like Paisano Over­hang, a 5.12R roof crack in Tahquitz, which had re­pelled most at­tempts in the 1970s. One ex­cep­tion, ac­cord­ing to Leav­itt, was John Long, who solved the puz­zle by wear­ing two pairs of gloves un­der­neath sev­eral lay­ers of tape to mu­tate the of­fwidth roof prob­lem into a fist-crack. His suc­cess in­spired Leav­itt to try three pairs of gloves him­self, but Long’s gar­gan­tuan hands are leg­endary, and Leav­itt found his en­hanced

Pamela Pack on Su­per­of­fwidth

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