The American flag waved above me as I paraded across stage with forty other Americans all wearing red white and blue. We were surrounded by the reds, whites, greens and yellows of twenty-six other flags and their flag bearers, all cheering for their home country. Reminding us all why we were on stage, a fifty foot tall rock wall covered in colorful plastic climbing holds loomed behind us. We waited on stage with anticipation for the next day when we would all climb on the wall to compete for the title of World Champion. Though there were many countries and cultures represented on stage, we were all united by the rock wall behind us.
Just a few months earlier when I placed fifth in the USA youth rock climbing nationals and received an invitation to compete at the World Youth Rock Climbing Championships, I had no idea where Noumea, New Caledonia was. But thanks to Google, I learned that New Caledonia is a small French Polynesian island off the cost of Australia. So after two months of training for the competition and planning the trip, my dad and I embarked on our 8,287 mile trek to New Caledonia.
The eighteen hour flight to Australia was one of the longest flights in the word but I managed to keep busy thanks to the little personal TV on the plane equipped with dozens of movies. We spent a few days in Sydney to adjust to the fifteen hour time difference. While in Sydney, Australia my dad and I visited the famous opera house, walked around the Sydney Harbour, and swam at Manly Beach. Trying to embrace the Australian culture we even tried kangaroo and crocodile pizza! After our quick stay in Sydney, we flew three hours east to New Caledonia.
From the plane the island looked barren and desolate, covered in trees and mountains and surrounded by miles of clear blue water. When the plane landed in a small one-gate airport in Noumea, the island’s capital, I became a bit weary of the strange island we were visiting. After a long bumpy bus ride through the rural areas of New Calendonia, we reached our hotel which had a perfect balcony view of the ocean below us. From the white sandy beaches to the neon colored coral reefs, New Caledonia reminded me of a tropical postcard. When I wasn’t busy climbing at the competition venue, my dad and I walked the beach searching for sea glass and sand dollars while watching the local kite surfers zip across the water. The kite surfers inspired my dad and I to be adventurous and try stand up paddle boarding and snorkeling.
Once the World Youth Championships began, we were greeted by excited locals waving small American flags and cheering us on. After four days of competing against the best climbers in the world, I placed 19th in my age group. But even more memorable than the competition was the opportunity to meet climbers from all around the world. The World Youth Rock Climbing Championship was a melting pot of cultures, and I was mixed right in the middle. Even though I only traveled to one country I got to experience the culture of twenty six others.