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Interview with Katharina Saurwein, Professional Rock Climber

Katharina Saurwein is a professional rock climber who cares about her education life for her future while continuing her successful career in rock climbing. I asked Katharina Saurwein about her career, future plans, and her opinions about the importance of sponsorship in rock climbing.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by H. Wilhelm

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by H. Wilhelm


by Meryem Aksoy

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In 2006, Katharina Saurwein became Junior World Champion and in 2008 she won her first and only Worldcup in Bouldering. And she won International Rockmaster in Arco two times. But Katharina Saurwein is aware that she can not be a professional rock climber forever. For this reason, education is very important to her. Additionally to her Sport Science Master degree, she is about to complete her second study in Interior Design. However, she knows that sponsors are the key to the continuity of her rock climbing career. I have had the opportunity to meet with her and learn her thoughts about the importance of sponsorship in rock climbing. I asked Katharina Saurwein about her career, achievements and future plans. You can find her experiences and opinions about sponsorship in this interview.

Katharina, what does climbing means for you?

Climbing is my life. Ever since I was 8 years old that is what I did. The sport helped me through some hard times and when I climb, I forget about my problems for a while. I love that every move is different, that it can challenge you in so many ways and that I can do it together with friends. It is my greatest hobby and since a few years also my job. Thanks to my sponsors I can make a living out of it and I hope I can keep going like this for some more years.

Katharina Saurwein

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by H. Wilhelm

You have been climbing since 1995. How did you discover the climbing passion that takes you to the climbing wall? Who or what encouraged you?

At a sports festival for kids for the first time in my life, I saw a climbing wall. I asked my mum if I could try it and she allowed it. That's when the passion and the love for this sport hit me. A month later I started my first climbing course, a few years later I made it into the National Team and ever since then I'm competing in international comps and climb outside as much as possible.

Katharina Saurwein

Katharina Saurwein and Jorg Verhoeven - Photo by Jon Glassberg

Could you tell us about yourself?

After high school, I studied Sport Science and got my Master in it. It helped me understand what, when, how and why to train. Also, I did a coaching degree so that in future I can pass on the things I learned to younger athletes.

I'm passionate, ambitious and determined. I constantly look for new hard climbs, which challenge me and which I enjoy trying. I love to travel, to climb on different rocks, to experience new cultures and to hang out with friends.

But I also realise that you can't be a professional athlete forever, so my education was always really important to me and a few years back I realised how much I love interior design. I enjoy furnish and decorate interior spaces, where people feel at home and can calm down. That is why I started a second study in Interior Design, which I'll finish of with a Bachelor next year.

Katharina Saurwein

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by H. Wilhelm

You have a lot of national and international success in your career. Could you tell us about your achievements in your competition climbing career?

Already as a youth climber, I was pretty good in climbing and I soon won my first European Youth Cup. In 2006 I became Junior World Champion and in 2008 I won my first and only Worldcup in Bouldering. I've been on the Worldcup Podium several times and won the prestigious international Rockmaster in Arco twice.

Katharina Saurwein

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by Jon Glassberg

Besides this competition climbing career, you are very active in outdoor climbing. What was your biggest rock climbing achievements in your career? What are your favorite routes?

It's hard to say what my biggest achievement has been as I'm doing several disciplines and actually that is what makes me special compared to many other outdoor climbers, who are often focussed on one discipline. I have climbed Boulders up to 8B, but I've also done crack climbs up to 8A and trad multi-pitches also up to 8A

What do you feel when you reached the top?

Of course, I'm very happy and I'm proud that I accomplished the challenge. But for me, the process and the learning is more important than standing on the top. When I manage to overcome my fears, when I finally do a move I was working on for a long time, then I'm even happier.

What are the basic problems that climbers have been living during their competition and rock climbing career?

Regarding competitions, I'm very happy to be part of the Austrian Team as they payed for most of my travels and accommodations for comps. But I had huge expenses each year for rock climbing trips around the world. Flights, getting the needed material there, rentals, accommodations,...that sums up. I always knew that if I wanted to keep travelling that much, I need to find sponsors to help finance me on those trips as without their support it wouldn't be possible.

As climbing is a sport, which doesn't get that much presence, which is not in the media too often, which is not that famous and which elite athletes aren't well known outside the climbing scene, getting sponsors is pretty hard. Finding a company within the outdoor market is already pretty hard, but getting a sponsor outside the outdoor market is something only a handfull of athletes managed to achieve.

Katharina Saurwein

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by Jon Glassberg

How could climbers solve these problems? What is the permanent solution?

Regarding competitions becoming an Olympic sport is a step in a good direction as it means more media presence and more awareness. Still an athlete you will have to fight for sponsors, you need to make a good impression, you need to know what you can offer them and you need to write and talk to many people.

No matter if competitors or outdoor climbers, if you want to get a sponsor, you need to know why as an athlete you are important for a brand and why the company should support you. You need to sell yourself and be interesting.

For example: In the last years, social media got very important. Nowadays it's more important to have a lot of followers on Instagram than being published in a magazine, so that is where you need to put money and effort in.

What is the best way to attract sponsors' attention?

There are different ways of being interesting for sponsors and everybody needs to find his/her own way. Being unique, having something to offer that not everybody can offer, is definitely the key to success. An athlete needs to know why they are interesting and what they can offer. That could be high-end achievements in rock climbing, victories in competitions, producing cool videos or having a lot of followers on social media...important is that you stay authentic and that you believe in what you do.

What contributions do sponsor brands provide climbers?

That totally depends on the athlete, the brand and of course the contract. It starts with supporting athletes with material and ends by paying athletes great sums. Depending on the company and the contract the brands often also help the athlete to get more coverage and recognition by using them in advertisements, by helping them finance videos, by using them for shootings,...

Katharina Saurwein

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by D. Rucker

What do sponsors expect and demand from climbers?

They what an athlete to represent their brand. Depending on the contract and company they ask their athletes to wear their product or to display their product wherever possible. They might ask you to be at trade shows, photo shootings, competitions, festivals or to do slideshows, interviews,...and again since a few years being on social media and doing a good job in it got very important for most of the brands.

In your career, when did you first attract sponsors' attention? How did you do this?

I got my first sponsor after winning the Overall European Youth Cup and actually, it was my trainer back then who helped me do so. He was the one who had contacts with the right people and who got me linked up with them.

Could you tell us about your sponsors? What are the brands that you collaborate with?

My main sponsors are Marmot, La Sportiva, and Petzl and they are all big brands in the outdoor sector.

How many different platforms do you represent your sponsors throughout the year?

What makes me unique is that I do so many disciplines of climbing at a high level and that is what I represent my sponsors. I compete in Worldcups, where I've been in finals many times, I take part in festivals, especially the ones supported by my sponsors, I travel a lot to exotic destinations in order to create a unique and interesting video, I work together with international photographers to provide professional photos, I'm giving interviews on the radio, for magazines, and on TV, I take part at press conferences and I write articles for magazines as well as I'm constantly trying to have an interesting profile on Facebook and Instagram.

Katharina Saurwein

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by D. Rucker

What are your expectations from your sponsors?

Well, of course, I need material and financial support from them, but I also like them to support video projects and to stand behind me. I like them to work together with me regarding product development and to use me for advertisements or appearances in order to raise my awareness.

What are you paying attention to when a new brand contacted you about sponsorship? What are the main factors that affect the beginning and continuity of successful sponsorship?

First of all, I need to stand behind the brand and I need to like their products. If I do so it's all about negotiations. The energy I need to put into the brand needs to pay off by the outcome.

Do you accept offers for one-off catalog shootings or campaign-based work even if it is not long-term sponsorship?

If I stand behind the brand, it isn't a competitive company to one of my long-term sponsors and if the contract is okay for me, yes.

Katharina Saurwein

Katharina Saurwein - Photo by Jon Glassberg

Do you have any advice for climbers who want to pursue a professional career?

My advice is to work hard and targeted. As an athlete, you will have to approach sponsors. Think about what you can offer and for which companies that might be interesting. Write and talk to people and don't wait until they come to you as they might not do so.

What do you think about social media? How did it affect the popularity of rock climbing?

Social media is getting bigger and bigger and for athletes, it's one of the most important platforms to represent themselves. Having climbers being popular on social media helps them to win sponsors, but also to enhance the famosity of climbing as a sport.

How can our readers follow you?

Instagram: katha_saurwein

Facebook: Katharina Saurwein

What is next for you?

I'm taking part at the World Championship in Innsbruck now and I'm very excited for that. After that, I'm off to America for two months to trad climb in Squamish, Canada, and Yosemite, United States. During that trip, I'll take part at a festival, compete at international masters, do several photo shootings and take part in a climbing video and I can't wait for the travel to begin.

Thank you Katharina for this enjoyable interview.

For more information, please visit website of Katharina Saurwein

Photos Provided by :

No : 3, 5, 6 and 9 by Jon Glassberg of Louder Than Eleven (
Instagram : @louderthan11
YouTube :

No : 1, 2 and 4 by H.Wilhelm

No : 7 and 8 by D.Rucker