GET TO KNOW: BRONSON HOVNANIAN
photo: Drew Smith
Bronson's youth was spent surfing as much as possible in Newport Beach, CA. His father—a dedicated waterman and surfboard shaper—instilled a deep respect and love for the ocean in him at a young age. That same dedication to surfing and the ocean is now being emulated with rock climbing and the mountains. Though he has spent almost three decades surfing, technical rock climbing is where Bronson has realized the principles of surfing he most admires—commitment, exploration, technical ability, connection to nature, and mental/physical strength—to him personal limits. Crowds, water pollution, and the ego surrounding modern surf culture, along with his passion for climbing moved him from the beach to the mountains full-time. He currently bases his life out of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, nomadically migrating season-to-season, place-to-place in a converted van to pursue these limits. As a crack climbing enthusiast, he tends to seek out the tallest and hardest natural lines his physical ability allows, wherever in the world that might be.
Hey Bronson. Tell us, how does one go from studying Real Estate Finance in college and working in the industry to pursuing a life of climbing?
At the time, leaving my career to climb full time was the biggest decision I'd ever made. I was acting on an intuition that was completely clashing with everything conventional society tells us we should do in our lives. Questions like, “what does success really mean to me personally?” kept popping into my head and I realized in order to truly feel fulfilled in life I had to test myself at my limit in climbing. I simply couldn’t do that while working in an office sixty hours a week, and felt that being in that environment would just breed mediocrity in me. I wasn’t willing to accept that for the rest of my life no matter how many comforts even a mediocre career in real estate finance would have provided. Some people never look at the life as a whole, I didn’t want to simply be entertained from one milestone to the next that society makes us hit— college, career, marriage, house, kids, retirement, death. For me, I had to break that mold and hit my own milestones that I’d feel successful about.
You are a certified EMT and have worked with Yosemite Search and Rescue…this must make for some pretty interesting situations. How has that affected you?
A few years back I worked with YOSAR doing high angle rescue for climbers. I've stayed closely connected to YOSAR through friends on the team since then, so yes I have been present for a lot of things from tragic to heroic in the park. Seeing all this has really helped me become more accurate in my risk assessment. Often times we talk about accepting risks in the mountains, but I feel there is a bit of denial in that statement; I’m not sure if we fully visualize the outcomes. Watching the consequences of those risks happen in real life, killing people or severely injuring them, helps truly understand that risk better—it’s not some theoretical scenario anymore. It’s also made me more sympathetic and empathetic on how those risks also affect your community. Overall it’s made me more decisive when I do take calculated risks to know that I’ve fully analyzed things to the best of my ability, and I feel better and safer to engage as a result.
It’s kind of crazy to think about, you live a very simple life out of a van yet your constantly doing theses superhuman climbing feats. Where does your passion come from?
Ultimately it’s the pursuit of challenge and growth that keeps that passion alive. Some people view climbing as just a hobby but for me it’s much more, and to be honest, climbing is not really that fun for me. I’m constantly failing, have bloody hands, sore muscles, inflamed tendons, and usually feel pretty mentally exhausted, but more than anything I have discovered it offers me an opportunity to push myself past what I thought I was capable of. It also allows me to connect with nature in a very primal way. When you are up on lead at your limit, the saber-tooth tiger is at the entrance of the cave, it takes a huge toll on your sympathetic nervous system, and it’s a battle with yourself to keep your mental and physical composure. You learn a lot about yourself in those situations, especially when you have fully committed to a climb where up is the only option. Developing that inner strength is something that has translated to many aspects of my life, so overall climbing is just this great metaphor for growth as a human. Living out of the van just facilitates more access to pursue that growth. If you gave me a house, I'D feel stagnate and stunted in that ability. So for me it’s not a sacrifice, because I have a completely different perspective.
Growing up surfing, do you still find time to get in the water?
Yes, I still try and surf as much as my geographic location allows. I tend to surf much less but when the waves are better. I’ve been on a few trips to Mexico and Hawaii this year and scored some pretty fun waves. I always keep a board hidden in the van for somewhere!
Do you find any synergy between your time surfing and climbing? What have the two activities taught you?
Definitely, they really compliment each other well. They are totally opposite in many ways but share some fundamental characteristics. Climbing has really helped develop better body awareness, strength, and balance that I could never get surfing. Paddling really helps balance out some muscles groups that get imbalanced with too much climbing, and the shoulder strength from paddling helps prevent some shoulder injuries that I would have otherwise had if hadn’t spent my entire life surfing. I’d say the common lesson both activities have taught me is respect and humility. If not properly respected the ocean and the mountains can humble and make you pay the ultimate price—your life. They both possess strength so far beyond humans and they teach you your insignificance in the world.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue their passion full-time and make it into their career?
I wouldn’t say that I have taken my passion and turned into a career, more taken certain skillsets developed through these passions and figure out a way to make a living from them. I'd say be true to your calling, and to not live in a fear based way. Be the best person you can and not fear of lack of financial success, finding happiness through your passion. It’s been my observation if you do those things financial opportunities will present themselves related to your passion.
What’s your plan for the upcoming year?
I’m heading down to Patagonia in February to attempt some big alpine climbing objectives, so up until then I'll just be training for that trip. I have a few climbing projects out in the southern Utah desert I want to attempt so I'll head out there for November, then back to the Sierras to start some big splitboarding days for some uphill mountain fitness. Basically just getting as fit as possible. I potentially have a trip to Japan to splitboard and Greece to climb as well but who knows if they will pan out. Then back to Yosemite after all of that.
Anyone you’d like to thank?
My family and friends, especially all my mentors in climbing and life, and my personal heroes I have gained inspiration from.