Deep Water Soloing: Climbing Without Ropes

Deepwater Solo Boat Thailand
Sailing the Islands of Thailand
Railay Beach, Thailand

My forearms were burning. Sweat streamed into my eyes. There were no safety ropes. Suddenly I lost my grip on the rock and plummeted 35 feet off a cliff.

It’s called Deep Water Soloing. Psycho Bouldering. Psicobloc. Basically you scale rocky cliffs over the ocean without using ropes. The deep water below acts as protection when you fall.

There are certain areas of the world where the sport is quite popular, like the islands around Railay Beach in Southern Thailand.

The landscape around Railay is covered with striking Karst limestone cliffs jutting out of the earth. Climbers from all over the world flock here to test & improve their skills. It’s a rock climbing paradise.

Deepwater Solo Climbing Thailand
My Attempt at Deepwater Solo Climbing

Rock Climbing Railay

I spent the previous day top-rope climbing with a company called Hot Rock Climbing School, and when I learned they’d be heading out onto the ocean for some deep water soloing, I jumped at the chance.

The next morning a group of us loaded into a wooden, V8 engine-powered longtail boat and motored towards a small sailboat that was waiting in the bay. I’d be spending the day climbing with a couple from California and 2 guys from Finland.

We all had some basic rock climbing experience, but were definitely not pros — and none of us had ever attempted deep water soloing before!

Ultimate Freedom

The draw to this type of climbing is the ability to scale cliffs without messing with ropes, harnesses, anchor points, or any other climbing tools. It’s just you versus the rock.

How high you go depends completely on your skill and personal limits. Are you prepared to fall off the rock at 60 feet or higher?

With an old pair climbing shoes on, I dove off our sailboat and swam up to a sheer 200 foot limestone cliff protruding out of the sea. Many of the walls here have a bit of an overhang next to the water, so ropes or rope ladders hang down to help with getting into position on dry vertical rock.

Deepwater Solo Climbing Thailand
On the Edge

Climb Until You Fall Off

Luckily previous climbers had stashed towels in little holes at the beginning of the routes, so you could dry your hands off and even rub them in a bit of chalk. We took turns maneuvering up the walls searching for footholds and trying to conserve energy.

Eventually you’d hit a spot where you couldn’t continue, either because you were too tired or because it was beyond your ability. For our group, this was usually around 30-40 feet up. Then it was time to push off the rocks and crash down into the waves of the ocean!

We spent 3-4 hours repeating this cycle at 2 different islands that day.

Rafting Thailand
Who Needs a Motor When You Have Sandals?

Flip-Flop Paddle Power

The weather started out nice, but storms rolled in darkening the sky and unleashing a downpour with lightning. That didn’t stop us from having a great time deep water soloing Thailand’s island cliffs. It’s a lot more difficult than it initially looks. I love a good challenge.

On our way back to the mainland all eight of us boarded a tiny rubber raft to motor towards the beach from the sailboat.

But soon the weak 5hp outboard motor ran out of gas. We were still 300 yards from the beach! Luckily our captain was prepared with half a broken oar, and the rest of us helped paddle in using our sandals.

It was a hilarious way to end a fun day of adventure. ★

Watch Video: Deep Water Soloing In Thailand

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(Click to watch Deep Water Soloing: Thailand on YouTube)
Travel Planning Resources for Railay
Company: Hot Rock Climbing School
Cost: $30 USD

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Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Thailand


I hope you enjoyed my story about deepwater soloing in Thailand. Here are some wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Would you ever try deep water soloing? Any questions? Drop me a message in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, beautiful photos, and money-saving travel tips.
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Comments (49)

  1. I love how you write Matt, I can imagine crimping on to a ledge for dear life! I did the same in Ha Long Bay (which is still going – worth knowing as it sounds like it’s been banned in Thailand)

  2. Hi.
    Since the king left the building, did something change in terms of DWS ? Is it still forbidden ? Or are there some “possibilities” ???

  3. Hi!
    Do you think this activity is suitable for people who have never rock-climbed before? Looks fun, but could it be dangerous for people who don’t really know what they’re doing? We are a group of 4 who are looking to book it tomorrow.. but have zero experience! Thanks :)

  4. Hi! My friend and I have booked to go to Thailand to do some DWS, but have been reading and hearing that a major ban prohibits DWS everywhere in Thailand since 2016… Any advice?

  5. What is the difficulty of the climbing up there? I am thinking of going there this summer but as I only started climbing this summer so I am not sure if I would be able to climb a lot of routes up there. Are there a reasonable amount of routes below 5.10 (6a in the french system)?

  6. Cool! Is there a coastal place in the US to do this? All I’m finding online are rivers and lakes, any locations on the ocean?

  7. Isn’t deep water soloing awesome, Matt?

    I went a few years ago with my brother, and 25 foot back busters have never been so rewarding in my life!

    Had a scare when I hit the water one time and lost the grip on my Go Pro, which started floating to the bottom with all 3 months of our footage on it that hadn’t been backed up yet. Luckily I came up for a quick breath & was able to swim down and find it.

    Cool post & looking forward to more about adventure.


  8. That looks awesome! What GoPro attachment are you using to have your hands free? I’m heading to Thailand soon for about 3 weeks. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and then Southern Thailand/Phuket. I am definitely gonna try to get some of this in now. Any other suggestions?!?!

  9. That looks wicked fella, before my accident I was planning to go to south vietnam to climb some of the limestone columns there.. Maybe a next stop off for you ? There is some wonderful climbing/deep water soloing to be had.

    • Hello Davidjohn King,

      just wondering if you could give more info about rock climbing in South Vietnam?
      heading there next month and found only info about Ha Long Bay and other climbing spots in the North :(

      thank you :)

  10. Wow, what a fun way to experience the outdoors. As an avid traveler and a lover of the outdoors, this would be such a fun excursion! I cannot believe I have never heard of this activity before. Looks like a great time. I will definitely try it. Thank you for sharing!

    -Sara @GreenGlobalTrvl

  11. I loved my time in Tonsai (next to Railay). I spent about two months in the area and Deep Water Soloing was a huge highlight. If you get the chance, do it! Thailand is an incredible place to spend lots of time, but not a lot of money. Enjoy!

  12. Looks amazing! I´ve been rock climbing for about two years now, just for fun, you know. I´m not a Chris Sharma, but I do my best to find and push my limits. And this summer finally one of my rock climbing dreams came true – water soloing in Mallorca! So I definitely know the feeling. It was my first time doing water soloing and the adrenaline rush you get when your hand slips and you find yourself free falling is insane, I tell you that!

  13. I’ve never heard of this before and have no doubt it is way harder than it looks. I would give it a try though! Seems like a good way to gain confidence for a beginner rock climber. If you fall, no big deal because you’re supposed to fall!

  14. Hey! I am in the middle of planning a trip to Thailand myself! Did you hire any kind of guide while you were there or did you just go for it? Also what are some do’s and dont’s for DWS? I am wary about trying something like DWSing without proper instruction. Also did you check out any of the sport climbing while you were there?

    • Hi Jacob, I went with a company called Hot Rocks. To visit most of the spots, you’ll need a boat as they’re located on islands you can’t stay overnight on and might be a bit too far away for kayaking. You could easily hire your own longtail boat for the day though (which will be expensive if you don’t split the cost with a group). The boat captains all know the DWS spots. If you’ve climbed before, you don’t really need any special instruction for DWS other than try to point your feet down and keep your arms in when you fall. :)

  15. Ahh! I’ve always wanted to try this. I boulder pretty regularly, but am still pretty terrified of falling and breaking my neck. Deep water soloing would make me feel a lot more confident about trying new moves and pushing my limits.

    • It certainly helps with confidence! But I think it made me work harder as well, because a fall meant I’d have to start all over again from scratch. Where as with a harness you can begin close to where you left off.

  16. My goodness this looks both awesome and completely terrifying! Never done rock climbing before, but would love to. Do you think people should try out roped rock climbing before attempting this to get a bit of a feel for it?

    • Yeah Tammy, roped in is probably the best way to start first. You have dry shoes, chalked hands, and many more chances to practice even if you fall. And you don’t need to tread water while waiting for other climbers…

  17. That’s a little crazy but very exciting! Would I do it? At first glance, no. However, it looks fun. Only problem is that if you fall, it’s going to hurt when you hit that water :)

  18. Glad you went DWS! The guys from Hot Rocks are great, as is the entirety of the Railay area. Wish I were back there now!

    • Climbing around Railay and Tonsai was a lot of fun Ben. Definitely the kind of area I could spend a month at. Being around all those great climbers made me want to stick around and practice with them!