Matt Maddaloni: Pro Climber, Entrepreneur, Designer

If you have thumbed through a climb­ing mag­a­zine at some point in the past ten years, there is a very good chance that Matt Mad­daloni is in it. Not too long ago Matt was one of the world’s most show­cased and cel­e­brat­ed climbers, help­ing to push the sport to new heights (no pun intend­ed) through his efforts and travels.

Here is a good exam­ple of both his climb­ing abil­i­ty and his inge­nu­ity, where he cre­at­ed a spe­cial part to tra­verse a route he’d been try­ing to check off for years, as fea­tured in “the season.”

Matt is enjoy­ing a new chap­ter in life, jug­gling a career he has cre­at­ed for him­self with rais­ing an 18 month old girl. And he’s lov­ing every minute of it. His new busi­ness, Sea to Sky Cable Cam inc. is quick­ly becom­ing the go-to crew to call when you want a one-of-a-kind point of view, which suits Matt per­fect­ly, because his own point of view on life is one-of-a-kind and full of wis­dom that he was kind enough to share with us. 

Steve Andrews: So how did you make the tran­si­tion between pro climber and rig­ger extra­or­di­naire, even­tu­al­ly cre­at­ing your own cable cam?

Matt Mad­daloni: Pret­ty much ever since I start­ed climb­ing, I’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out a way to run my own busi­ness. As I got into climb­ing more and more, I got real­ly stoked on the whole “spon­sor­ship” thing. I did the best that I could, but lat­er real­ized that you can’t real­ly make a liv­ing off of it. So I was always doing con­struc­tion in the back­ground to pay for my climb­ing and one day, I got hired to do con­struc­tion for Zip­trek Eco­tours — work­ing up in the trees, build­ing aer­i­al plat­forms, ziplines, and sus­pen­sion bridges. Zip­trek want­ed to take their ziplines to the next lev­el, so they start­ed hir­ing engi­neers, but they kept fail­ing time and time again.  So I said “well, why don’t you get me to build it?” And they kin­da said “well, we’ve got noth­ing to lose… go ahead.” And time and time again I would solve their problems.

Zip­trek’s came to an end so I start­ed my own busi­ness, doing the cable cam. I could use my machine designs, auto­CAD, pro­to­typ­ing, rig­ging skills, and I could also use my climb­ing and adven­ture skills. I’d car­ry this gear to the tops of moun­tains, across rivers, all these dif­fer­ent places.

Actu­al­ly the first cable cam I ever did was over the Ash­lu Riv­er for a doc­u­men­tary on a pow­er plant. We set up an actu­al zipline and two of us rode down it — one guy lay­ing on a port-o-ledge, and me hang­ing at cable height with my gloves brak­ing our speed down the line as the cam­era­man hung and shot kayak­ers below. So that was the first cable cam, and we quick­ly real­ized that car­ry­ing around all this rig­ging equip­ment was a pain in the ass, and was severe­ly lim­it­ed by the shots we could get. So the boys I was work­ing with said “you should build a robot”.  And I was like “ahh, I total­ly want to do that!” 

Fgallery1-3 copySA: Sweet! And so where has it tak­en you?

MM: I’ve been to Tai­wan film­ing a doc­u­men­tary with a British com­pa­ny, next week I’m going to Hunt­ing­ton Beach to film the US Open of Surf­ing, I’ve been to the Czech Repub­lic shoot­ing the Prague Orches­tra. Local, too — I’m shoot­ing the Crankworx Moun­tain Bike Fes­ti­val in Whistler, and even fea­ture films. I was recent­ly with the Oprah Win­frey Chan­nel doing a piece on a climber, set­ting up a ver­ti­cal cable cam on top of a tow­er down to the desert. I have to be very diverse and I think the biggest sur­prise is that most of the work is with live tele­vi­sion. I prob­a­bly have as much fun, as much excite­ment and adren­a­line doing live tele­vi­sion as I’ve had on any climb­ing adventure.

When I go on a climb­ing expe­di­tion there’s a lot of plan­ning involved, a lot of stress, it’s real­ly dynam­ic.  And when you’re shoot­ing cable­cam — it’s a fast mov­ing device, there’s up to three guys work­ing on it at one time. I’ve real­ized between my cable cam career and my climb­ing career is that it was OK to fail climb­ing.  But as a pro­fes­sion­al, I can’t fail. A cable cam is one of the most expen­sive cam­eras on the set, and the client wants to see you suc­ceed so it’s a whole new lev­el of stress. I’m not going on all these crazy climb­ing adven­tures that I used to, but I feel so ful­filled because I’m hav­ing these oth­er crazy adven­tures and it’s just a whole dif­fer­ent world. 

Fgallery1-2 copySA: Can you think of a sit­u­a­tion where every­thing did­n’t go so smooth­ly and you had to think on your feet, yet you came out successful?

MM: In the Grand Canyon, I had to live shoot for NBC and the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel with Nick Wal­len­da, who crossed a 1500 foot gap on a cable across the canyon. It’s pret­ty intense to get that rope across — we had to deal with 30 mph winds, and these things come off the spool even when things go smooth­ly. It’s an intense moment, but we pulled it off.

SA:  Do you have any rec­om­men­da­tions for any­one who might not be doing exact­ly what you do, but for fol­low­ing their dreams and mak­ing an idea in their head a reality?

MM:  Well when I was a kid, you know how teach­ers will tell you to fol­low your dreams and the rest will fol­low? I tell you, I did­n’t believe it. It seemed like that was the impos­si­ble thing. And now, years lat­er look­ing back, it actu­al­ly works. You have to work insane­ly hard, and it takes years and years to get the expe­ri­ence. And a lot of that expe­ri­ence is from things that you have no clue it helps until lat­er. It takes end­less mis­takes and fail­ures to make your dreams hap­pen. And if you don’t have the nat­ur­al tal­ent, then you have to learn how to do it, you know? 

What­ev­er it is, there’s going to be some things along the way that you’re going to have to pick up. My advice to peo­ple is to just keep work­ing at it. Have a back­up plan and oth­er ways to make a liv­ing, but keep pick­ing away and it and stay focused. And it will happen. 

You can find out more about Mat­t’s cable cam busi­ness at seatoskycam.com. To see some of his old climing media vis­it his per­son­al site at mattmaddaloni.com