Profile photo © Francois Lebeau
Climber, advocate, storyteller: to name but a few of the strings in Shelma Jun’s bow. A leader within the U.S. climbing community, she is Managing Director of the internationally renowned organisation Flash Foxy and current Vice President of the Access Fund; she has a master’s degree in Urban Planning, is a certified single pitch instructor, a training AMGA apprentice rock guide and a budding filmmaker to boot. Championing equity, diversity, inclusivity, representation and conservation within climbing and outdoor spaces, she is widley recognised for her activism and in 2017 was named one of 40 women who’ve made the biggest impact in the outdoor world by Outside magazine. All this, and she still makes time to plug cams on pristine alpine cracks and decipher boulder sequences on crisp winter days.
Growing up in California, Shelma always loved the outdoors and sports but didn't find climbing until she was an adult. She first tried top rope climbing in a California gym after shoulder reconstruction surgery rendered her unable to participate in her regular sports of snowboarding, mountain biking and surfing, yet it wasn’t until moving to New York in 2011 that she really found her feet in the sport.
“Within two months of climbing, I was on a multi-pitch class in the Gunks and hooked,” says Shelma, via email. “I learned to climb through trad climbing in the Gunks. In 2015, I saw a picture of the Incredible Hulk and Positive Vibrations in the High Sierras and knew I had to climb it. Positive Vibrations became the first alpine climb I ever climbed — not easy considering I didn’t really know how to crack climb! I’ve always been a sucker for aesthetic lines and often my goals are aligned with a beautiful line I can’t get out of my head! ”
Aestheitc lines and beautiful blocs lead Shelma to focus on alpine climbing through the summer and hard bouldering projects in the colder months, while spring and autumn are centred around training, with a little trad cragging and sport sprinkled in for good measure.
“I love the movement of climbing, the puzzle solving aspect of it, the micro beta,” continues Shelma about her motivation for climbing. “I love that five people can send the problem in five different ways. I love that a beginner and an expert can often go out together and have a great time and both be pushed. I love the feeling of being part of the landscape rather than just an observer when I’m hundreds of feet up on a wall. I love that it takes me to sublime places.”
Balancing her work life and community with her love of climbing, Shelma splits her time between the urban hustle of New York City and the Californian bouldering mecca of Bishop. Having previously worked for an accounting firm in San Francisco and on community advocacy projects in New York, Shelma draws on a diverse skillset for her current work, which includes running Flash Foxy as the organisation's founder and Managing Director.
Flash Foxy started in 2014 as a personal project for Shelma, who found support, comfort and psyche in her New York City climbing girl crew. But the simple Instagram account quickly garnered international admiration for its values, aims and core beliefs.
“The initial couple of likes turned into thousands of followers,” said Shelma during a speech entitled Redefining Access at the Access Fund's 25th Anniversary Dinner in 2016. “Emails, messages and comments followed — women looking for more female partners where they lived, women wanting to transition into the outdoors but unsure of how to take that first step, and well, women just searching for something more relatable to them within climbing. It was then that I realized that this search for a different space in the climbing community was not unique to me and it was this that ultimately led me to create the Women’s Climbing Festival.”
In its first year, the Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival in Bishop offered a weekend of panels, clinics, discussion and climbing to 150 ticket holders. The event sold out in 24 hours. In 2017, the 200 available tickets sold in just sixty seconds. Since then Flash Foxy has flourished, organising sold-out festivals and events for both climbing and trail running in the U.S. and celebrating a community of self-identified women and genderqueer folk who love the outdoors. Alongside events, Flash Foxy also offers scholarships, leadership development opportunities and an education programme based on a pay-what-you-can model.
Shelma is also a budding filmmaker and director who believes in the power of storytelling. In 2019 her first film Do Better Together, which spotlights Ayesha McGowan and her training to become the first African American female professional road cyclist, was an official selection at Mountainfilm and No Man’s Land Film Festivals and won a Jury’s Special Mention at Kendal Mountain Festival. Her filmmaking draws heavily on her advocacy and her passions, seeking out stories that bring people together, while also representing traditionally marginalised groups and promoting conservation.
When she’s not climbing or working on her various projects, Shelma is an avid splitboarder and aspiring mountain runner and has found various ways to relax and connect with her friends and community.
“I’ve recently starting hunting/harvesting my own food, learning to sew and investigating how we re-circulate goods in new forms and also a little bit of woodworking,” says Shelma, again via email. “I also fancy summer river floats, winter lake dips and alpine ice skating in that sweet spot of winter before too much snow falls. When I’m in NYC, I love to ride my bike around the city, dance until the sun comes up and then some, and hang out at the park with my friends! ”