Lise Wessels on Climbing & Creating

Read our interview with Cape Town climber, filmmaker & visual artist Lise Wessels...

If you’re a Cape Town-based climber, you’ve probably seen Lise Wessels around the gym and/or crags – more specifically, you’ve probably seen her absolutely crushing with impressive poise at said gym and/or crags. In addition to being a strong climber, Lise is also a talented and versatile artist whose portfolio includes painting, traditional illustration, digital illustration, motion graphics work, drone photography and (the focus of this article) her stunning sending videos. Although, she probably wouldn’t tell you about all of this herself – something that really shines through with Lise is her humility and down-to-earth approach to climbing and creating.

Lucky for us, Lise was kind enough to sit down with us and share some insights into her climbing career, filmmaking journey, and her advice for fellow content creators…


Lise has been climbing for around five and a half years, a relatively short amount of time, making her tick list even more impressive. “Most of my experience is in sport climbing,” she says, “but more recently I’ve really been getting into trad.” At the time of our interview, she had just come back from a trip to Wolfberg, during which she climbed Celestial Journey (22) with Nick Abrahams.

When asked how she got into climbing and got to know her current circle, it was a familiar story – some climber out there nudged her to go climbing – with a slight twist…

“I had tried climbing once before, but I didn’t really get into it until about a year later when I had a shoulder operation; I went to Mark Seuring for help rehabilitating my shoulder, and he suggested that I get into climbing as a kind of rehab… so I probably wouldn’t have gotten into climbing if it wasn’t for a torn tendon in my shoulder.”

Many of Lise’s films feature friends, such as her two latest videos which showcase Douw Steyn’s first ascent of The Mud, the Blood and the Beer (8a/30 tbc) in Truitjieskraal, and Gosia Lipinksa’s send of Mono (29) at The Mine respectively. She also created the fantastic mini-documentary Sibamba Mama, which follows Gosia’s journey to send Simbamba Ngazibini in Rocklands and was featured in the 2021 Vertical South Film Festival.

“I’m very fortunate to be in a little group that has some superb climbers like Douw and Gosia,” she says, “they’re just exceptional athletes.” Like many of us, one of Lise’s favourite aspects of climbing is the community; as she puts it,

I love being a part of a community that’s supportive, fun, open-minded. And being out there in nature and in the mountains, sitting around the campfire and having a laugh, talking about each person’s challenge that day – everyone connects, even if we’re at different levels. Whether it’s me struggling on a measly 23, or Gosia working on a 30, everyone is accepted and encouraged.

It really feels like being part of a big family.


An artist through and through, it was only natural that Lise ended up creating content about climbing. As for how the journey began, she explains that she was living in Japan up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which caused her to leave her job there and return to South Africa. Back home and armed with some free time due to the lockdown, Lise decided to invest in a drone and start playing around with video creation.

She started off by enrolling in a course and getting her licence to become a legal, certified drone pilot and, having no prior experience in videography or filmmaking, took some Udemy courses on video editing and drone cinematography (there are plenty of online courses and advice articles/videos out there for every subject under the sun).

“Then I needed something interesting to point my drone at… and climbing is my passion, and the people that I climb with make for some interesting subject matter,” she says with a chuckle.

Sibamba Mama was one of Lise’s first films, and the production experience remains a highlight for her to this day:

It was amazing. I basically just started going out with Gosia early in the mornings, mostly as a belay partner. Then we decided to get the drone involved, and that was very much the start of playing around with the footage and flying the drone to get the best possible shots. And it wasn’t just about the climbing – it’s about the person. Gosia is such a strong woman who does an amazing job balancing climbing, motherhood, a career, etc., so it was a very multifaceted story to explore.

She says that friend Garrreth Bird, a seasoned climbing photographer & filmmaker (whose name you may recognise from one of these articles) was a great mentor who guided her through the editing process to help her learn how to create a polished end product.

Garrreth also helped Lise to start getting her films out there, encouraging her to add Sibamba Mama to the lineup for the Vertical South Film Festival which he was organising. The film, of course, enjoyed a great reception at the festival, which was very encouraging for Lise considering how daunting it can be to put your work out there for the world to see, particularly in a small community.

Ultimately though, it is unsurprising that the climbing community would show enthusiastic support, considering Lise’s films are made in close collaboration with passionate, local climbers. As she puts it:

We all make stories together.

People like to be filmed doing their thing, and other climbers like to watch it. I was also thinking that it would be good to have a YouTube channel with videos of some of the great, classic climbs out there. Besides being fun to watch, they can also provide good beta for anyone projecting the routes – that’s another goal for the future, creating a nice library of beta videos.

With their clear framing, crisp cinematography and excellent production quality all-round, Lise videos certainly do offer an excellent research opportunity for any senders looking for beta and inspiration. And while it might seem like having a drone could make video production easy as pie, it in fact takes a lot of skill to end up with a clean final product. There may be some climbs that are fairly easy to follow with a drone, but others take more precision and care, explains Lise:

Sometimes you have to be a little more careful. For example, with ‘Mono’, I had to be cautious because we were under a roof, so you have to be very aware of where the drone is, not just what it’s looking at.

I was a bit nervous in the beginning, but I am getting more confident and capable with the multi-tasking required to pilot the drone and film at the same time, while keeping the movement smooth. That can be a challenge because you’re not only flying the drone, you’re also maneuvering the gimbal, the actual camera – and you have to make that as smooth as possible, otherwise editing is a nightmare.

The drone that I use has noise reduction propellers, so it’s less noisy than some of the others on the market. I also use the zoom, so I don’t go right up to the climber; getting too close to the rock and the climber makes me a little nervous – it’s a bit of a risk.

While Lise prefers filming with a drone thanks to the fantastic viewpoint it offers, especially for climbing, there are some routes that simply have to be shot the old-fashioned way. “The footage of Douw Steyn doing his latest project, ‘The Mud, The Blood and The Beer’, was just shot with a normal camera,” she says, “it was in a cave, and you can’t really fly the drone there, it would have been way too noisy and there are just too many obstacles.”

Needless to say, being a filmmaker comes with its fair share of challenges, and any content creators who use their passion as subject matter will know that it can be difficult to strike a balance between work and play. “Often I just leave the drone in the car or at home and I decide ‘Today I’m going to just have fun and enjoy being outside,’ and other days I decide I’m going out to film,” says Lise, “It can be hard flipping back and forth between the two.”

All this considered, the joy of creating these stories outweighs the difficulty: “It’s about capturing the moments. Just being out in nature, in the mountains with my friends, having a good time.”

More projects are definitely on the horizon, and Lise says she would be very excited to try her hand at a bouldering film sometime; “I’m not really much of a boulderer, or in the bouldering crowd, but it would be great to get into that if there are people who are willing to be filmed.” 

Although Lise largely creates these films for the fun of it, she does have some goals in mind (besides creating a South African beta library); “It would be fantastic to make money doing something you enjoy,” she says, “There are some film festivals that I’ve entered, and it’s definitely a goal of mine to be accepted into one of the big festivals, BANFF and so on – the prize money is a nice bonus…”

For all you budding creators out there who might be struggling to get the ball rolling, Lise has some excellent advice:

Just do it!

You’re going to get better and better with each film you make, and you can always take the old ones you don’t like anymore off YouTube. So just try to relax, let yourself play around and have fun; I think we do our best creative work when we play.

In terms of content: create as much as possible, and get as much footage from as many different angles as possible. Sometimes you are just lucky and catch the right moment. Sound is also very important; getting good sound is crucial, it’s almost impossible to edit out bad sound. You should also think about keeping your phone ready to capture those before and after clips; I often edit a video and I wish I had caught those special, candid moments.

As mentioned above, above her video creation, Lise is a visual artist working in a variety of media, sometimes using her drone photography as reference, as can be seen in her two latest oil paintings:

Click the buttons below to check out all of Lise’s videos and take a look at more of her stunning visual art, and give her a fist bump the next time you see her around!