Felix the Casteller

It’s Castell season and anyone with an appetite for “cliff hanging” or bungie jumping in reverse is more than welcome to watch and indeed participate in these amazing demonstrations of community, culture, strength and serious ”pell de gallina” bravery.
Felix Miret is one of the most visible members of the Castellers of Vilafranca and is one of the best known faces of Vilafranca del Penedes through his work as the town’s one man public relations outfit. If you go along for a visit to the Roman ruins of Olerdola, the Wine Museum, the Casal del Festa Major, the Bell tower of the Basilica de Santa Maria or Cal Figerot, home of the Casteller de Vilafranca, chances are Felix will be your excellent and charming guide
Hello, how are you doing
A real Casteller, where to start, to castle or not to castle?
Well they are not stone castles, they are human castles and we have to go back at least 250 years to trace their history. Actually, many cultures around the world have been building towers but in Catalunya it became something special. well more exactly Castells started in the southern part of Catalonia near Tarragona, then the tradition spread to Vilafranca and then gradually farther north to Terrassa and so on.
Maybe the Human Tower was a device for invading castles or going over high walls
That's one of the possible origins, we don’t really know, they also say that the Romans in the Olympus games may have made towers but one of the origins is the “Baile dels Valencians” which is a dance from Valencia where they end the dance by making a little tower. People liked the towers more, so the towers separated from the dance. Then they started competing and they were doing what they called a “torreta” which was with two people on each level. Later they started competing from village to village and doing twos, threes, fours, fives, sixes and now we do ten which is the Guinness record.
Where were you when they were doing the three of ten?
In this three of ten I was in two trials, but they didn’t really work, it wasn’t successful. I make other towers which are not ten floors high but very complicated . I am more specialised in pillars, the pillar is like the column and towers are made of pillars. but the pillar is the hardest to build because it requires more balance and equilibrium so it needs very specific people and very good team feeling.
Where are you in the pillar?
If it’s a pillar of 6 I’m on the second floor, if it’s a pillar of 7 I’m on the third floor, a pillar of 8, the fourth and last year we tried a pillar of nine where I was on the fifth floor. That was around six meters high so imagine a man with 104 kilograms up to the six meters high and from there you still need four people more on top so that would have been the highest pillar in history but it didn’t work. It was too complicated, you need too much synchronisation between the people. All these spectacular things are important and nice to see but what is nice is that anyone can taste a human tower.
Does the rest of your family do castles as well?
Yes, My brother is the architect of the bases of the castles. He is in charge of placing the people in the base of the towers, we call it “technic de pinyas” I am more of a player and he is more of a designer
I’ve watched him and he gets a good balance going. That’s important the first stage, to get a good equilibrium between everybody.
Yes the base is very important.
He doesn’t send people up to the top?
No, we divide the tower in three parts. There is one ‘Technic” in charge of the base, one in charge of the trunk and one in charge of the kids and they train separately. On Friday evenings they work together but they never put the castle together until the contest. They only risk putting it all together in the contest, that’s why a contest has a meaning because it leaves this little element of risk. Human towers are something that besides all it is history, it’s something very creative with a lot of possibilities that mixes lots of different kinds of people.
Doesn’t it hurt?
In a way I’ve been lucky and nothing has happened to me but lets say it’s not as dangerous as it looks. When a castle falls it’s people against people against people. If you keep on falling against people it breaks your fall and the impact is softer. We have this rule that you have to hold on tight to the one beside you. If you fall by yourself, if you escape from the tower you will get hurt but as long as you hang on tight you won’t get hurt. If you are fired when there are problems you don’t get hurt, if you get scared before the tower comes crashing down, you get hurt. So its better to be a little bit aggressive in the complicated moments.
So it’ a bit like hold on tight and give it more trottle when you lean into a corner on your motorbike?
What is the greatest feat you have ever preformed, the greatest castle ever made?
Well, a complicated question, there are many towers, it’s like which is the most difficult mountain to climb in the world, every mountain has its difficulty, so the Everest of towers is the "tres de deu", as it’s the highest but there are other towers that are harder to reach like the two of eight. The "torre de vuit", is only 8 floors high but its two two ..., this one is considered very hard, it’s not very tall but it's very technical, and then there are the bases that support it, we call it the "torre de vuit neta" which means clean of bases..
no “pinyes, or folres or manillas”?
The pillars of eight have been the hardest ones but then we have a four of nine with the pillar in the middle, a complicated tower because it’s very sophisticated, there are two structures in one, the four of nine with the needle in the middle is the most technical but every tower has its complications. In some towers the base is more complicated, in others you need many good technical people and then in some you need everything.
There are some purists, more purists and liberals in the world of Castells. I mean there are some people who believe in using mechanical or computer assistance in designing and practising towers while others believe you have to use your eye and judgment. I believe there are some people who practice using scaffolding?!
The curious thing is that it is still a social activity and not a professional sport. That means that it’s directed by people who treat it as a hobby and it depends a lot on the context or the ambience or where the team is from. So for example the character of the people from Valls is reflected in the way they build towers, and the character of Vilafranca is also reflected and as you go more north you notice many different methods to organise Castells. For example, the people from Valls are more passionate, they go with more "boite" and in the north they are more technical, more methodic, more intellectual.
Are they bringing in outside engineering skills to help them with the Castells nowadays? Are there any special Italian or Japanese computer specialists working with you?
Well we have some German engineers in the team, it’s true but no, they are not really taking part in the design. The engineering we have is everybody with every size, every weight, but then there are so many factors that you can not put in a computer. You would have to include someone’s great for a position but how often can he come during the year. He’s great for that but he doesn’t want to go there or he’s great here but he’s not a great compliment for another one. There are so many elements it’s complicated. The only technique is with maps. We use some maps where we write the names but then we have to use a rubber and put the names of whoever comes to the practice.
So it’s open to newcomers?
What about the castles that are brought up from the bottom?
They are towers called “chegat por sota" and those ones are very nice in the way they rise, they are artistically very nice but very complicated. There are really strong tumors between the people in the base and those in the trunk. They have to be really synchronised. They nail and then they put somebody on top of the one who is nailing and then they push and then another one nails and they just keep on stacking.
rolling it up
Yea, and it’s very nice because it’s a participative tower. Everybody has a place, It’s very important for a tower team, More than in other towers the Pinya feels they are making the tower, it’s a very complicated aspect. Sometimes people come because they have nothing else to do, they want to get out of the house.
Are Castells a macho thing?
It was, until about fifteen years ago. but now we are going for more women. Women have really important skills, little girls are really smart(...boys too), they climb up fast but carefully, they are a very good size to support and they can take a lot of pain, they can suffer a lot.
What about travelling?
You know, the team from Barcelona are going to New York to make towers, they stole my idea, yea they stole it.
Is that because you wanted to go to New York?
My team yes
You’re the champions of the world but you won’t be the first in New Your
You could have a competition now to see if anyone will fly you over, or you could go for Saint Patrick's day, you’d have to wear green of course but that wouldn’t be a problem.
Well, of course, my team is green, “els verds”.
We are sponsoring a team from Santiago de Cuba, we’re sending them twenty outfits, so there will be a green team in Cuba too.
What about the faja, what’s the faja for?
It’s a length of cloth that is very important. It was used for a long time by country people. It’s very good because it helps us in three regions, as a stairs to put the feet in the faja when you’re climbing, as a support to make your back stronger and then the third reason is in case the castle breaks down it protects. You have long fajas, short fajas depending on your size. I have one of the longest which is 14 meters long, they even made one twenty meters long for somebody. It’s funny how everybody has his faja depending on his body and his position. For example you would have a very short faja only like three meters, (talking to Tommy my 4 y/o son)
What other things can Castellers do?
What time do we have to be here for the calçotada on Saturday?

Felix Miret and his team offer workshops on Castells and team building skills to companies and large groups.
Using his informal approach and structured low risk activities he demonstrates the methods used to prepare and build Castells.

Paddy Mannion
[email protected]