As a child, what profession did you envision for yourself when you grew up?
I planned to be a lawyer. I enjoyed arguing and had a deep passion for fairness and justice. When I was around 16, I started rock climbing and that shifted my focus to both routesetting, which is arranging climbing holds on climbing walls in a specific path to test climbers, and writing. Both are ways to creatively express oneself - routesetting through study of movement and writing through exploration of ideas.
After majoring in Creative Writing, how did you end up co-founding two companies focused around rock climbing?
My main interest was creative writing, but during and after college I had the opportunity to do more journalistic writing for climbing magazines as I traveled the world climbing rocks. Around five years after I graduated from college, an old friend returned to the climbing industry and began designing climbing holds. It was natural to team up with him and help sell the holds, as by that point I’d been putting holds on climbing walls professionally for over 15 years. My friend, now my partner, is hands down the best artistic climbing wall sculptor in the world. The company we established became Kilter Grips
and is my primary occupation today.
In addition to climbing holds, as the climbing industry has grown there has come a need for routesetting education. Some fellow professional setters and I formed the Routesetting Institute
to help gym owners improve the quality of the climbing experiences they provide. We consult, help gyms design their routesetting program, organize and manage orders and new gym sets, teach skill clinics, and run special events—basically anything a gym needs to have a successful routesetting department. We are also working with our industry trade association, the Climbing Wall Association, and an international team of setters on projects to further professionalize routesetting.
As the Owner and Operator of Kilter Grips, what does your role entail? What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I’d never intended to run a business, but Kilter allows me the opportunity to improve a growing industry I’m very experienced with and passionate about. Working in the international climbing gym industry means staying in contact with other gyms, setters, and businesses all over the world. We joke that we keep a 24-hour schedule in that most of the time someone at Kilter is working. As far as my job, I do a bit of everything, and my normal day-to-day duties have changed over time as our company has grown and we’ve been able to hire employees. My day-to-day at the moment includes coordinating with our manufacturers and distribution partners, troubleshooting in all departments, creating graphics, managing multiple social media accounts, handling some customer relations, keeping us plugged into the industry, and working on future project development.
Does the company have any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
We’re extremely excited to be one of only a few companies, and the only US-based climbing hold company, to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Climbing Holds Catalogue
. This means we were chosen by our sport’s governing body, the International Federation of Sport Climbing, to be part of climbing’s debut in the Olympics! We worked with an international team to choose specific climbing holds to send to France to be 3D scanned, and then on to Japan where they will be used by the routesetting team to create the boulder problems and lead routes we’ll all watch on TV during the event!
Do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded, liberal arts and sciences education are important in today’s society? How has your liberal arts education benefitted you?
Definitely. I’ve been an avid reader my entire life, so even from a young age I’d been exposed to many different perspectives, but each class I took in college taught me more about the world. I was introduced to some of the best, most meaningful books I’ve ever read in college—books that taught me lessons I still think about today. In addition, I was given space to explore and understand new perspectives on all manner of subjects, including philosophy, language, history, and the function of other countries and societies as well as our own. I strongly believe a liberal arts education will help anyone, regardless of eventual vocation, become an empathetic, functional adult.
What lessons did you learn in starting your own company? Do you have any advice for younger Phi Beta Kappa members?
Everything in the world is done by someone—someone runs the businesses, invents the inventions, designs the designs, writes the books, gives the speeches, makes the art, and performs the science experiments. You are a PBK member, you are intelligent and able to finish projects, so you might as well work on projects you actually like. There is someone doing the job you want in the world, and in the future that someone could be you.
A few years out of college a fellow creative writing major asked me how I was publishing so much writing. I told him it was simply because I’d found a niche I fit in — I loved climbing and I loved writing, so writing about climbing made sense. I told him to figure out what his niche was. He went on do just that, writing for and then editing a large LGBTQ+ publication for several years.
You can do what you want to do in the world. Find your niche. You don’t have to know everything when you start, you just need have a good attitude and be willing to work hard and continue learning so you can grow into a valuable contributing member of whatever industry you join.
What book are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?
I usually read to escape real life, so currently I’m reading the Rivers of London
series by Ben Aaronovitch, which were once aptly described as “police procedurals with magic.” Aaronovitch was a big Terry Pratchett fan, as am I, so it’s been great to see the references to Pratchett and other writers in the Rivers
series. Two other books I recently read and loved were Snow Crash
by Neil Stephenson (philosophical futuristic cyber-punk sci-fi published in 1992) and The Last Samurai
by Helen DeWitt, which is not about what you think it will be about.