If you don’t already know – Mike Abell is a busy man. He’s sent problems you’ve only dreamt about, he taught Paxti Usobiaga how to train and he’s handsome enough to steal your girlfriend, but he won’t. In between combing his hair and sculpting his abs he finds time to manage the newly revamped Belmont Planet Granite. Recently, he took some time out of his already hectic day to help us get to know the man behind the myth, just a little better.
So, start by telling us a how you got your start at PG.
I started by walking into PG Santa Clara when I was a young and impressionable 14 year old looking for work. I heard it was a legit summer job and the pay wasn’t bad. I was super psyched because the two summers before I went to summer camp there. That fall, I was asked to join the climbing team because I was crushing 5.10′s in Vans. After that, I was setting routes with my buddy Nick (current PG Sunnyvale staff), competing for the PG Team and digging life. After a few year hiatus I came back to PG in college to set routes at PG Sunnyvale and Belmont. Then Stephanie Ko Pound (then just Ko) got me a spot working the Front Desk and teaching classes in Sunnyvale.
While I was there, I taught everything – BRC, 101, Bouldering 101, Lead, co-wrote the curriculum for Power & Endurance with assistant head setter, Art; all while taking a full load at SCU and setting at other Planet Granite gyms. I like being busy. In that same time, I became the head coach for the Sunnyvale climbing team. In a short year, I made helmet wearing Summer Camp kids into climbing MUTANTS. Then, I became Assistant Manager in Sunnyvale a year ago, learned from the best, Stephanie Ko Pound, and also allowed her to take a month off for her honeymoon. While I was Assistant Manager, I was also the Youth Programs Coordinator, Head Coach, and teaching Power &Endurance Classes. Did I mention that I like being busy?
You’re a busy man is what you’re saying. Tell us something about who has helped you out in your own climbing. What are some high points for you in the climbing game?
Well, I owe it all to the PG climbing team. Honestly, also the old school PG crew. Guys like Jeremy and Joel - two long standing icons in the Sunnyvale bouldering scene – have shown me how to pinch ridiculously hard. My OG (that’s original gangsta’ for us older generations) coach Dave Geissberger really showed me how to finesse may way around tough sequences and has truly influenced my tough, yet understanding coaching style.
As far as highlights – honestly, I’ve climbed some hard boulders in my day, but really the highlights have been those amazing climbing trip moments over the years like drinking a Tecate tall can on the top of the Eureka Sand Dunes or finding the biggest Chinese Buffet ever in El Paso Texas. I’m going to get sappy, but a huge highlight has been seeing my kids on the PG Sunnyvale climbing team start off as little v1 projecting, unfocused youth and turn into mature, smart, and buff young individuals.
Are there any trips on the horizon?
I plan on hitting up Bishop and Yosemite to boulder a bit during the prime spring temps. Maybe I might dip my fingers in some Jailhouse sport climbing? Other than that I really need to get out to South Africa one of these days. I hear there are crimp lock-offs for days.
There are indeed a few crimpers down there. So, now to the part everyone is waiting for – how do you crush so hard in jeans so tight?
I eat a lot of pizza and drink a lot of beer. My motto is – climb harder and try less. Just kidding! But currently I’m psyched on core training, weighted pull-ups, weight lifting and TRX at PG Belmont. Also the adjustable system boards in SV and BL have helped immensely with isolating my weaknesses. Ultimately, I find the more I pull on real rock the stronger I get. As for the skinny jeans: I climb way better when I feel that I look good while doing it. That is why I strive to lock everything off and make it look effortless. I probably could climb harder if I got over this narcissism of mine, but I just enjoy it so much!
I’m sure the team parents are going to love your dieting recommendations. Why don’t you explain what the deal is with all the well-groomed climbers in the Flame and Flash tank tops?
I started Flame and Flash two years ago because I thought it was pretty lame that the Bay Area – which has both a strong climbing community and LGBT community – didn’t have an LGBT climbing community. The idea really sparked when I met up with another LBGT climbing group called Homoclimbtastic in the New River Gorge, and I thought, “This NEEDS to come to the Bay.”
We host bi-monthly climbing sessions around Bay Area gyms where LGBT climbers can meet up and find new climbing partners. Flame and Flash also hosts annual outdoor trips to areas like Bishop, Yosemite, Mammoth, and this year Red Rocks. As a group we also try to recruit members of the LGBT community to get out of the bars and clubs and come climbing. Check us out on Facebook!
When it first started we were about 15 guys and gals strong. Now our regular meet ups bring about 15-25 people. Our outdoor trips gather about 40-50 people, and our first fundraiser ever brought about 40 people.
Now that you’re the proverbial “man” at Belmont, what can we expect from the gym?
I want to utilize the energy and enthusiasm from PG Belmont staff to make PG Belmont the awesome climbing and hang out facility that it can be. I want to keep Belmont unique to its roots, like those I remember when I came to visit the gym when I was 15. It’s a solid training facility with an adjustable system board, a tread wall, full weight area and campus board. It’s also got an awesome community which really meets the PG Vibe that all our gyms strive for. It really feels like you’re walking into a friend’s house when walking into PG Belmont. You can expect me to be hyping up and promoting these two key points that make PG Belmont what it is. The staff here is psyched and wants to do so much with the gym. All I can ask for is enthusiasm for all my ridiculous ideas for the gym and they’ve more than provided that support. Also my Assistant Manager, Brett, is awesome – he does everything for me!
Finish us off with a look into what makes Mike Abell tick.
I love seeing a kid struggle through a crux, but figure it out and send. I love keeping things real but knowing when keeping it real just ain’t good enough. I’m psyched on keeping those around me psyched on whatever task is at hand. I keep things light-hearted. I exhaust every scenario until I find the one that’s least exhausted and run with it. I love, love, love starting what should be a simple task and making it slightly epic (ask Brett.)
Mike is the new manager at PG Belmont. If any further advice is needed regarding, pizza, beer, training, or if the bathroom is simply out of paper towels – you know where to find him.