Eliot Carlsen is known by many different people in many different ways at his old home in PGSF. There’s a chance you’ve seen him in the gym, or maybe on the internet, attempting the Bay Area’s hardest finger crack – on PGSF’s constant wall. He’s also well known for his social callings cutting well into his climbing partner’s wall time. Typically though, he’s recognized as the humble, hard climbing guy at the front desk. Recently, Eliot headed south and is now the humble, hard climbing manager of PGSV. Here are some of his thoughts on gym life, climbing culture and Star Wars.
So, you’re a manager now. How is this step into adulthood changing your life so far?
Thank you. It feels pretty good. I used to go camping with a block of cheese and tortillas. And I was pretty well known for my campfire quesadillas. Now I might be able to add some veggies and tapatio.
Tell us how the transition from SF to SV is going.
The transition has been great overall. Everyone has been amazing, welcoming me into the SV community. The major difference between gyms is demographics. That said, there is also a bigger crack climbing contingent down here and the boulderers are STRONG!
So, there a bunch of old dudes and some pre-teens who climb harder than you and I ever will. Rad. How are you trying to keep up?
Well, with this new position it’s been a learning period for me in regards to my personal climbing and training. One great piece of advice came from my Assistant Manager Nick who said I needed to shorten the duration of my training and increase the intensity. That stuck with me and I’ve tried to work on it but it’s still been difficult for two reasons. One is, I’m old and it takes me f-o-r-e-v-e-r to warm up properly. And two, I tend to socialize and talk a lot with members and guests when I get to the gym which takes away from my climbing time.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Many here in SF have likened you to our current president in many ways – most notably in your shared, unwavering faith in dreams. What are some dreams you are bringing with you to Sunnyvale?
I always have big hopes and dreams! And in this industry there are always areas to improve upon. Right now I’m trying my best to learn the position well enough to be efficient at it. I like contributing to the Sunnyvale team and facility so; right now I’m focusing on that. I will say that the PG gyms as a whole have been looking at new ways to instill an outdoor ethic into our new and longtime members. It’s an extremely difficult challenge to not only introduce someone to climbing, but also instill in them a respect and admiration for the outdoor environment when they take their climbing pursuits outdoors.
Outdoors, nature, rivers, Ron Kauk…yawn. Excuse me, I sort of got bored when you stopped talking about the gym. Back to the real deal, tell everyone about the Bouldering League and why it’s better than Yosemite.
The Bouldering League started in San Francisco and it was a huge success. I actually participated in it and it definitely gave me something to look forward to. It was a lot of fun to know that my friends would be bouldering in SF every other Thursday. I also became better friends with people who I had always seen around the gym but had never talked to. To me, climbing the new problems was also really fun but that became secondary to climbing with new and old friends. Anyway, with the success of the League in SF we decided to put it on the schedule in SV and so far, it’s been really cool. We’ve had two League days and I think it’s gone really well. People have been psyched. The setting crew has been awesome accommodating the League schedule and putting up amazing problems for everyone.
You also have a new Asst Manager, Nick Gerrard. Since you know him pretty well and he basically does all the hard work, could you give us a little insider information?
Nick is awesome. He has some deep roots with PG; he was on the Youth Climbing Team when PG had a gym in Santa Clara. Nick is one of those ‘off-the-couch’ types of climber where no matter how long it’s been since he’s climbed he can always get out there and crush your projects in one or two tries (except crack climbs). For the past few years he’s been coaching our Youth Climbing Team and teaching some of our Advanced Climbing Classes so he has a really good sense of how our classes should be taught and run. And despite being an off-the-couch climber he is really good about systematic training programs.
Sunnyvale is known to be a gym with a lot of interest in training – the first PG gym with an adjustable system wall, strong climbing team, etc. How is this worked into decisions made at the manager level on the direction of the gym now that climbing is seeing an increasing number of people coming to the gyms?
Well, Sunnyvale definitely has its fair share of strong climbers and most of the staff here are pretty serious when it comes to training for climbing. I think that has contributed to some of the programming choices we’ve made. We introduced the Power & Endurance Class a while back. We’d also like to have a Max Power Class down here. With that said, as climbing becomes increasingly popular it follows that there will be more beginners as well as advanced climbers. This means that we need to be aware of the distribution of climbs that are available to everyone. We always try to have a ‘bell-curve’ distribution of climbing grades for both bouldering and routes. But we can always shift and contort that grade distribution depending on the specific needs of our members.
I’ve noticed that you have recently changed your email address from firstname.lastname@example.org to something slightly more professional. Are you selling out or just growing up?
Hopefully, neither. When I was a young skateboarder I told myself I would never sell out. And when I started getting into rock-climbing I was enamored with the dirtbag lifestyle, but never had the commitment or guts to pursue it full-time. I like playing in the dirt, having adventures and living frugally but I also like to come home and take a shower every once in awhile. As far as my mordor.com address, The Hobbit always exemplified what I looked for in life and what climbing has now allowed me to do; step outside of my house to have an adventure. As a side note, I do not like the LotR movies despite making you watch the entire trilogy one rainy day in San Diego.
Well, now we can all rest easy – Eliot Carlsen doesn’t approve of the Lord of the Rings movies. Your nerdiness isn’t all bad though, you play chess which is actually a rad way to spend a rainy day. I hear you used to play the old dudes down at Powell. Is that true?
Yeah, I used to skateboard down to Market and 6th to play chess. There was also a cool building on Montgomery called the Mechanics Club, I think, that used to have chess lectures on Tuesdays. The lectures were taught by grand masters and I used to go sit in the back listening to chess theory. Market and 6th was funny though, there were always weird people down there trying to hustle you. I actually lost a timed chess game to a guy who, towards the end of the game, took a pipe out of his jacket and discreetly smoked some crack from it. That’s about the same time I stopped going down there.
You climb, too, right? What’s been your motivation for sticking with it? How do those motivations fit in with your view of how to manage a climbing gym?
I consider the backpacking trips I took with my family as the start of my climbing career. We would make a few trips a year hiking and camping up and down the Sierras. When I was sixteen my dad and I climbed Mt. Shasta. I liked mountaineering for the new challenges it presented. And, in my early twenties, some friends and I went up to Washington to climb Mt. Rainier. Although we summited, I realized I should really learn crevasse rescue so, I took a clinic in the North Cascades that was part crevasse rescue and part rock climbing. At that point I essentially started rock climbing in the modern sense. My motivation for sticking with it comes from the physical and mental challenges it demands as well as the adventurous nature of it. I receive a lot of motivation from the community and the accomplishments/adventures that other people are having. And, I consider that to be my main role as Manager of Sunnyvale; to provide an environment where this community can come together, train and pursue their own aspirations – whatever those may be.
For anyone reading this who doesn’t know you, it’s worth mentioning that you’re typically a pretty quiet guy. It follows then, that people probably don’t know just how much you love Star Wars. I know it’s a sensitive subject with Disney’s recent acquisition of Lucas Films, but put that aside for a moment and tell us what character has the qualities needed to manage a gym like PGSV.
That is a tough question. Emperor Palpatine would have a galactic vision for PG, although his ruthless personality and megalomania probably wouldn’t be very good for customer service. If I had to pick one character it’d be Yoda. “Send this route, you will.”
And there you have it folks, the man in charge of PGSV has played chess, and lost, to a poor imitation of William Burroughs and loves Star Wars more than you will ever understand. Stop in, say hello! Eliot - bright future, yours is.
Another great interview by Jason Crase. Jason lives for Mission burritos, Hemingway novels and Levi’s Slim Fitting Jeans. On any given day you can find him at Bender’s or hanging on the BeastMaker at PGSF.