Sterling: What got you into climbing?
Kevin: I went to the grand opening of my local climbing gym when I was 10. It was 1995, it was totally packed and I probably only got a few climbs in, but that was the catalyst. I think every kid climbs on trees and fences and cupboards and things, but most stop. I think I found indoor climbing right at the moment where most kids start to do other sports and I just kept that obsession going.
Sterling: When did you first hear about Sterling or get to know Sterling products?
Kevin: I’ve been using Sterling products for as long as I can remember. Same as my harnesses and my shoes- I feel like when it comes to climbing gear it’s all about what you trust and what you’re used to and what you have the longest relationship with, right? And my first hand-me-down pair of shoes were 5.10 and I still wear them. My first ropes at the gym were Sterling. Sterling sponsored the JCCA and that’s a relationship that continues to this day so that early brand relationship just fostered trust and comfort in the product and in the brand that has stuck around to this day.
Sterling: What are 3 words you’d use to describe yourself?
Kevin: 3 words to describe myself… I’m trying to think how someone else would describe me. I’m definitely stubborn, that’s one of them. I don’t think I would have gotten up the Dawn Wall if I wasn’t as stubborn as I was, same with Tommy. I think we were both, well I won’t speak for him, but I was just as motivated by not failing as I was succeeding, if not more. It’s not that I couldn’t care about standing on top- I wanted to do that, but more than anything I just didn’t want to not finish it. I think that’s more stubbornness than blind ambition. I’m pretty analytical. I’m kind of like an analyst. That’s what balanced Tommy and I really well on the wall. He’s the big vision optimist and I’m kind of like the down to the nitty-gritty analyst. That balanced us out as a team really well. And sarcastic. Yeah. Sarcastic, stubborn and analytical. I dunno. Might as well.
Sterling: What are skills (in climbing and life in general) that you’re proud of?
Kevin: My mind works in a very process-oriented way, which is in equal parts strength and weakness. Especially when you’re trying to create something new, whether it’s a climb, or a business, or an idea. You need pliability in your thinking and you need to be able to zoom out and zoom in. I think my MO is to be move-for-move as opposed to, “where is this route going to go?” That can serve me really well in some circumstances and it can be limiting in others. When I stay balanced, I can see the field and I can also drill down into the details and that works. On the Dawn Wall it keeps each pitch in perspective but also allows you to remember, “OK we need to figure out between the 3rd and 4th bolt on this pitch and this move and you have these two options for getting the sequence done, and so on.” I think every person’s strength can be in equal parts weakness in another context.
Sterling: What do you do in your free time?
Kevin: I don’t have a lot of free time! When I’m not traveling, or climbing, or speaking, I’m trying to relearn the piano. I played as a kid and we tracked down my childhood piano in the family and got it back- now that I have a house. We put it in the house so I can sit down and try to relearn how to play, which is fun.
Sterling: Why do you use Sterling ropes?
Kevin: Quality always wins. That’s the easiest way to stand apart, right? Make good stuff. Sterling has always done that. It’s kind of like, every down jacket on the market- they’re all going to keep you warm. Every rope you buy at REI is going to hold you when you fall, but the quality of the experience of wearing it or using it is going to be different, especially if you’re picky and you pay attention to things other than if you’re warm or not, or if the rope held you or not. But if you’re picky about the weave, if you’re picky about the feeling of the catch itself, or of the hand of the sheath as you’re belaying with it and how smooth it works in an ATC vs a GriGri at different diameters; if you’re picky about more than the basics of why you bought the product- to catch you if you fall, to keep you dry if it rains, to keep you warm when it’s cold, then you do start to form these opinions of quality and of the brands associated with that quality. For me, I like the way that Sterling ropes feel in my hand. It’s got a good suppleness, but at the same time it’s solid. It’s not too rigid or crispy or rough and I don’t know if that’s a huge performance deal but when you’re handling ropes all day long on a climb, I think it’s kind of nice. I like the way they stretch the right amount when you land on them and they last forever- at least in my experience. I mean, you are coming out with a new rope before I’ve worn out the last one. Maybe I need to just be abusing it more but they’re durable, so I appreciate that.
Just riffing along that note- I just did this thing with Duracell- their whole thing is trust. “Trusted everywhere”. We were obviously doing a lot of night-climbing, which is why that campaign made sense. But, one of the things we were talking about in that campaign that’s also applicable here is that your gear should just blend into the fabric of your experience. If you’re having to think about your rope or think about your cams or your chalk, there’s probably something wrong with it. You know? Ideally you’re just thinking about the climbing. If you’re gripped if the bolt is going to hold or if the rope is going to reach the next anchor or if your shoes are going to stick, it’s not a good sign. That should be in the background of your experience. So, that’s what trust in a product enables you to do- it gives you freedom. Trust enables freedom. Freedom to fail, freedom to succeed, freedom to not think about the stuff you shouldn’t be thinking about, even when the situation is risky. That’s the quality of a good product in climbing, in my opinion.