Paul Robinson, 29, was at an indoor climbing gym for a birthday party 20 years ago when he fell in love with the sport. Soccer and baseball were great and all…but not that great. Since commencing his professional climbing life, Robinson has sent boulders ranging from V11-V15 worldwide, and has placed or won numerous competitions including the American Bouldering Series (ABS), and the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) Bouldering World Cup. We met up with Robinson (who is now local to Louisville) to talk about his involvement with EVO Rock + Fitness, his passion for bouldering, and his brains behind the EVO Lou climb-training area, which he helped design.
Broad question to start: What has climbing given you?
I’m so grateful for climbing. Climbing has given me my profession which is definitely absolutely amazing, but the best thing it’s given me has been the ability to see the world, see cultures, and meet new people. It’s been amazing to have climbing as a kind of tool to get me to far off places.
// Robinson: First Ascent of "The Pharaoh’s Tomb" (V13) // South Africa
I tend to do one or two competitions a year, but back when I was in college and high school, I did a lot more because I was slightly constricted as a student. (Couldn’t travel far on the weekends.) I climbed so much at the gym that it made sense for me to do a lot of competitions.
After graduating from college, I wanted to travel, and I wanted to climb outside, so that’s what I’ve been doing. If I’m going to do a comp, I want to do it to the best of my ability, and by climbing outside ten months a year, I’m not going to be in the indoor shape that I need to be to do those competitions. So, I do a couple a year just for fun, but it’s not something I concentrate on as much as I did in the past.
Copy that. What do you think about climbing being approved for Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and what do you think of the three different disciplines?
That’s a good question…It’s amazing that it got into the Olympics—I think that’s really cool—but I think the way that it got into the Olympics is a little strange. It’s like asking a marathon runner to also compete in hurdles and a 100-meter dash; obviously they’re going to get their ass kicked. So you know, I wish they’d separated them out because it’s a three-part competition that doesn’t really make sense. Hopefully, they (the International Olympic Committee) changes it by 2024.
Do you think there are things that professional climbers like yourself need to do, to protect the integrity of climbing as it becomes less of a fringe sport? And if so, what?
I think a lot of it has to do with educating climbers as they come into the gym for the first time. When these people start going outside, they don’t have the knowledge or experience with the outdoors if they didn’t go camping or climbing when they were younger.
We have climbing areas getting destroyed because people aren’t using trails, or they don’t know how to use chalk, or they’re leaving trash, and they don’t really care. They don’t realize that climbing areas can close, and a lot of work and effort went into getting them open in the first place.
// Robinson on "No Man's Land" (V11) // Tennessee
What do you think can be done by pro climbers, who have the ability and reputation to make a difference?
I think with videos, or in just talking face-to-face with people at the gym. I think as the sport gets bigger, it’ll be important to have classes to teach people about what it’s going to take to protect climbing areas. There are going to have to be classes about safety and ethics, to decrease the possibility of climbing areas closing.
You spoke at an Outdoor Adventure Expo at the University of Minnesota, not too long ago. Is that something you’d be interested in doing at EVO Lou?
Sweet. I’ll be there. Can you tell me why you’re excited about EVO Lou, and what you think it’ll add to the community?
It’s interesting that for the past two decades now, the only climbing facilities that have been built in our area have been Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins. There are a lot of people who live in between these regions, and I think that the Louisville-Lafayette,-Broomfield area is growing at such a rate that it’s the perfect time to put a gym in here.
I think Boulder specializes in an elite level climbing market—and I think EVO can really succeed at that as well—but at the same time, I think it’s going to bring a lot more people into climbing. This is really where the families live. It’s cool see a gym being put in not just in one of the climbing centers.
// Robinson on "Hoe and Rifle" (V12) // Zimbabwe
Just to backtrack a little bit: you primarily boulder. What is it about bouldering that you love so much?
The simple answer is that I feel like I fit the mold better for bouldering. The long answer is that I like the detail that goes into bouldering. I’ve always been very in tune with detail, in my climbing and life in general.
For me, I’m all about these small successes; whether I go out and try a boulder for my fifth or sixth day and all of a sudden I realize, ‘oh if I change the way I put my foot on this foothold, it makes all the difference going into the next sequence.’
Bouldering is so compressed; there’s no overlooking something. Every part of a climb when you’re bouldering is 100% commitment to force and power from the second you pull on to the second you top out. That’s what draws me to bouldering.
// Robinson: First Ascent of "A Long Way Gone" (V5) // Zimbabwe
That’s awesome. Well, we should talk about the training facility right?
Holy crap I almost forgot. That’s embarrassing. Yes. You helped design the training facility at EVO Lou. Please tell me more.
(Laughter) Yeah, Clint Dillard asked me to help design the climb-training part of the facility. I’d always been interested in doing something like this, so I was super, super, happy that he asked me.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve worked with Clint and Hilary to design a state-of-the-art training area that I think will bring people from all over. There are going to be a lot of people who come to EVO who want to train and get stronger, and I asked myself, ‘if I were to create a facility, not just for a V15 climber, but for someone of any ability to use, what would that look like?’”
I think the features and the wall we built for the training area are going to blow a lot of peoples minds. I think we did a really good job using the space we had and an area that will be beneficial to those who want to progress their climbing.
// Justen Sjong and Paul Robinson on site at EVO Lou
What did you keep in mind while designing the climb-training area?
I designed it to bring people from indoor to outdoor, so a lot of the stuff that we’re going to be using in the training facility is my idea of what the best way to move from inside to outside is. Not, “let’s put a bunch of slopers on the wall and campus,” because that’s not necessarily going to help you go climb your project outside. This is more finger oriented and that type of thing.
Last question: have you ever hit a wall with your climbing?
I think any climber goes through waves, but at the end of the day, I love climbing. I love surfing, too, but climbing feeds my soul in a way that surfing doesn’t. There’s no way I could ever give it up.
// Feature Photo: Robinson on First Ascent of Resolute (V10) // Wyoming
Photo Cred: Nayton Rosales
// Stay tuned for the evolution of Paul Robinson and EVO Rock + Fitness’s collaboration. #clinicsandstuff