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Brad Weaver: Professional Route Setter Interview

Photo: Andrew Kornylak

In today's Professional Route Setter Interview, we sit down with Head Route Setter of Stone Summit Climbing + Fitness, Brad Weaver.

With locations in both Atlanta and Kennesaw, Georgia, Stone Summit may be most recognized by climbers for its role as host facility for USA Climbing's Youth Sport National Championships, which it has been a part of since 2010, as well as a stop on the 2012 World Cup circuit.

A climbing facility with such accolades and prominence within the industry requires a head route setter of an extremely high caliber. It should come at no surprise then that Brad is just the man for the job.

Clocking in at nearly 11 years of setting experience, outdoor sends up to 5.14d and V14, 2014 National Sport Climbing Champion, and World Championship competitor, Brad is Stone Summit's not-so-secret weapon. A USA Climbing nationally certified route setter, Brad holds his Level 4, and was a part of the Open Bouldering National Championship route setting team this year in Madison, Wisconsin. He has also been a member of the route setting team for the Youth Sport + Speed National Championships for the past three years.

So what does someone with such experience have to say about route setting?

Brad dishes it all out for us below.

TTT: What got you excited about route setting in the first place?

Brad: I started routesetting soon after I started climbing back at my home gym, Upper Limits, in Bloomington, IL. At that time I think I just wanted to be in the gym as much as possible. Once I started to understand that climbing was more than just getting to the top of the wall I became interested in the idea of creating forced movement. Like a lot of other people, I started creating boulder problems with holds that were already on the walls. From there, I took a routesetting course through the gym in order to start setting commercially.

When I started routesetting, it was a great opportunity for me to pay for my climbing gear as a high school kid. Initially, I was paid with a gear credit. Eventually I started to earn some money through routesetting and I was able to fund my climbing trips every weekend. My life consisted of a pretty regular routine: going to school during the day, setting or sessioning after class, and climbing on the weekends. Now it has evolved into a career at Stone Summit.

TTT: Some setters prefer to climb and set only routes or boulders. Do you have a preference in discipline? Why?

Brad: My preferences change constantly. As a climber, I can't focus on one discipline indefinitely. I need to change things up to stay motivated. This concept applies to routesetting as well. I think it's important to be well-rounded as a setter and to excel at effectively and efficiently setting for both disciplines.

TTT: Some setters have said that they consider commercial route setting to be similar to that of a pair of “golden handcuffs,” in that they are always setting and climbing for others, and not themselves, on a daily basis. Do you find this to be the case?

Brad: Most definitely, but I don't view these handcuffs as a negative anymore. There was a time when I had a hard time accepting that I wasn't setting for myself. My view has shifted, mostly because my goals have shifted. I had a hard time dealing with constantly setting for others or feeling like I was using all my energy to set and forerun because my goal was to excel as a climber and to push my personal limits. My goals have shifted over the last couple of years. Now my focus is on excelling as a competitive routesetter and building a great commercial routesetting program at Stone Summit's facilities instead of progressing as an athlete.

I think that its important to make a distinction between your goals as an athlete and as a professional routesetter. Personally, I find that these goals don't always mesh and that you have to make sacrifices in one area in order to succeed in the other.

TTT: How often do you get to climb for fun and not just for work? Do you find there to be a difference?

Brad: There is definitely a difference between climbing for fun and climbing for work. Climbing for work is often fun, but it is still work. You are still climbing to ensure that quality standards are being met. To me, climbing for fun or training means that my focus is on my personal performance. The two are very different.

Generally, I have the opportunity to climb for fun a couple days a week. However, I find myself climbing so much during the week that I typically try to avoid sessioning during times when I'm not working.

TTT: Do you have any other hobbies? If so, how do you juggle them all?

Brad: I've been playing a lot of basketball recently. I played a lot as a kid and it's been nice to find that passion again. I also spend the majority of my time hanging out with my wife and my dog. I find myself doing home improvement things around the house too.

TTT: What do you consider the proudest moment in your route setting career?

Brad: I'm not sure that there's a defining "proudest moment" in my routesetting career. Every opportunity I have to set for a USAC championship level event is a proud moment for me. I also have a great crew that I work with on a daily basis...they make me proud to be part of the team because they put so much into their jobs.

TTT: I’m sure many of our readers would like to know what it's like behind the scenes of a major championship level event, like Bouldering or Sport Nationals. Care to share some of your thoughts?

Brad: Setting for a major championship level event is the most enjoyable aspect of my career as a routesetter. I always walk away from those events with a great appreciation for everyone that I work with and the process we go through during the event.

Each championship level event I've had the opportunity to be a part of has had a very distinct feel to it. Everybody you are working with is so good at what they do and everyone wants the event to be the best it can be. To me, it's almost like we are competing as a routesetting team to make the current event better than the last.

One of the biggest takeaways I have after every competition is that there are so many small things that need to be done in order for a competition to be successful from a routesetting perspective. The level of detail that goes into planning and executing each round of competition is inspiring. Unlike commercial routesetting, you can't go back and make adjustments after a call has been made. You only have one shot at getting everything right in order to separate the field and you have to use your intuition to make a judgement call.

For me personally, I always feel a lot of pressure to put up the best climb I can. The goal is to create a climb that is aesthetically appealing, functional, creative, and unique. For a single climb to encompass all these metrics is very difficult but the challenge is something I really enjoy.

TTT: What is the most stressful moment you’ve encountered in your route setting career? How did you handle it?

Brad: I can't think of an individual moment that has been overly stressful. I would say that setting for any major competition makes me a little anxious though. The goal is to have a successful event and again, there are just so many elements left out of your control. It's hard not to be at least a little stressed during an event. The best way to cope with that stress is to trust your intuition and to communicate well with your team to ensure that you have done the best job you can. Having two (or three) pairs of eyes on a route or boulder can save you from overlooking small details that could have extreme effects on the competition.

TTT: Constructive feedback and route setting go hand in hand. What techniques do you have for handling feedback from others on problems and routes that you set?

Brad: I keep an open mind and I understand that feedback isn't a personal attack. Having set so much the last few years, I've learned to let go of the emotions attached with a boulder problem or a route. I understand that routesetting is a continuous learning process and if you aren't able to accept constructive feedback then you fail to continue to learn and improve as a setter.

TTT: What are your thoughts on the growing number of climbing gyms throughout North America? Will this effect commercial route setting? If so, in what ways?

Brad: It's amazing to watch the industry grow and to see the number of large commercial facilities that continue to pop up around the country. It's an exciting time for sure! This growth will certainly lead to a large demand for highly qualified, experienced routesetters.

Not only will routesetters need to be able to set well going forward, I think the level of professionalism will increase as well. There has already been a shift in the way professional routesetters portray themselves in hopes of pushing their careers into a more highly regarded role in the industry. Instead of being behind the scenes, routestters are now becoming more of a face in their respected facilities and are playing the part of customer service representative, routesetter, manager, etc.

TTT: What’s the most important piece of advice anyone has ever told you that applies to route setting?

Brad: Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.

And on that simple note, a huge thank you goes out to Brad for taking the time out of his extremely busy schedule to do this interview!

Check back soon for interviews with:

Kasia Pietras, L4 and owner head route setter of Tennessee Boulder Authority

Ian McIntosh, L5 National Chief and owner of Mesa Rim Climbing + Fitness

John Oungst, L4 and Head Route Setter at So ILL Climbing

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