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route setter

Meet Phillip Schaal: Head Routesetter at BKB

Phil is the Head Routesetter at Brooklyn Boulders – he’s the main guy who causes you anguish over problems that make you want to rip the skin off of your hands. Few may know that Phil is also a professional rock climber (sponsored by Five Ten & Metolius)  and even fewer would believe that he couldn’t do a pull-up when he first walked into a rock climbing gym. I caught up with Phil, the first professional rock climber I’ve (knowingly) spoken to.

phil schaal


When did you start rock climbing? What did you love about it?
I started when I was fourteen. I got my harness for my 15th birthday. There was a gym close to my house in  Wallingford, Connecticut – Prime Climb. I liked the carabiners. I couldn’t even do a pull-up when I first started climbing. I had my mom buy me a pull-up bar for my house and I’d stand on a chair and try to hold myself. I was a short little fat kid. Chubby. All of my friends were better than me, so that motivated me to get better.

When did you become a professional rock climber?
When I started competing in junior competitions, I was about 16. I had a few sponsors, but then I started to focus mainly on climbing outside. It makes you a lot stronger; it makes your climbing better more than anything. You learn a lot of technique that way.  I got my first shoe sponsor when I was 23. In 2008, I started getting media attention for my outdoor climbing:

Phil’s also  been featured in, Rock And Ice, Five Ten, DPM Climbing, and more.


What’s your favorite thing to do after a day of climbing?
Get some cold beer and good food.

What was being a professional rock climber like? Any advice for someone wanting to become one?
You get stipends for travel, planning trips, and free gear. Some companies will give you a retainer fee. I also had a job cutting down trees for six years in Colorado. Someone once made this joke to me:

“What’s the difference between a pizza and a professional rock climber?”

“One of them can feed a family”.

If that gives you any idea. The best advice I would give to someone wanting to become a professional rock climber is don’t give up. Much of my success came later in life; I climbed a V14 when I was 27. Being older, I always felt that I didn’t have an edge, but I always believed in myself. Knowing you can do it – even if you’re not at the level you want to be at yet, you have to believe that you can get there.



Climb as much as you can. Don’t worry about getting better. Don’t limit yourself to grades – try everything and work your weaknesses. Climb through bad days, because everyone has bad days. Stick with it. It didn’t come easy for me. I wasn’t a natural rock climber.


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