Know Your Owner: Kyle Clinkscales, Owner of Summit Gyms and Head Coach of Team Texas

Kyle Clinkscales, owner of Summit gyms, head coach of Team Texas and basically the mastermind behind a lot of the climbing gym expansion in the Dallas area, is not the diabolical dude you'd think he'd be. He's not cocky, he's not cunning — he's just a guy doing what he loves, and trying to make it as awesome as possible. It was six simple words, "Why don't you sell it to me?" that basically took him from owning no gyms, to owning three gyms and now building a fourth. Kyle has been an enormous part of the Dallas community basically since its inception, and he continues to write the history of Dallas climbing, and strive every day to make it bigger, and better.

How long have you guys owned Summit for? 

We bought Summit Grapevine in 2009, so six years. Then we bought Dallas in 2012, and Carrollton in 2013. And now we've got the Denton location for 2015.

How long have you been climbing for?

I've been climbing for about 20 years.

For the full story of how Kyle first began climbing, check out this post, about the third paragraph in. Basically, his first climb ever was the sketchiest, dumbest thing, and the way he tells the story is hilarious. He's come pretty far in the past 20 years, but there's also times when you're just like, "Really Kyle? That's what you're going with?" He's still the same Kyle at heart sometimes, the one that uses a 5 mm hemp rope tied into a Swiss seat to scale a random cliff face in Colorado as his buddy hip belays from the top.

How did you guys come to own the gyms?

We came to own our first gym when I was working at Exposure (now Summit Carrollton) and coaching team. Stan started working with me as an assistant coach, and I wanted to take on more so Stan could also make a living as a coach.  I had the opportunity to start coaching over at Summit Grapevine, which was a different team at the time. I originally thought that Stan was going to take that team over, but then we just kind of molded them together into one group. Honestly, I just went up to the owner and I said, "Why don’t you sell it to me?" He wasn’t really active in it anymore. So he was like, "Yeah, I’ll think about it." Then we came up with a price. And we was really lucky because he decided to owner finance the majority of it, but I spent my entire life savings. Actually, I lost half of my life’s savings, by cashing it out from the stock market in the lowest week the DOW had been in like, 30 years or something stupid like that. When me and Stan gave him the money and we started, we had no idea what we were doing. We just kept working at it, and basically went out of business 6 months later. I had some friends help me out, and then we just moved forward and kept grinding at it and tried to make the place a better experience to rock climb at.

So we had owned Grapevine for, I guess three years, and neither me nor Stan had ever taken any money out of it. With everything, if we made money, we put it immediately back in to the gym. I went over to Dallas Rocks (now Summit Dallas) one day, and I just thought that the gym could be really amazing. It was kind of run down, and it didn’t have a whole lot of love put into it, but I thought it was a well-designed place and I just wanted that opportunity, so I went to the owner and I said, "Why don’t you sell it to me?" We had a fair price on it and we didn’t have any money then either, so he owner financed a lot of it, and we had some friends help us out. We did the same thing with that gym, we never took any money out of it. When it made any money, we put it right back in. Every month we were trying to improve something new, and make something better and just keep working at it. We’re still doing that now.

So with Carrollton, that gym was always my home — I mean, literally — I actually lived at that gym when I was like, 24. So that was always my home, and I considered it — and still consider it — to be the best training gym in the country. Jeff Lack owned it and he was really cool about the fact that we owned two other gyms but we kept working there. We were totally faithful to Jeff, and Exposure and the community. Then one day I went up to Jeff and was like, “Why don’t you sell it to me?”

At this point, you guys can guess how that went.

What's in store for the future of Summit?

We want to keep going! Denton is our first ground-up gym, and we’re super proud of it. We continue to use the same methodology that me and Stan and Chris started with — which is hire people smarter than you and don’t take money out of it — just keep putting it back in, find better people, and care about the rock climbing community, which we genuinely do. We want people to have a good experience rock climbing, we do not want to be a Main Event, or a Jump Street or one of those.

Favorite Summit memory?

It sounds silly, but my favorite memory was when we were basically out of business, and we were just going to walk away from it and I was going to spend the rest of my life paying off my friends that let me borrow money. And I was at Stan’s house, and we were just sitting there talking about it and Stan was like, "No, we can do this. We just need to keep grinding! We haven’t gone out of business yet, and until we do, let’s go for it." So we just stayed there and talked at the table and we came to the conclusion that we were going to bet on ourselves. We were gonna go for it. Chris was there, too, and he wanted to help as much as he could. It was just that pivotal moment to where you know that the people that you’re working with are in it with you to the end, no matter what. It just gave me great confidence that we’re not gonna fail because we’re all together, and we’re gonna move this thing forward and we genuinely care about making it better. Stan and Chris gave me that confidence to keep going.

Little known facts about Kyle:

Since he was a teenager, Kyle has never had a real job. Sure, he worked at Tom Thumb, Discount Tire, and some Chinese restaurant as a delivery driver when he was just a kid, but his first real job is the one he still holds today — head coach of Team Texas as well as owner of Summit Gyms. So don't ever come to him looking for sympathy about the woes of your 9-5 job, because he will have no idea what you're talking about, and tell you one of his many, many Kyle-isms, which in this case would most likely be "It sucks to suck." Which to be fair, is because Kyle struck one of those rare balances between doing what he loves and making actual money at it."I am literally the luckiest person alive. I won the lotto of lives. Every single day I love what I do. It sounds like one of those things, you’re like, 'Yeah, whatever, you’re just saying that because you own a climbing gym.' Like no, I mean that. I don’t sleep because I am so excited to get up. I work with my best friends and I do something I am totally passionate about."

What a goober.

Kyle with one of the earliest iterations of Team Texas. HOW 90s IS HE?
Kyle with one of the earliest iterations of Team Texas. HOW 90s IS HE?

Another fun fact about Kyle is that anytime he says something funny, there is literally a 100% chance that he stole it from Stan. Because anyone that knows Stan knows that he is both witty and original. Kyle lacks these things, so he steals almost all of his slightly misquoted catchphrases from Stan.

On a more positive note, Kyle is also pretty much a BA when it comes to coaching climbing. He started one of the first competitive climbing teams in the country, and was also the first U.S. National Team Coach. With his and Stan's guidance, Team Texas has won 11 of the last 12 Youth Team National Championships. And not to stroke my own ego, but I am a former member of Team Texas, and thanks to Kyle, I was able to overcome my crazy awful comp anxiety and qualify for the Youth National Championships every year I competed. He can be pretty serious when in coaching mode, but as soon as practice lets out he goes back to quoting every comedy ever made pre-2004, and ripping off any phrase Stan at one point thought was funny, but no longer uses.

So that's it for Kyle! He's very low-key as far as being an owner thing goes, so I bet a lot of you had no idea about a lot of this stuff, or maybe even no idea that he owned the place. You're most likely to see him driving from gym to gym with his hyper-active lab mix in tow, or upstairs at the Circuit Wall at Carrollton, training his kids to be the über-beasts that most Team Texans nowadays invariably turn into. Make sure you say hello to Kyle next time you see him, and thank him for not going out of business so we can all have all these great gyms to climb at!