Know your routesetter: Phil Symons, setter for Summit Gyms

QUESTION: How many guys do you know that have a yellow mohawk? ANSWER: NOT ENOUGH. Phil rocks the yellow 'hawk and he does it well, and somehow maintains its perfect spike while routesetting all-day. And he's a darn good routesetter too, setting a lot of problems with tough cruxes that make you think — but once you figure them out you're like, "Oh duh!" So here's some more info on the man behind the "PS" initials!

How long have you worked at Summit for?

About six or seven months. I came here from Stone Moves climbing gym in Houston. I was getting ready to move on from that gym when Kyle approached me at a competition. At Stone Moves, I had been the head routesetter, coach, and manager there, so I was getting a little overwhelmed. I was even doing some of the electrical work there, too. (He still does some handiwork for us here at Summit — sorry Phil, you just can't escape it!) I had a few other job options around the country, but wanted to stay close to family, so I came here ... where’s it’s nice to just have like, one job.

How did you start climbing?

I started climbing in college, at Tomball Community College outside of Houston. I took Climbing 101 there with John Muse (Stone Moves setter and coach), and then started working at the wall at Tomball. 

What was your start in routesetting?

I started working at my school's wall like, once a week, which turned into twice a week, which turned into three days a week, four days a week, until I was basically there everyday, and started routesetting there, too. 

Favorite climbing area?

It's really hard to pick one ... so Hueco is definitely a favorite, but Tennessee is also fantastic. I really can’t decide if Tennessee is better than Hueco ...  they both have a pretty massive amount of climbing. It's a draw.

Favorite climb?

I feel like I have a favorite climb for every grade, because they’re all so different. There are climbs in every grade that have something unique to offer — but I would say that my favorite overall climb in Hueco would be Crash Test Dummy - that problem has some really unique holds and really unique movement ... kind of sketchy climbing at the end, so you really get full value out of it. 

Some cool stuff you've done as a setter?

I am a Level 4 routesetter for USA Climbing (So he sets at Regional, Divisional and sometimes National events.) I got to set at this last year's PBR (Portland Boulder Rally, a giant bouldering comp out of Oregon that attracts internationally-ranked climbers). ... and yes, we did drink PBR there. I got to set for Jimmy Webb, Daniel Woods, and Nathaniel Coleman, there, which was cool. Pretty different, though. Because it’s not necessarily the moves being strong when you're setting for them. You want to make the problem really risky, so you separate the field by attempts and falls, rather than like,  "Oh, only one person can do this move, therefore that person wins," kind of thing. At big events like that, we try to set to where it looks like somebody could win, but then somebody else could also very easily take over that — so you really have to pay attention to everybody's climbing to actually see who wins. 

Routesetting goals?

Typically, my main goal is to force the climber to do something that they can’t just see themselves — they have to actually figure out where the problem's gonna go, but then also figure out where their body needs to be on the wall to be able to climb that climb. So I like to set wth a lot of body tension, have the climber keep all points on for the most part, and using a lot of technique at the same time. To have them really focus on climbing, I feel like that betters everybody as a climber. 

Favorite Summit memory?

Setting for comps, probably. I feel like the comps are the time that we get to focus the most as routesetters. You can't just put up holds — you always have some kind of plan, as how to separate the climbers but also have aesthetics in mind, like using up the wall space so it doesn’t look blank. 

Little known facts about Phil:

He has a pitbull named Chance, who he found on the side of the road almost 11 years ago when the dog was just 2 or 3 weeks old. He was covered in mites and in bad shape, but Phil nursed him back to health. Phil's mom insisted that he get rid of the pup, and Phil kept saying "Yeah, yeah I will!" which obviously never happened ... flash forward 11 years and Phil still has a pretty awesome dog!

Caring for Chance was made a lot easier with Phil's experience as a vet tech. He worked as a vet tech for four years before he started climbing, because he had aspirations of becoming a veterinarian. He started as a kennel help, and eventually moved up the ranks until became a vet tech, and realized that maybe it wasn't quite what he wanted to do. Cue rock climbing!

Phil was born in Houston, but is half-Canadian, thanks to his Canuck dad, eh? 

Phil has 5 tattoos and got them each about a year apart, and says "I will continue to get them until I can’t anymore." Apparently it's been about a year since his last one, so it’s about time for a new one! What do you think, should we push him to follow Logan's lead and get a Summit tattoo???

YASSSSS Phil do it!!!

YASSSSS Phil do it!!!

Ok, there it is! If you've read this far, we've introduced you to nearly every setter on our crew! So you get to know the faces and glimpse into the life of the many initials we have gracing the corners of our route tape. Stay tuned because Tucker is next if I can convince him to talk to me ...