Words by Lauren Irvine and photos by Joshua Roth
Name: Nicole Pate
Job: Sender One LAX Gym Manager
As we get ever closer to the opening date of Sender One LAX, we wanted to spotlight a crucial member of its team, the face you’re likely to run into running around the climbing previews and welcoming you to her fancy new candy-colored climbing cavern. At the helm of Sender One LAX is gym manager Nicole Pate, who joined the Sender family almost three years ago as a front-desk staffer at the original Santa Ana location. And even before that, she was a member–an impromptu tour of the then under-construction OG Sender One not only convinced her boyfriend to attend UCI, but also brought them into the fold from the start.
We chatted with Nicole to learn more about her climbing background, her perspective on community, and how Sender has helped her discover and connect more with herself.
Nicole discovered climbing when a childhood friend (and avid climber) literally roped her into a summertime visit to West Virginia, where he introduced her to sport climbing at the New River Gorge. Like so many of us, that’s all it took: she was hooked. With a background in painting and yoga, Nicole was accustomed to pursuing her hobbies in isolation. Climbing gave her a whole new perspective on how a physical sport can be both a personal meditation and a social event.
But while sport climbing was the catalyst, nowadays you’re more apt to see Nicole crushing in Black Mountain or the Buttermilks than clipping bolts. “Once I got strong enough for bouldering to be fun, I loved it!” she enthused. But it’s not just bouldering’s need for strength (and confidence, and courage) that drew her in, but its strong sense of community.
“With bouldering, it’s a lot easier to socialize and hang out while climbing, since it allows you to work both individually and within a group,” she explains. “When you go sport climbing, you’re going to stick to routes that you and your partner can do; with bouldering, you can go with a lot of people of all skill levels and try tons of different problems–it’s all about sharing your passion and being together.” She cites Black Mountain, her favorite local crag, as the perfect locale for just that: tons of awesome granite problems where both large groups can debate beta and solo climbers can piece together cruxes in peace.
Bouldering also introduced Nicole to several members of her social group, including some cheerleaders who spotted her as she topped out Green Wall Center (V6) in the Buttermilks: “I was completely surprised/in shock when I grabbed the top jug, but I realized there was a really supportive crowd that had formed that was pushing me up; afterward, I ended up becoming friends with some of them!” She cites that as a favorite climbing moment, along with conquering the Buttermilks classic High Plains Drifter (V7), a “terrifying and elated” victory.
Nicole brings that same drive and passion to her job at Sender One LAX, where she’s overseeing easily the most anticipated step in its evolution yet. And she’s eager to help the LA climbing community discover and connect in much the same way that she has. “I’m really close to my family, my boyfriend, my dog…everyone is super supportive of me even though they’re not all climbers, and that’s the kind of warmth I’ve found in the climbing community, especially at Sender,” she enthused. After working fairly isolating jobs, “I started part-time at the front desk back in November 2013, and I really appreciate the crazy-diverse personalities that make up our staff and members. I’ve learned to work with so many different people, discovered how to see things from so many different perspectives–I feel like I can have a conversation with anybody. There’s no cliquishness. I’ve developed friendships with people I never would have expected to connect with, and we all socialize together and spend time together outside of work.
“Sender’s unique emphasis on taking amazing care of our staff and our members alike is because we’re all actively in the community,” she continued. “We put so much effort into our facilities and our classes and our routes because everyone genuinely wants to work here and be here. Everyone cares about everyone else, staff and members alike.”
And Nicole beyond stoked to share Sender One LAX with everyone, especially since she’s been an active part of building it from the beginning. “I’m thrilled to bring together the best team to represent us and connect with the LA climbing community. It’s already pretty big and they’ve been waiting for Sender to open for a while, but they have no idea what to expect.
“We give tours to everyone who comes in and their faces when they see that 60’ lead wall are priceless,” she laughed. “We take it for granted because we see it every day, but their expressions of excitement remind us what it’s all about.
We know it’s been a really long time coming. Trust me: your patience is worth it!”