In-Depth Interview With Climb Base5 Founder, Dan Poggi
With the upcoming VIMFF Best of Climbing online show, we connected with our long-term supporter and friend Daniel Poggi. Dan is a prominent BC rockclimber, community builder and gym owner. He previously co-owned the Cliffhanger gyms and now owns and manages the two ClimbBase5 gyms in North Vancouver and Coquitlam. ClimbBase5 is one of the VIMFF’s valued partners.
VIMFF: Hi Dan, thank you for joining us for this interview! To begin, tell us how did you get into climbing?
Dan Poggi: I started climbing in my late teens, I immediately gravitated to it. It was such a rush probably because i feared heights. It wasn’t long before I spent all my time hanging out at the local climbing shop looking for regular climbing partners. Fortunately, there was a local legend/rock guide that provided education and mentorship. It was a fair trade, I belayed him for hours and got to learn.
VIMFF: Why do you climb? What attracts you to put your climbing shoes on?
Dan Poggi: Quite simply, I climb because I love it. It’s incredibly hard to explain what I get from climbing because it’s always something new. Climbing connects me with nature, people, movement and commitment. I love the fact it’s a singular activity with minimal gear required and reaching the top is based on my own skill.
VIMFF: Are you goal-oriented in your climbing?
Dan Poggi: I’ve always been goal-oriented, with the goal always being to get to the top. I loved to go to the cliff and try to climb each route one after the next, from one end to the other. I was driven to climb as hard as I possibly could but also to be able to climb effectively on different types of rock and various styles of climbing.
VIMFF: You have visited many climbing areas. Do you have a favorite area or specific routes?
Dan Poggi: My favorite climbing area would be the one I’m climbing at. I’ve never been climbing and wishing I was somewhere else. I just love to climb, anything. I also really like indoor climbing, as I think climbing inside is highly underrated. The route-setters have developed a incredible skill-set and not to mention the shapes of holds and volumes have transformed the indoor experience completely. Just like climbing in different areas or on different types of rock, indoor climbing requires a specific skillset. My favourite climbs are often the ones that are visually the most appealing or have a unique feature which makes the line stand out. I also really enjoy the adventure of certain climbs or the people I am climbing with. This just adds to the experience of the climb and makes it considerably more memorable. I can’t begin to choose a favorite area, climb or boulder. There are way too many that I enjoy!
VIMFF: You first worked at the Cliffhanger gym in Vancouver, then purchased the Coquitlam gym, and finally added The Edge in North Vancouver to the ClimbBase5 portfolio. What does it mean for you, and how is it to run the two gyms now?
Dan Poggi: I love what I do! It’s very fulfilling to be able to create inspiring spaces where climbers come together and share their passion for climbing. We continue to grow and in the process, develop a community of climbers that support each other in every way. It’s truly extraordinary! Adding the Edge Climbing Centre to the mix was very exciting. It was another opportunity to share the Base5 culture within a very dynamic community. I love the community in North Vancouver for their connection to the outdoors and playing hard. There aren’t many communities in the world like this. It’s a mecca for so many outdoor pursuits and to be established in this area means a lot for our organization. I believe that we can add to this culture by fostering relationships and providing educational opportunities.
VIMFF: What is the biggest challenge in running a gym? You guys must have been hit super hard by the pandemic. How have you managed to survive these hard times?
Dan Poggi: The biggest challenge to operating a gym right now is getting people in the door and managing the risks and expectations around Covid. We have been in constant communication with our local health authorities, WorksafeBC and other climbing facilities to manage and mitigate the risks associated with Covid. The results are extraordinary as there isn’t one reported case of transmission in any climbing gym in BC. It’s a real-life demonstration of how the climbing community works together with our partners to create solutions. It’s been very rewarding knowing we’ve kept people active and safe. I think the best way to survive a hard time is to not see it as a hard time. We didn’t have a say in the pandemic or the restrictions imposed on us, but we had options as to how we responded to it. I think our ability to focus on our commitment to the Base5 community gave us the clarity to make decisions that best suited our community. We are very excited for the future. The thought of getting back to business as usual is exciting albeit almost surreal!
VIMFF: You have been a long-term festival goer, I remember seeing you at VIMFF in the early years, always eager to join our community and check the most recent climbing films. What are your favourite films and programs? Do you find the festival important for the climbing and outdoor communities?
Dan Poggi: Favorite climbing film(s)… Let’s go way back… Big Up production “Biography”, VIMFF showed that film at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver. Who doesn’t want to watch the legend Chris Sharma push the limits of climbing. He’s a huge inspiration since the time I saw him climb at Junior Nationals at age 12.
The festival plays an important role in for the climbing community. This event brings people together and creates magic. It’s the start of being inspired and dreaming about new adventures. It’s truly powerful how collectively we are impacted by the experience of others. It enables us to stretch our minds and envision new experiences. I’d suggest VIMFF has inspired thousands of people around the world to live their lives to the fullest by trying new activities, meeting new people and discovering themselves in the process!
VIMFF: Wow, thank you so much! Sasha diGiulian once said that when she started climbing it was like finally finding home for her. Can you relate to that?
Dan Poggi: I love Sasha’s quote although I think for me it was more like I discovered it was my home. Initially, for me climbing was like a drug, I was completely addicted. I literally only thought about climbing and stopped doing everything else. I’d say it was questionable if it was a healthy addiction. At the same time, through climbing I discovered real friendships, commitment, love and my life. I can attribute everything I have today to climbing and the people I’ve met through climbing. I am very grateful for what it’s provided; had I not discovered climbing my life would be very different.
VIMFF: You have recently experienced a major gender awakening and decided to be open about it.
Dan Poggi: I am now proudly declaring myself as transgender. My pronouns are he/she/they. I identify as gender fluid and I’m in the process of discovering the freedom of what it’s like to be authentically myself. I’d like to share my story with the climbing community without hesitation. This was an opportunity for me to give back to the community in a way that many cannot, so it was extra special. I think it’s important to share our gifts with the world if for nothing else to demonstrate to others what’s possible and encourage all to live authentically.
VIMFF: How do you cope with such a big internal change?
Dan Poggi: Change can feel scary. Big change can feel impossible. There are numerous moments I thought there is no way I can do this. Over a period, I began to share my truth with a network of friends with a similar life experience. It’s as though I created my own support group where we shared daily challenges. Most often I gained the wealth of my community’s experiences which I could take into my everyday life. There was freedom and power in knowing others had walked in my footsteps.
VIMFF: Do you feel you are accepted by the climbing community?
Dan Poggi: I don’t think it would be exaggerated to say the climbing community has embraced my transition but I wouldn’t say it’s common knowledge at this point either. For example, I haven’t posted it on social media so I don’t really know who knows and who doesn’t. I have the experience of going to the gym or cliff to climb and everyone I encounter treats me like anyone else. I am simply like anyone else, and for me that’s all I can ask for. Those in the climbing community I work with or colleagues within the industry are extraordinary. The level of acknowledgment and acceptance is mind-blowing!
VIMFF: Is the community accepting and understanding, or do we still have a long way to learn?
Dan Poggi: I think our community has a broad awareness of LGBTQ2+ issues. People understand that members of the LGBTQ2+ community are not treated equally or don’t have equal representation in society. I think the shift from having the awareness to making a difference is when we start to create initiatives that have marginalized groups work and play in our everyday life. The change has already begun and will continue to evolve.
VIMFF: What advice do you usually tell young aspiring climbers?
Dan Poggi: Enjoy the process. It’s a journey which can go in any direction. It’s all part of the fun!
VIMFF: Daniel, thank you so much for being so open and inspirational. Best of luck in your own life and with you building the ClimbBase5 community!