Sisters grad makes a life out of climbing
Last updated 11/16/2021 at Noon
Kevin Marquardt has harnessed his love of climbing cliffs and boulders into a thriving business. But they way he makes a living has him firmly on solid ground. He officially started Dirtbag Conversions in May of last year. The name may be Dirtbag but the van conversions he’s turning out are anything but disorganized or unkempt. In fact, seeing how he transforms the interior of his customer’s vehicles is quite amazing.
Getting to a place where his thriving business is booked almost two years out came through a circuitous route. Marquardt graduated from Sisters High School in 2010. After graduation, he had one objective: travel. He found a way to achieve his goal by working as an au pair in New Zealand. After a year there, he moved to Germany for three years. He made a living as a nanny and worked at a kindergarten.
“Being an au pair was a means to travel,” he said. “I found it after doing a bunch of research. I worked through an agency and ended up with an incredible family. It was an awesome gig. It was one week off and one week on. I traveled a lot.”
Marquardt’s shop is located on Long Butte between Bend and Redmond. The shop, owned by fellow classmate Scott Everson, has epic views of Smith Rock and the Cascade Range. The location and view is a perfect fit. Marquardt has been an avid climber for the last nine years, but, ironically, he didn’t take up climbing until he lived in Europe.
“In Germany, I wanted my own van so I could go climbing whenever I wanted to, and not have to plan anything. After doing it for myself, I thought I could also do it for somebody else,” said Marquardt.
He ended up getting the perfect client with no timeline and no budget so Marquardt could do a really nice job.
“He gave me time to figure everything out,” Marquardt said. “It took me about six months to do his van because I was taking time off to go climb. After that I began doing conversions full-time. When that project was complete I took half a year to go climbing in India for three months, then Thailand for a couple months, then back to India for more climbing. My career came from me wanting my own van and the ability to just leave work and be out there climbing.”
When he first started, he learned sport climbing, which relies on permanent anchors fixed to rock in which a rope is attached to the climber and anchors. But his focus shifted to bouldering after he moved to Munich and all of his friends were bouldering. He’s been mainly bouldering for the last four years. Marquardt explained that bouldering entails climbing boulders usually 10 to 20 feet high with a crash pad beneath the rock.
“There are routes and problems to solve,” he said. “It’s more laid back than sport climbing. There’s no ropes and bad landings can still cause injuries. I’ve been lucky with no serious injuries. I started this business because I wanted to keep climbing and have my own schedule, but now I’m heavily booked with clients and working more than I’m climbing.”
Marquardt climbs all over Central Oregon. He likes going out and finding new areas to develop. These days he’s mainly out around Fort Rock.
“There’s a lot of rock and cliff lines out there. I’m psyched about new climbs,” he said.
When he’s done with his last conversion he’s going to build out an Airstream as a showcase vehicle and then probably sell it.
His dad was a contractor and he learned a lot from him.
“I didn’t work a lot for him but learned from him more than I realized,” he said. “I wish I did more of the woodworking classes at the high school. Now I love building stuff. I was more into soccer in high school and got a scholarship at a college on the coast. But travel was way more interesting to me than going to school in Coos Bay. For me travel and climbing are so much a part of each other.”
Challenges have been a part of Marquardt’s journey as a business owner and climber. In either arena, he loves it.
“There’s always new things clients want,” he said. “I’ve learned how to weld and use all kinds of different materials in the builds. I taught myself everything I’m doing. All my construction carpentry experience is building out vans.”
Marquardt never thought he’d come back to his hometown and assumed he’d live in Europe or some other place for the rest of his life. But he’s happy to be back and is sharing his life with his partner who is a wilderness therapist.
“We decided to live here after traveling for a while. It’s a good place for both our careers. My business is established locally, and then after COVID hit she and I decided to hunker down here. I have plenty of work. I get requests for vans all the time and they want their vans now, but I tell them with me it’s a one- or two-year wait,”
Customers choose Marquardt when they want more than a standard build.
“They want it to look like a home, and more custom, not a prefabricated interior. My clients design the build, they choose all the materials, color, and height for things like the kitchen counter. I don’t work from plans; we go over everything, take notes, tape it out, and work together to come up with their design,” he explained.
Marquardt laughs a bit nervously when he talks about some of his high school antics.
“We knew how to have fun in ways that probably shouldn’t be mentioned here. I ended up surprisingly well,” he said, chuckling. “A lot of my friends are spread out all over now. But there’s something about the Sisters community; people tend to still find each other. I’ve lived in a lot of places and Central Oregon just has so much to offer.”
Marquardt and his partner took September off for time in Europe to climb outside Paris. He’s full-steam into his next project and enjoying work and play in Central Oregon. To learn more about Dirtbag Conversions visit http://www.dirt
bagconversions.com; email [email protected]