In 2011, two passionate shapers began carving quality holds for the climbing industry from one small garage in Phoenix, Arizona. Since these humble beginnings, Thrive has expanded into one of the premier climbing hold manufacturers of North America, with over 400 shapes on the market. They upgraded their operation last year to a brand new, full-size shop to accommodate bustling production, and now they are partnering with one of the best in the game to pour their re-designed shapes.
How has a small climbing company become so much bigger and better in such a small amount of time?
“We are staying ahead of the game,” says Ryan Wurm, co-founder of Thrive. “The climbing industry is constantly changing, and we are providing the resources of that industry. If you want to thrive instead of survive, you have to be willing to change as well.”
In the 2014 Grip List, route setters from around the continent placed Thrive among their top five favorite brands. Cited as playing a role in this development was Thrive’s unique ergonomics. Different from many producers, Thrive included hand-neutral holds in their packages to expand route options in all possible directions and based their designs on the overall anthropometrics of each hold. At the time, this style was recognized as a wish of route setters, and Thrive altered production to meet the demand.
Now, Wurm sees his clients shifting from symmetry and anatomy to variety and creativity. Customers with limited resources can only buy so many holds per package, so companies must make each hold count. If every hold in a package has a nearly identical counterpart, then setters essentially have 50% fewer holds to work with. Once again, Thrive listened to their clients and did something about it.
“The symmetrical holds aren’t happening anymore because they decrease versatility,” says Wurm. “New trends are developing, and we are shifting our production to meet them.”
In essence, Thrive is taking their best-selling holds – holds that new climbers and members have enjoyed over the past four years – and reshaping them for a higher quality product and expanding them.
One of the most critical factors in hold manufacturing is the type of foam used for shaping designs. Desiring more texture on their holds, Thrive went to work testing a number of potential candidates. The result is a series of climbing holds with a very soft and grippy texture.
“The texture just feels unbelievable,” confirms Wurm. “They are the kind of holds which don’t leave your hands blistered or wanting but instead motivate you to get off the mat and try it again.”
Equally as important, Thrive is increasing the size of all their famous series. In particular, the beloved rectangular Blox, Blubber pinches and Moonpie jugs are getting a makeover. What this means for route setters is two things: increased functionality and improved aesthetics.
Aesthetically, route setters can now buy packages of holds with the same look. In the past, it was enough to have different styles of holds of the same color, and Thrive met this demand at the time. Now, many climbing gyms want the ability to put up picturesque routes of the same color and hold type. With different sizes of the same shape, customers of Thrive holds can now set, say, a pumpy route of only Blubber pinches or a slippery problem of only rectangular Blox. And functionally, new and larger holds mean more toys to play with and more setting options.
“What we are doing with the new line is applying five years of experience,” says Wurm. “We have personally overseen the production of thousands of climbing holds and listened to the responses of hundreds of customers. The result is an evolution of product to take the brand forward, again.”
Also trending at climbing gyms is the use of volumes. When they first got into the business, Thrive was only producing climbing holds because the demand for volumes did not warrant a shift in production. Today, Thrive’s volumes account for nearly 50% of their sales.
It is no longer enough to have the latest holds. Climbing gyms are feeling the pressure to incorporate new movements with those holds, and arguably the easiest way to do this is by throwing up a volume on the wall. In response to this development, Thrive recently put on the market an innovative product in volume manufacturing.
“The idea was to create a lightweight volume that can be bought in any color and easily installed, with texture that doesn’t flake off if you pressure wash or use it repeatedly,” says Wurm. “Our PolyFiber volumes accomplish exactly that.”
Thrive hand-makes all their volumes in-house. Wurm and his team developed a process using their polyurethane mix to create the initial structure and then add layers of fiber glass until achieving enough support to withstand repeated force, but not so many layers that the texture is lost. Thus, different from traditional wood volumes or other varieties, the PolyFiber volumes of Thrive actually feel like climbing holds, which decreases the chance of unexpected slipping and increases their ability to double as stand-alone pieces.
Thrive also produces five large and five small varieties to meet multiple setting needs, and in 2017 that number is expected to grow. Plans are in motion to redesign the initial shapes and introduce ten new pieces, with the help of shaping guru Louie Anderson. With a revamped line, the coveted aspects of Thrive volumes should only improve.
“All-too-often, climbing gyms shy away from volumes because they are bulky, ugly or dangerous,” says Wurm. “Our volumes address these concerns as well. PolyFiber volumes are not only durable and multi-functional, they are also less risky and look and feel like climbing holds. It’s the perfect formula.”
The fear with every expansion in manufacturing is that increased production will decrease attention to detail. Growing hold manufacturers often outsource their pouring to keep up with demand, but too many do so at the expense of quality. That is why Thrive is partnering with Catalyst Climbing.
Based in Jasper, Georgia, Catalyst has over ten years of experience in the climbing industry, and they work with multiple household names like Element and Enix. With Catalyst, every hold of Thrive will continue to be personally inspected, and thousands of holds will be produced and shipped in a shorter time period, meaning quicker fulfillment for customers. With his extra spare time, Wurm plans on spreading the word about new developments at Thrive and changes in modern hold manufacturing at climbing gyms and expositions, which should expand their creative resources and future hold prospects.
“Catalyst has even more experience than we do, so I am comfortable with sending our pouring to them,” says Wurm. “I am confident they will make a quality product, even better than the popular holds we were previously making in our shop. They will help us take our brand to the next level.”
Thrive plans to release their new holds in January, 2017. To experience the next level in climbing holds, contact Thrive directly at [email protected] to pre-order new holds or get your hands on their innovative PolyFiber volumes.