By John Burgman
The recent Climbing Wall Association Summit—the 13th annual gathering for the climbing industry—was a whirlwind of new products and holds, educational roundtables, management and routesetting lectures, and brand meet-and-greets.
While the growth of the industry has been the main focus of the CWA Summit for the past several years, this year’s theme revolved around how the industry can focus such rapid growth in positive ways. Thus, mentorship, education, and community involvement were common focal points. Discussion sessions were held on a variety of pertinent topics. These included: “Coaching Creative Coaches,” moderated by Bix Firer and Pat Brehm of the Headwall Group, “Mentoring Your Routesetting Team for Customer Progression and Retention,” moderated by Jackie Hueftle and Sarah Filler of the Routesetting Institute, “DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] in Your Gym Culture” moderated by Cia Blackstock of Climbers of Color, and “Strengthening Leadership in the Indoor Climbing Industry” presented by a panel of experts.
“The idea is to take this lesson of purpose-driven leadership and drill that down into a number of areas of training, where we can apply that focus—whether that’s into a routesetting discipline, thinking about mentorship, and growing your team in ways that the industry hasn’t formalized or matured into yet…[or] into coaching and a growth mindset, into other diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations that talk about how to bring in new members of a team and how to expand the reach of the industry,” says Emily Moore, the Events Manager for the CWA.
Moore points out that the theme of “purpose-driven” leadership is something that the industry (including gym owners, managers, and staff) has been wanting to discuss, and CWA was meeting that need at the Summit. “We want to encourage that higher level thinking, being able to answer the questions: Why am I here? Why do I do what I do?” says Moore. “When you can have a strong answer to those questions—in whatever discipline you’re working in, gym owner, head routesetter, coach, manager—that’s going to bleed over into your work. And if that focus remains in place, then we can drill down to the more technical training areas with intention and hopefully with better outcomes.”
The 2019 Summit was noteworthy for having 76 exhibitors, 65 speakers, and approximately 1,000 attendees (the most ever). There was a lot to see and do over the three-day period, but here are six noteworthy products that caught the eyes of the CBJ editors on the Summit floor:
1. Dual-Texture Walls
Dual-texture holds have been around for a long time, and dual-texture volumes have been a hot commodity recently. But Canada-based Impact has made the leap into the next phase of the modern dual-tex revolution and applied it to wall surfacing.
Like the dual-tex holds and volumes, Impact’s dual-tex walls feature a combination of rough surface and smooth paneling—but in a manner that is entirely customizable. The smooth plastic can be incorporated into wall features such as overhangs, angles or arêtes, or used on sheer vertical planes. “We’re always looking to push that envelope,” says Impact’s founder and CEO Kyle Wilson, who points out that the smooth plastic could also be used to spell out words or form a gym’s logo in a wall. And like standard paneling, the smooth plastic surface can take drill set screws from routesetters without breaking or cracking.
The Details: Because the Dual-tex walls are entirely customizable, prices and installation costs will vary from gym to gym. Wilson points out that dual-tex aspect does add some time to the construction, but this is because of the meticulous craftsmanship. The dual-texture is fully incorporated into a wall’s paneling, rather than being simply a top layer that is applied over the plywood.
Contact: Impact Climbing Inc. E-mail: info@impact climbing.com Phone: 905-878-8902
2. Hold Cleaning Machines
Imagine a dishwasher built exclusively for climbing holds and you have a pretty good idea what KleanHolds is all about. The Wisconsin-based company has its roots in technology of the automotive industry, where cleaning large components—and having heavy-duty machinery that is up to the task—is essential. Such machinery for climbing holds has been around in European gyms for a while, but often with prohibitive import costs for American gym owners.
There are four different models of KleanHold machines, all of which operate with heated water (and no detergent). The capacity of the KleanHold machines ranges from a maximum load weight of 330 pounds to 770 pounds. To put those numbers into perspective, representative Tim Silvius notes that a mid-sized KleanHolds machine can wash approximately 50 small or medium-sized holds at a time, with a cleaning cycle that lasts roughly 10 minutes.
The Details: Silvius says that most gyms opt for a lease-to-own payment option on the KleanHolds machines. And, he points out that it’s worth gyms crunching numbers to find out how much money is spent on water and paying someone to spray down the dirty holds; Silvius is confident that KleanHolds will come out as the more economical option. And, regarding the four available sizes machines, he notes KleanHolds “could custom-make just about anything.”
Contact: TPS Products Phone: 715-754-2207
3. Modular Cracks
Jam Walls was born out of a chance meeting at a Yosemite Facelift cleanup between Dave Yerian and Don Mealing. Yerian had the idea of starting a gym that was entirely cracks. Mealing was receptive to the idea, but also knew from experience that crack climbing was hard to apply to a gym setting. “It’s difficult and expensive to put in a permanent crack in a gym,” he says. “And a lot of times gym owners shy away from it because it’s not practical. It’s a cool thing, but it’s not practical financially compared to the ability and the ease of setting up face climbs. So the idea popped into my mind—what if we’d try to modularize cracks?”
The concept gained momentum. Legendary climber Dale Bard was brought on board—Yerian became Vice President, Mealing became the President, and Bard the COO. What resulted of the collective—after much planning and prototyping—was a brand of modularized crack panels. These Crax panels are interchangeable and geared to the gym market. The width of the cracks can be altered, and with nearly 30 different molds of various crack sizes and configurations, the difficulty can vary depending on a gym manager’s preference.
The Details: There are two parts to the Crax panels—a frame that is mounted to a wall, and a removable module. The two parts together are approximately four feet long and two feet wide, and retail at $795.
Contact: E-mail: Don Mealing: email@example.com Phone: 946-690-9900
4. Top-Rope Fall Reduction Devices
BelaySAFE, a “friction adjustable” system designed to “minimize the risk of human error in belaying” came from a simple question: What can be done to make top-rope climbing safer?
There are several ways to answer that question—including double-wrapping a rope around the belay bar at the top of any given gym wall. But many solutions resonate as inadequate or damaging to the integrity of the rope itself.
But a BelaySAFE device allows for a number of adjustments related to everything from the age and diameter of the rope to the humidity inside the gym—and utilizes an internal, articulated system of pulleys. The belayer has no difficulty controlling the rope, but the climber gets fully assisted in the event of a fall. During a fall, the climber’s rate of descent is automatically slowed to minimize injury. And the BelaySAFE can be mounted as a primary belay device or as secondary fail-safe device (while paired with another device attached to the belayer’s harness).
The increased safety of the climber and minimization of fall injuries is the main allure of the BelaySAFE devices, but it’s worth noting that the pulley system also minimizes rope deterioration, according to inventor Halil Ngah. “What we frequently see is that the ropes are lasting almost twice as long compared to a rope going through a carabiner,” he says.
The Details: BelaySAFE is not a new product, but Ngah notes that having a demo space at CWA this year—where people could try it out—helped the device resonate more. The price is $495 per unit. The company is based in Singapore and BelaySAFE devices are popular in gyms all over Asia. Ngah points out that BelaySAFE representatives will travel to American gyms for demonstrations and consultations upon request.
Contact: BelaySAFE/Climb Asia E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Shareable Walls and Routes
The coolest thing about Walltopia’s Harmonized Walls is their ability to connect gyms in all parts of the United States—or the world. The five different walls are pre-engineered and pre-designed modules that can be seamlessly incorporated into the interior layout of any gym. In other words, a gym wall in one corner of the country can now be identical to a section of wall in a gym that is thousands of miles away.
And, if those distant gyms happen to have the same holds in their respective inventory, identical routes could be created as well. A routesetter in, say, New York, could create a route that a gym in California could duplicate. The connective tissue of this Harmonized Wall system is software called GymRealm, which allows routes to be uploaded and shared (either internally, if a gym franchise has multiple locations, or with any gym anywhere). Routes can be accessed and downloaded for free or for a set fee.
“I speak with a lot of gym owners who have gotten all the way down the road; it’s time to open their gym and they have to sort out the routesetting—and it’s a hard thing to sort out,” says Tony Accuardi, the representative in charge of Walltopia’s U.S. Sales. “[Harmonized Walls] gives them an opportunity to get some quality routes on the wall.”
The Details: Duplicating routes in multiple gyms requires two components—first, the walls have to be identical, which is where the five pre-engineered modules come in. Secondly, the holds have to be identical. For this, Walltopia has partnered with Cheeta to assure that Harmonized Wall customers are all getting the exact same types of holds. And Walltopia is hoping to bring more hold brands into the fray in the future.
Contact: Walltopia E-mail: email@example.com
6. Stackable Volumes
Utilizing screw-on holds has undoubtedly taken routestting with volumes to another level, and the next step in that evolution is stackable volumes. Multiple companies on the CWA Summit floor were presenting ways in which large, geometric pieces could connect three-dimensionally. For instance, Rockwerx showcased its Infinity Wall system with a gigantic Velcro boulder-with-volumes model. Under this system, all angles of volumes match—and work in conjunction with—angles on the Rockwerx walls.
Kumiki also showed off a new series of rounded plywood volumes called the “Orange Slices.” These volumes are unique in that they are designed without a bottom side. “You can mount them to the wall any way you want,” said Kumiki shaper Nic Oklobzija. “If you have four of them, they make a complete half-sphere. If you have two of them, they make a 90-degree sphere. If you have 8 of them, they make a full sphere.”
The Orange Slice volumes can be stacked, slid together or interlaced. One side of the volumes is dual-tex, while the other side has full texture. And, Oklobzija noted that all of the material is sourced in America.
The Details: Prices for the Rockwerx Infinity Wall system will vary depending on specifications. The Kumiki Orange Slices cost approximately $200 apiece. Oklobzija told CBJ that they are just the beginning for Kumiki, and that additional series of rounded volumes will be released in the future.
Contact: E-mail: Rockwerx: firstname.lastname@example.org / Kumiki: email@example.com
John Burgman has been writing about climbing for nearly a decade. He is a Fulbright journalism grant recipient, a former magazine editor at Outdoor Life, and the author of two books. He holds a master’s degree from New York University and bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Ohio. In addition to writing, he coaches a youth bouldering team.