To the untrained eye, the climbing walls at Vertical Heaven in Ventura, CA look similar to the walls at many other modern climbing facilities. They have brightly colored geometric patterns and a nice dimpled texture. Those familiar with climbing walls, however, will notice that it’s not your standard concrete skim coating or textured paint, but something altogether different: truck bed liner.
Vertical Heaven had used a traditional wall surface at their original location in Ventura, but when they lost their lease and were forced to move locations in the fall of 2013, they opted to try something different with their new walls.
Mark Bradley, owner of Vertical Heaven, explained why he decided to try out this unusual coating. “I didn’t like any of the current options available. Concrete texture was too expensive. The feel of the textured paint is way too rough in my opinion, and requires too much maintenance to keep it looking nice,” he said.
Coming up with the idea to use the truck bed liner, which is a synthetic coating made out of a polyurethane-polyurea blend, was accidental. “I was sitting on the tailgate of my truck (which has a sprayed on bed liner) scratching my head trying to figure out an alternative wall coating, and that’s when the idea hit me,” Bradley recalled.
Bradley signed up with a spray liner company and did the install himself with the help of a few hired hands. After some experimentation he came up with a technique that provided a consistent texture and clean finish.
“First off, you have to mask off anything you don’t want over-spray on. The coating dries extremely quickly and is difficult to clean off. So you have to take the time to mask off the surrounding area. From there its much the same process as painting. You prep the walls, making sure they are free from any dust and debris. The more time you take to prep the walls, the better the coating will stick. Next you mask off your design and start spraying. Spraying requires the use of a machine that heats both Parts A & B and then mixes them together through a hose as it is sprayed. You let it dry and that’s it,” Bradley said.
Perfectly in the Middle
Since opening their new location last November, Vertical Heaven has been very pleased with the results. The biggest benefit of the product is that the liner is nearly impervious to climbing shoe rubber. When CBJ visited the facility four months after its opening there wasn’t a single scuff mark on the wall, and photos on VH’s Facebook page from earlier this month show that the walls are still looking clean. In fact, Bradley says that all it takes is wiping the wall down with a dry cloth and the chalk and rubber marks come right off.
Bradley is also a big fan of the friendly texture that won’t cause abrasions if you accidentally rub your skin against it. “It has a texture that provides friction without the downside of skinning you alive,” he said.
Of course, many of our readers will question whether the coating is actually any good for climbing. While it seems like it might be a bit too slick , we found that the coating was surprisingly good for smearing and stemming; the friction is much less than that found in a modern gritty texture made by the major wall manufacturers, but more than the friction on a lacquered plywood or standard concrete wall.
The Next Big Thing?
This experiment turned out so well that Bradley is thinking about starting a side business to offer this wall solution to other new climbing facilities. With a price point around $3 per square foot, the coating is price competitive with your standard coating options. Designed to withstand the abuse of loading and unloading everything from logs to hogs in the back of a pickup truck, it’s an understatement to say that the texture is durable.
It also has some advantages during the construction process. “It is a great option for gym projects in a time crunch. Paint & concrete you have to wait a week or so to fully cure before you can move on with the project. With the liner you can spray and bolt a hold onto the wall an hour later,” said Bradley.
It’s worth noting a few of the major wall manufacturers have come out with new non-marking coatings for their walls, and it will be interesting to see how these products compare and perform over time.
Climbing Business Journal is an independent news outlet dedicated to covering the indoor climbing industry. Here you will find the latest coverage of climbing industry news, gym developments, industry best practices, risk management, climbing competitions, youth coaching and routesetting. Have an article idea? CBJ loves to hear from readers like you!