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    USA Climbing Strategic Planning Task Force is Holding Three Sessions for Gym Owners and Operators

    usa climbing spraywall header

    We are writing to let you know that the recently formed 12-member Strategic Planning Task Force will be holding three virtual listening sessions just for gym owners and operators starting later this month (see dates below). The purpose of these sessions is for you to provide input to the USA Climbing strategic planning process and share your ideas about the future of the sport and USA Climbing. The Task Force is offering a series of similar engagement opportunities during the summer and fall to all the various USA Climbing stakeholders.

    The 90-minute sessions for gym partners will be facilitated by three members of the Task Force – Jen Zelen, founder and CFO of Rock Haven Climbing in Gresham, Oregon; Cory Hanson, co-founder and general manager of Rock Solid Climbing in Tucson, Arizona, and John Lynch, Regional Coordinator from Seattle, Washington. During the sessions, we hope to hear your hopes, concerns, and ideas about the strategic direction of USA Climbing. Among the questions we plan to ask are:

    • Where would you like to see competition climbing four years from now and beyond?
    • What should be the top priorities for USA Climbing as it guides the sport over the next four years?
    • What has USA Climbing been doing well that you want to see continued?
    • What are the key opportunities for USA Climbing to improve or to do new things?
    • What are the biggest challenges that USA Climbing will need to address as it strives to advance its mission?

    If you would like to attend one of these sessions, please click on the “Register Here” link next to your desired session:

    • Friday, July 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. MDT – Register Here
    • Thursday, August 1 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. MDT – Register Here
    • Friday, August 16 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MDT – Register Here

    If you are unable to attend one of the sessions or would prefer to offer your input in another way, there will shortly be an online survey posted to the USA Climbing website that will be open to everyone in the USA Climbing community. We are also interested in holding one-on-one conversations with gym owners and operators; if you would like to schedule such a conversation, please send an email to strategic@usaclimbing.org.

    We look forward to connecting with you soon.

    Jen Zelen, Cory Hanson and John Lynch
    USA Climbing Strategic Planning Task Force members


    CBJ press releases are written by the sponsor and do not represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.

    The Georgia Gym That Shaped an Olympian

    Emma Hunt and Oleksii Shulga at 2022 USAC National Team Trials
    No person is an island, as the saying goes, and that truism applies to Olympians. All the American climbers heading to Paris have had support along their journey from gyms, coaches, teammates, parents…including Emma Hunt, who got her start in competition climbing through the youth programs at Stone Summit (now Central Rock Gym). (Pictured: Hunt (left) fist bumps Oleksii Shulga (right), her coach, during the 2022 USAC National Team Trials at Stone Summit Kennesaw; all photos courtesy of Oleksii Shulga, unless otherwise noted)

    When 20-year-old Emma Hunt became the first American climber to qualify for the Paris Olympics at last summer’s World Championships, the accomplishment was rightly praised as a fitting end result of significant sacrifice, training and dedication on her part. (Hunt, now 21 years old, also happens to be the women’s Pan American and United States national record holder for the speed discipline, which currently resides at 6.30 seconds.)

    But that Olympic qualification also thrust Hunt’s training and gym background into the global spotlight, and specifically the speed program at two Central Rock Gym facilities in Kennesaw and Atlanta, Georgia—formerly Stone Summit, before the acquisition this year—through which Hunt had progressed as a youth climber. Along with that focus, Oleksii Shulga, who oversaw the speed programs at those gyms (and, thus, coached Hunt) prior to managing the entire gym team, was spotlighted as well. Shulga is now quick to point out the vital role that climbing gyms—and the staff therein—have played in the formation of all eight American climbers who will take part in the upcoming Olympics.

    “The specific people, the business owners, the team owners, the team managers, all these people are an important part of any climber we see right now,” says Shulga, who has continued to support Hunt and her Olympic aspirations as her personal coach, after she graduated from the gym’s youth program. “To [get an athlete] to the Olympic Games requires a lot of factors—good coaching, program in place, the heritage, the legacy, many many things, and they need to be maybe not perfectly lined up, but they need to be in a good position to ‘produce’ the right person.”

    Oleksii Shulga and Emma Hunt at IFSC events
    Shulga is one of the mentors who helped Hunt find success in competition climbing and reach the Olympic stage, sharing his knowledge of the speed discipline, traveling to international events, and celebrating milestones along the way. (Pictured: Shulga and Hunt after Hunt won her first international gold medal, at the 2019 Youth World Championships in Arco (left), and her first gold medal at an IFSC World Cup, in Salt Lake City this year (right).)

    Shulga highlights Hunt’s physical and mental talent when talking about the Pan Am record and the historic Olympic berth, but Shulga also believes that Stone Summit, as a facility, possessed a well-structured program and amenities which helped Hunt develop her skill set when she was just a member of the gym’s youth team. For example, the facility in Atlanta, which spans 45,000 square feet and has 30,000 square feet of climbing, includes a 10-meter speed wall, and the Kennesaw location, a 32,000-square-foot gym which also has 30,000 square feet of climbing, includes a 15-meter speed wall.

    Given the standardization of the speed route and the subsequent lack of hold variation on the wall, speed is not a discipline with as much variety as bouldering or lead, Shulga notes. Regardless, Stone Summit had long made speed a priority. “Usually for a gym owner, it is a waste of space,” Shulga, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, says of a speed wall in a commercial climbing gym. “To me, as someone who is very passionate about speed climbing, I’ve been to many gyms with speed walls, and I see people in the United States just neglecting the [speed] walls. Bouldering culture is big; it’s the subculture that has developed in gyms, even more so than in Europe, but from a business perspective, speed climbing seems to be something that not many gym owners are interested in.”

    Speed wall at 2022 USAC National Team Trials at Stone Summit Kennesaw
    Both the Kennesaw and Atlanta facilities have speed climbing walls—a factor which allowed Hunt to hone her specialty over the years and the Kennesaw facility, in particular, to host national competitions. (Pictured: the 2022 National Team Trials at Stone Summit Kennesaw; photo by Jason Chang @theshortbeta, courtesy of USA Climbing)

    Yet, Emma Hunt’s upcoming Olympic appearance will be the payoff, and the “proof,” so to speak, that speed can be a worthy investment for a gym, even if commercial participation might be limited. Such a payoff often requires that gym owners and managers make a leap of faith and look beyond short-term profit margins when deciding to devote valuable wall space to speed.

    “The gym owners—especially gym owner Daron Pair [prior to the Central Rock Gym ownership change], he was absolutely supportive of any decisions I made, or that [team owner] Claudiu Vidulescu made, as far as using a speed wall, setting technical sections of the speed wall,” Shulga explains. “I had full access to whatever I needed to do, as long as it was effective for training—even though it was not related to customers, it was related to the team program.”

    Rockwerx

    There is no denying that speed, as a discipline, has had a rocky road of cultural and commercial acceptance in the larger climbing world. Prior to the Tokyo Olympics (in 2021), Adam Ondra publicly chastised speed climbing—a point that Shulga is quick to point out—particularly when speed was included in a novel, three-event “combined” discipline. At the upcoming Paris Olympics, in contrast, speed climbing will be featured as its own discipline—not combined with bouldering or lead climbing like it was at the Tokyo Olympics—and Shulga stresses that this separation has helped some gym owners become more accepting of speed. “In the U.S., there has long been this whole concept that speed is a ‘step brother’ of climbing, but now it’s in a different place because of growing support from gym owners. Still, not many teams operate on the level we do—we are very lucky, as far as having full support.”

    A Well-Structured Program

    A gym possessing a speed wall is only part of the equation, according to Shulga. At Stone Summit, much of Emma Hunt’s development in the years preceding the Paris Olympics took place off the wall. In fact, depending on the training cycle, Shulga says that up to 30 percent of Hunt’s training in the lead-up to Hunt’s Olympic berth entailed the use of other gym amenities, specifically cardio equipment and free weights. (Shulga says he personally prefers the amenity of exercise bikes, as opposed to treadmills, since they entail less rigor on an athletes’ knees.)

    Oleksii Shulga coaching Emma Hunt
    Part of Hunt’s training for Olympic qualification took place off the wall, and having additional amenities at the Atlanta and Kennesaw facilities made it easier to complete that training in one place.

    But Stone Summit’s programming was also structured and organized in a manner that allowed Emma Hunt to thrive. The Stone Summit team was—and still is, with its Central Rock Gym rebranding—quite large by any standard: composed of more than 300 total youth climbers (spread across the two facilities), with up to 40 coaches in the program. Some of those coaches are salaried, while many are paid hourly on a part-time basis. The team is broadly divided into a recreational tier and a competitive tier; the recreation tier has six different “clubs” (meaning, levels), while the competitive tier is split (by age and USA Climbing qualification level) into four different levels—the highest of which being the “elite” team.

    Shulga says that the various categories within the whole team are fluid—and that climbers are constantly moving into different levels and tiers—although they are only allowed to move to a different level within the competitive team once per season. As Shulga explains, “It’s important to understand that in each tier and level, the kids build up relationships with the other kids on their team and with the coaches—those factors are important too. If you move a kid too often or too early, you need to understand the social dynamics and friendships; it could be difficult for a kid to move, even if they might be ready to move up in terms of climbing proficiency. It’s not always good to do it.”

    Oleksii Shulga with Emma Hunt and other Stone Summit team members
    The youth program at Stone Summit helped prepare Hunt to compete in international events, and to do so on a team. (Pictured: Shulga (top) with Emma Hunt (left) and two of her U.S. Youth National teammates Mia Bawendi (middle) and Kiara Pellicane-Hart (right), at the 2019 Youth World Championships in Arco)

    The frequency of practices within the team’s program is also unique. Team owner Claudiu Vidulescu holds practices for youth climbers five days a week (and sometimes on Saturdays), but there is variability there as well. As an illustration, climbers on the elite team are required to attend a minimum of four of those weekly practices. It was actually in that leeway that Emma Hunt’s dedication first started to shine. Shulga remembers Hunt as a youth climber not only attending the team practices eagerly, but also being open to private lessons. And even when Hunt “aged out” of the team program, she sometimes showed up to participate in team practices—a perk that is offered to all alumni of the Stone Summit/Central Rock Gym youth team in Georgia.

    OnSite

    A Family Dynamic

    Shulga acknowledges that such an expansive team program comes with challenges, from turnover of hourly coaches to an occasional lack of understanding (from parents and would-be coaches) of how the team operates and how team members can progress from one level to the next. Shulga came to the United States from Ukraine in 2016; his key experience at the time had entailed overseeing a team of just 12 youth climbers in Ukraine, so he struggled with a learning curve himself. “It took me a while to grasp all the levels and learn what I can do with the coaches at the lowest level, compared to how I can help the coaches at the very top,” he admits.

    Emma Hunt at the 2022 USAC National Team Trials
    “I didn’t think of Emma as the only one who might go to the Olympics,” says Shulga. “There were—and still are—so many good, talented kids.” (Photo of Emma Hunt at the 2022 National Team Trials by Jason Chang @theshortbeta, courtesy of USA Climbing)

    On the flip side, Shulga says that the team members, themselves, don’t usually seem overwhelmed by the breadth of the gym’s team program. Shulga likens the team to an extended family, and says, “When you have a big family, you need to make sure you’re giving attention to every single family member.”

    Shulga remembers giving equal attention to everyone, even as Emma Hunt began setting national records.

    “I didn’t think of Emma as the only one who might go to the Olympics,” Shulga reflects. “But she was a hard worker, and her talent was working hard and smart—she believed there were no boundaries; I recognized that right away, and it worked out for her really well. I’m glad that my experience and my passion for coaching worked for her. But there were—and still are—so many good, talented kids.”

     

    Editor’s Note: As mentioned, Stone Summit/Central Rock Gym is just one of the climbing gyms that helped a Team USA athlete reach the Paris Olympics. The other gyms—and respective Olympians—are: Pacific Edge in California (Natalia Grossman), ABC Kids Climbing in Colorado (Natalia Grossman, Colin Duffy and Brooke Raboutou; as well as Garrett Gregor, IFSC Head Routesetter for the bouldering portion of the Paris Olympics), New Jersey Rock Gym in New Jersey (Jesse Grupper), Hoosier Heights in Indiana (Piper Kelly), Movement Plano in Texas (Sam Watson), and Planet Rock in Michigan (Zach Hammer). For more information about the climbers qualified for the Paris Olympics, head to CBJ’s Paris Olympics Media Resource for Climbing Gyms and CBJ’s Paris Olympics A-to-Z Guide.

    Climb Insider: Grip List Survey and more

    grip list survey header

    Just a few thoughts

    Comp season is at a high. As everyone eyes the Paris Games in just a few weeks, we’re still in the middle of World Cup season with Briançon finals today and tomorrow. Last week wrapped up USAC Youth Nationals with over 800 athletes, and all of USAC, CEC and GB Climbing have announcements about next year. And a bunch of great athlete interviews and profiles below!

    Managers – don’t miss the AAC’s toolkit, they’ve made it easy to offer pay-what-you-can options for your gym.

    Routesetters – don’t miss our annual Grip List Survey that opened today. Please share your thoughts, maybe you’ll win a new drill!

    See The Freshest Job Posts Here

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    Manage High Point Birmingham – Climbing Jobs Weekly 2024 July 18

    high point birmingham header image

    CBJ hosts the most active job board for climbing businesses and organizations. Below are the latest posts from this past week…


    General Manager

    High Point
    Birmingham, AL

    “High Point Climbing And Fitness is seeking a dynamic and experienced General Manager for our Birmingham, Alabama facility. This is an exciting opportunity for a dedicated professional to lead and grow our team, ensuring exceptional customer experiences and operational excellence.”

    Eldorado Climbing

    JOB SEEKER TIPS:

    Tell Me About Yourself – 79+ Perfect Sample Answers for 2024
    By NovoResume

    “Asking you to talk about yourself gives them a window into your personality, communication skills, and ability to present yourself in a compelling way. It’s a way for them to ease into the actual interview and get a general idea of what you’re all about. Interviewers use this question to find out your key strengths, impressive achievements, and how you might fit into the role you’re applying for or with the company’s culture as a whole.”

    Read the full article here


    LATEST JOB OPENINGS

    See all current jobs // Post your job
    FT = full time
    PT = part time

    RECENT/TOP JOB POSTS AT CBJ LOCATION TYPE
    General Manager at High Point Birmingham, AL FT – manager
    Head Routesetter at Ground Up Squamish, BC PT – routesetter
    Facilities Associate at Movement Maryland FT – manufacturing
    Head Coach at VITAL Brooklyn, NY PT – coach, manager
    Facilities Associate at Movement New York, NY FT – manufacturing
    Comp Team Program Manager + Head Coach at Movement Valhalla, NY FT – coach, manager
    Marketing Director at High Point Chattanooga, TN FT – mktg/sales
    Site Manager at Mesa Rim Austin, TX FT – manager
    Regional Facilities Manager at Movement Dallas, TX FT – manufacturing
    Regional Head Routesetter at Momentum Houston/Katy, TX FT – routesetter
    Adult Instructor at The Front Ogden, UT FT – instructor
    Routesetter at Sportrock Alexandria/Sterling/Gaithersburg, VA/MD FT – routesetter
    Youth Programs Coordinator at Vertical World Seattle, WA FT – other
    Traveling Carpenter at Vertical Solutions Anywhere FT – manufacturing

    Career Centers of Climbing Industry

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    Wanted: Routesetter Opinions for Grip List 2024 Survey and Routesetting Trends

    2024 Grip List Survey

    It’s that time of year again! Since 2014, the annual CBJ Grip List survey has provided insights into the top climbing hold and volume brands from around the world. This year’s survey is open to all commercial and competition routesetters. Thank you Butora USA for contributing a prize!

    New This Year: Routesetting Trends

    This year we’ve added questions about routesetting—movement trends, equipment use, safety procedures,  and more—to help inform an updated Routesetting Trends article for 2024. To add a bit of incentive, we’re giving away your choice of impact driver!

    VOTE HERE BY JULY 31

    For additional resources and research about climbing holds, check out these CBJ articles and resources:

    PRIOR GRIP LIST AWARDS
    2023202220212020201920182017201620152014

    24-Hour Bouldering Gym to Open in South Knoxville, Tennessee

    image of climbing roots
    Inspired in part by a visit to VITAL Carlsbad, Climbing Roots is coming soon to Knoxville, Tennessee, and will feature 24-hour access, two floors of bouldering, and a crack climbing wall. (All Vertical Solutions renderings courtesy of Climbing Roots Bouldering)

    Climbing Roots Bouldering
    Knoxville, Tennessee

    Specs: A bouldering gym founded by Lindsay and Nathan Runne is expected to open in Knoxville, Tennessee, in November 2024. “Over ten years ago, I walked into the VITAL bouldering gym in Carlsbad, California, and loved their vibe and the 24-hour-access feature,” Lindsay shared. “I fell in love with the idea of opening a gym with that style and that feel.” Flash forward to February 2023 and Lindsay’s dream of starting her own bouldering gym began to take shape when a friend—who happens to own the building in which Climbing Roots will reside—asked if she wanted to own a climbing gym. “I just looked at him and said, ‘Yes, of course I do,’” Lindsay recalled, and since then she has been working to make it happen.

    According to Lindsay, the climbing community in the Knoxville area has been growing alongside the sport’s increased popularity in recent years. “We are riding on the wave of excitement…The current gyms are doing a wonderful job with their programs,” she said, while noting capacity limitations. “The Knoxville community is in need of a new climbing gym.”

    Eldorado Climbing

    Climbing Roots is under construction in a preexisting building in Baker Creek Bottoms, a large complex at the base of a bike park that’s less than five minutes from where the owners reside. The building complex is also home to several other businesses, such as a restaurant, brewery and apothecary. “South Knoxville has the market for a climbing gym,” Lindsay said of the area. “People want it, and we are excited to provide it. It is something we would want in this location anyway. Now we get to make it exactly how we have dreamed it for so many years.”

    The 14,000-square-foot facility will feature 18-foot climbing walls and around 6,000 square feet of climbing surface. In having a mix of climbing offerings—from easier climbs to training on multiple training boards, spray walls, and a cave bouldering area—the Runnes hope the gym will cater to climbers of all skill levels. Climbing Roots Bouldering will also feature “plenty of hang out space,” Lindsay said, in addition to 24-hour-access membership options.

    image of climbing roots training boards
    “We want everyone to feel welcome, so there will be plenty of beginner to intermediate-friendly climbs, but we are going to focus heavily on training as well,” said Lindsay, referring to the cave climbing feature and multiple training boards that are planned for the gym.

    For other operators looking to open a climbing facility in 2024, Lindsay recommended developers plan in enough time to “shop around [when making purchasing decisions] even though it takes more work,” while staying grounded and maintaining reasonable expectations for the gym’s design. “Keep plugging along,” Lindsay added, “because the climbing community is growing in an exciting way!”

    Walls: Vertical Solutions
    Flooring: Vertical Solutions
    CRM Software: Approach
    Website: N/A
    Instagram: @climbing.roots

    In Their Words: “Everything takes longer than I would hope. I am not a businesswoman; I don’t have any experience opening a business. It has been a big learning curve, but I have loved learning as I go. I have overcome the challenges of being in the business world as a woman with support from other businesswomen and taking it one step at a time. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the steps, but I tried to just look at what was in front of me and not get ahead of myself.” – Lindsay Runne, Co-Owner and Founder of Climbing Roots Bouldering

    Titan: The Wall To Conquer

    image of portland rock gym titan wall

    EP Climbing is thrilled to announce the launch of our new YouTube mini-series, released on July 4th.  This five episode series, offers an in-depth look at the world of climbing through the lens of the Titan Wall.

    The Titan is a bouldering wall created by EP Climbing in collaboration with the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) as the first standard bouldering competition wall.  Designed to inspire the creativity of route setters and challenge climbers, the TITAN offers a remarkable variety of angles and terrain.

    The Titan made it’s debut at the World Championships in Bern 2023, and travelled to the IFSC Asian Olympic Qualifier, Indonesia and the Pan American Games in Chile.  The Titan will also premiere at the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

    Link to Titan web page: TITAN Boulder | EP Climbing

    Series Highlights Include:

    Designing of the Titan:  Go behind the scenes to see how the Titan wall was brought to life.  Meet the team of designers and learn about their vision and goals that drove its design.

    Revolutionizing Climbing Competitions: Discover how the Titan is changing the game in climbing competitions, introducing new challenges and excitement for climbers and spectators alike.

    Routesetting on the Titan:  Gain insights from route setters about their creative process and unique experiences working with the Titan

    Climbing on the Titan: Listen to climbers share their personal stories about climbing on this iconic wall.

    Watch the Series:
    YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHGxF6Q1k8GjdY44P0X-oPxABKZvO6LFF

    Where can you find the Titan:
    Tata Steal, India
    Natural Climb, Spain
    The Climbing Lab, UK
    Climbpro Center, Spain
    Parthian Wandsworth, UK
    Boulder Indoor, Spain
    Wyn Skillpark, Switzerland
    Portland Rock Gym, USA
    Climbing Mulhouse Centre, France
    Roch Bihan, France
    World Championships Bern 2023
    IFSC Asian Olympic Qualifier, Indonesia
    Pan American Games, Chile
    Training Center, Saudi Arabia Federation
    Team Delta Rovers Titan, Malaysia
    Olympic Games, France 2024

    For More Information:  Allison Justice – a.justice@epclimbing.com


    CBJ press releases are written by the sponsor and do not represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.

    Trango Signs Climbing Icon Ben Rueck to Elite Team

    image of ben rueck

    Trango, the Colorado-based designer and manufacturer of premier climbing gear and holds, proudly announces the addition of Ben Rueck to its Elite Athlete Team. Rueck joins Jesse Grupper, Kevin Jorgeson, and Drew Ruana on the team. He is a member of Team Tenaya, with Trango serving as the exclusive US distributor for Tenaya footwear.

    With over two decades of climbing experience, Rueck is renowned for his mastery across various climbing disciplines and his ability to push the sport’s boundaries on diverse rock types. “I fell in love with climbing because it transcends physicality—it’s a unique lens to experience and understand the world,” says Rueck. “My proudest achievement is honing skills across different rock types, from cracks and trad climbing to bouldering and sport climbing.”

    Rueck selected Trango and Tenaya as partners due to their commitment to providing equipment for versatile climbers like himself. “Trango and Tenaya produce top-tier gear that suits my varied interests, from bouldering and big walls to gym climbing,” explains Rueck. “Their cams and draws are intelligently designed, lightweight, and facilitate easy placements and planning. Tenaya shoes offer an exceptional fit, combining versatility and performance, allowing me to pack just one or two pairs for extensive climbing trips or challenging days on the rocks.” Rueck’s essential gear includes the Tenaya Indalo and Mastia climbing shoes, along with the Trango Prism Harness.

    image of ben rueck

    Rueck highlights Trango’s dedication to sustainability, lightweight equipment solutions, and community focus as pivotal in his decision to partner with the brand. “The new alpine quickdraws and quantum carabiners have significantly reduced weight on my trad rack,” says Rueck. “With Trango, light is right, without compromising on safety and durability.”

    Having overcome injury and surgery, Rueck eagerly anticipates returning to climbing. “I’m driven by exploration and creativity,” he asserts. “I look forward to the collaborations ahead with Trango and Tenaya, and I’m honored to represent these brands as part of the team.”

    Chris Klinke, president of Trango, is pleased to welcome Ben to the team. “At Trango, we pride ourselves on working with athletes who not only excel at their craft but also help build and support the community,” says Klinke. “Ben is as comfortable opening a new multi-pitch crack climb in the desert as he is mentoring new climbers in the gym. His dedication to the sport embodies the values of Trango and Tenaya.”

    About Trango
    Founded in Boulder, Colorado in 1991, Trango is an athlete-driven brand, dedicated to challenging the status quo of climbing and to advancing indoor gym technology. In addition to designing and producing premier climbing equipment, Trango is the sole US distributor for Tenaya climbing shoes. At Trango, we create innovative equipment that climbers trust. Our company is passionate about solution-oriented products that help climbers pursue the sport we love. You can count on Trango gear to deliver something extra, something special, that will contribute to your climbing adventure, indoors or out. 


    CBJ press releases are written by the sponsor and do not represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.

    On Eye-Pro, Ugly Boulders, and Influencers – CBJ Podcast with Kegan Minock

    header image for kegan minock podcast
    Graphic done by Climbing Business Journal; all photos courtesy of Kegan Minock

    Kegan Minock is the Gym Director and Head Routesetter at Gripstone Climbing in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Having gotten his start in the industry through the youth competition scene, Kegan began setting at Lifetime Fitness at the age of 17 before transitioning into setting at commercial facilities and becoming a USAC Level 4 routesetter. His industry career thus far has spanned leading routesetting at the iconic 90s gym ROCK’n & JAM’n to shaping holds of his own for setters. Our conversation today covers industry growing pains, what it means to be a professional routesetter, the evolution of the trade, the ethics of unpaid work, and the effects of social media on routesetting.

    Thank you Approach and Bold Climbing for your support!
    And thank you Devin Dabney for your music!


    Timestamps

    00:00 – Intro
    04:37 – Definition of a professional routesetter
    12:54 – Definition of a recreational routesetter
    17:19 – From volunteering to a career
    19:29 – Thoughts on volunteer positions
    22:33 – Travel expenses of guest setting
    24:35 – Current state of routesetting professionalization
    33:27 – A word from our sponsors
    34:10 – Effect of social media on setting
    41:10 – Influencer behavior
    46:18 – Routesetting misconceptions
    54:20 – Sustainability of routesetting
    56:18 – Grading
    01:00:31 – Climbing strengths
    01:05:04 – Closing

    Rockwerx

    Abridged Transcript

    …Can you define for me what you think is a professional routesetter nowadays?

    I think that’s the hardest question. I’ve been struggling to answer that question for a while. The dictionary defines a professional as “someone who is engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation.” And to that point, I don’t think that many routesetters would be considered professional. I mean, me specifically, I’m the head routesetter of a commercial climbing gym, but that’s only half my time, that’s not my main [income] source. I also am the gym director. We have another setter who’s been at my gym, who’s been setting for over 30 years. He’s an insanely decorated, talented routesetter, but he’s only doing it 20 hours a week. So, at that capacity, we’re not professional routesetters. So, it’s a hard question to answer. What is professional?

    I don’t think that you have to work in a commercial climbing gym to be a professional setter. There’s plenty of freelance routesetters out there that have put in their time, that have set national events that I would consider to be a professional routesetter. But then that also goes back into the paradox of what I think a professional routesetter is…I unfortunately don’t have a good answer for what a professional routesetter is. You’ll know one when you see one, you’ll know one when you meet one, I think that’s as best [a description] as I can give you.

    …With the setting industry being relatively young and still going through some growing pains, do you think a recreational routesetter exists out there? Like, if you set on a homewall, for example?

    Yeah, that’s actually where my mind immediately went to. Absolutely, I do think that—and this is, again, not to be derogatory to anybody—homewall routesetters are recreational routesetters. I don’t think I would consider anybody who only sets on homewalls to be a professional routesetter.

    image of kegan minock shaping
    Well-known as a routesetter and hold shaper, Kegan has seen new holds go from a raw idea to an on-the-wall creation. (Learn more about Kegan’s hold shaping here.)

    …What are some of the leaps that the industry has made to go from “most setters are volunteers and unpaid” to now “people can consider this as a profession that they can pursue for hopefully a long time”?

    The biggest thing has just been the acceptance that it is skilled labor. So, I think just the whole idea that the industry has recognized that this is an important aspect of indoor climbing. I would argue, biasedly, it’s the most important aspect of indoor climbing. Without routesetters, you don’t have a product in your gym. So, I think that it is something that has been getting a lot better, where people are accepting it as a career path, not just something fun to do, or something that I can just get a free membership at a gym for…

    …I know unpaid routesetters are potentially still out there, but my question for you is, should they stay? Should unpaid volunteer positions stay?

    Ooh, that’s a tough question…Maybe this is a controversial opinion, I don’t know. I don’t think that it is the responsibility of the industry as a whole to tell small gyms how to operate. If volunteer setter positions make sense for them, that’s what they can make work, and the person who’s going to be doing the setting doesn’t feel taken advantage of, go for it. But I would also argue that if you are one of those gyms where it’s like, “Yeah, we trade for a membership,” I would argue to at least consider what that does to the industry. It might help your gym out, if you’re a small gym that doesn’t really have a budget to have a routesetting program. I get it, you know, co-ops, things like that. But also consider that that could be a detrimental thing to the industry, if it kind of devalues what we do a little bit. I know there’s people that get pretty upset about that, actually…

    I would argue that if you’re the gym that is trying to get a guest setter to come in and do volunteer work, essentially—if you’re not getting paid, it’s volunteer work—just don’t do that. Like, you’re going to get what you pay for, and if you’re not paying for anything, you’re not going to get anything. If you want quality routes, if you’re reaching out to me—the proverbial me, not Kegan, me—if you’re reaching out to me because you want me to routeset in your facility, that means that you know that I can give you a product you want in your facility….If you’re good at something, never do it for free. You know, that’s one of my big things. Routesetters, stop volunteering your time.

    …I agree with that, I definitely do. Because I think it allows a lot of people, especially routesetters in the marginalized communities—maybe you’re the only girl in that region who routesets, or if you’re from the queer community, black and brown community—I feel like those people often get taken advantage of the most in those situations. And I hate to see it, and I just want it to stop. Like, pay people for their talents, pay people for their time. You’re asking them to go for a reason, exactly what you said. You’re asking them because they can provide you with something you don’t have. Why are you not paying them?

    Exactly.

    Elevate Climbing Walls

    Where do you think the routesetting industry currently stands in terms of professionalization right now?…

    A lot better than we were ten years ago, but we still have a long ways to go. There’s a lot of things setters do that they need to stop doing. There’s also some things that I think that gyms kind of perpetuate with that as well, that gyms need to stop doing, that’s going to help the professionalization of it. Here’s a deep rabbit hole for this: Stop posting videos of you climbing in tennis shoes…Similarly, stop posting videos and photos of you setting without the proper safety gear…Stop posting videos of you doing dangerous things…

    How do you think the presence of social media is affecting the industry now?

    Here’s my controversial opinion: I think it’s affecting it in a very negative way. There are some positives to it. It’s a great tool for inspiration. If you’re setting your ninth boulder of the day and you’re just like, “Dude, I got nothing, all my ideas are on the wall already,” it’s a very cool tool to be able to look through, like, “Alright, let me check all the boulders that I saved on social media, draw some inspiration from that…” Maybe this is just me being old and grumpy of like, “Oh, that’s not climbing,” but it’s not representative of—if you’re a commercial routesetter—what the majority of your clientele are doing. I think it’s really easy to set a boulder using these big, beautiful macros. Absolutely no hate on climbing holds. I love climbing holds way too much, especially all this new stuff. I mean, I love climbing holds. They’re fun. They’re great. But it’s very easy to set an Instagram-worthy boulder when you have $5000 to $10,000 of fiberglass that you can just put in a compression line and now you’re just doing left, right, left, right, left, right—not really climbing moves on the wall, but it’s going to look nice on social media. People are going to like it, I’m going to get recognition on social media for this boulder that honestly doesn’t climb very good. It looks good, but it doesn’t climb very good…

    image of kegan minock climbing
    Kegan—pictured climbing on The Nickness in Newlin Creek—still finds time to take a break from all the routesetting and pull on rock outside.

    What do you think is one of the major misconceptions about the routesetting industry as believed by the climbing community or the non-routesetting community as a whole?

    The big one for me is that it blows people’s minds when I tell them that I was not able to climb one of my climbs. They’re like, “What? You set it. You weren’t able to climb it?” I’m like, “No, dude, it’s really hard. It’s really hard.” [laughs] I’m not this person that’s going to flash everything in a gym. It’s hard. And I think that misconception is kind of a remnant of the old routesetting days where generally it was the strongest people in the gym that were setting the routes. So, you have people where it’s like, “Oh, well, if the setter can’t climb it, nobody else is going to climb it. They’re the strongest people here.” But I think that’s changed in a positive way; I think that the emphasis on setters has been more placed on understanding movement rather than being able to pull hard…

    Just because you don’t think you’re strong enough does not mean that you’re not good enough to be a routesetter. This is a whole other rant to get into, but there’s a difference between being a strong climber and being a good climber. And I think good climbers make the best setters. If you can understand movement, if you can understand, “My body needs to be here, not here. I need to drop my knee a little bit farther because it shifts my center of gravity over just enough to be able to weight this hold, to do this move”—if you can understand that, rather than, “I don’t know, I just squeeze harder and then I grab the hold,” you are so much more valuable as a routesetter. So no, routesetters do not need to be able to climb their own climbs…

    Climb Insider: setter pods, why add climbing, Olympics

    image of climber in competition

    Just a few thoughts

    A couple nice articles below about how climbing walls can improve your space. Routesetters get a few podcasts, and lots of new shapes to dream about. And of course, more from the Paris Games – athletes, movements, nutrition, and more. The torch went on a skimo outing. Last but not least, congrats to the hundreds of athletes who competed USAC Youth Nationals last week (results).

    Missed last week’s Insider on July 4th? It was a big one, you can catch up here.

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