The Rise of Grizzly Holds: From Routesetting and Coaching Together to Selling Holds in an International Market

Grizzly Holds founders
Tom Wojtkowiak (left) and Anthony Richard (right), founders of Grizzly Holds, pose with two of their large plastic shapes that have been favorites on the market since 2019. (All images courtesy of Grizzly Holds)

“Grizzly Holds: Coming Soon,” their first Instagram post, dated October 13th, 2018, says. Pictured are several holds in black and white, ranging from half-pad edges to high-profile sloping jugs, the shadows exposing texture and height. The owners of Grizzly seemed to know they had something special, something different, before launching their brand in 2019. Their social media sneak peeks had people talking, wondering who the faces were behind the shapes…Who owns the hold company that would win its first CBJ Grip List award within weeks of launching?

The Faces Behind the Shapes

Before the accolades, the story of Grizzly Holds begins in 2011 at Climbers Rock in Burlington, Ontario. Anthony Richard was on the youth team and Tom was a gym member; they became friends soon after meeting and have collectively managed Team Grip, worked in Milton at Aspire Climbing as coaches and routesetters, and more recently founded Grizzly.

As their professional relationship and friendship progressed, they began tossing around the idea of starting a business together; initially, Tom and Anthony were unsure of what their business would be, but they knew they wanted to work for themselves. This led to their creation of other businesses, such as a volumes brand and freelance routesetting company, before they hit their stride with Grizzly. “There were a lot of holds where we were like, ‘Oh, I wish they did this,’” Tom recounts. “We had all these ideas, and said, ‘Well, why don’t we start our own hold company?’”

Grizzly’s founders hit the ground running and ordered two skids of shaping foam and, despite never having shaped holds before, remained confident in their design ideas, shaping abilities, and dedication to their company. “When you’re starting a business, you have to go big or go home,” Tom says. “If you’re committed to it and you go full force into it and invest fully into it, you have a higher chance of succeeding.”

Grizzly holds at the 2019 CWA Summit
Tom and Anthony set out to build a one-stop shop for gyms and setters searching for a wide variety of user-friendly grips.

Soon after their foam order of 2018, they had created their first five sets: Floods (pinches), Ridgelines (slopers), Tectonic Plates (edges), Sinkholes (huecos), and Glaciers (jugs). Later that year, they reached a second turning point for their brand after signing with Aragon: Aragon was looking to partner with a smaller company, and Tom and Anthony came prepared for their partnership proposition. “I think the fact that we were so organized and had such a good game plan maybe instilled some confidence in Aragon. And we were pretty confident in our own knowledge too,” Tom says.

The duo decided to strategize their launch, set for the 2019 Climbing Wall Association summit. “The climbing industry is small, and we knew that the process was so long that by the time we’d launched people would just forget about [Grizzly],” Anthony says. While managing to be discreet until the launch date, the pair seamlessly created the “hype in the industry” effect that was essential to their rapid success: They had their first order in May 2019 at the CWA Summit and were in World Cups by that October.

Meridians at IFSC World Cup Villars 2022
Grizzly holds were first featured in World Cups in October 2019; seen here are their Meridians at Villars last year.

Setting and Creative Design

Part of Grizzly’s success can be attributed to the usability of the company’s shapes in both competitions and commercial settings. Tom and Anthony decided to design large and user-friendly sets, while also making a “one-stop shop” for gym managers and routesetters with their five main hold types. And as routesetters, they understand properties of good holds and what people want to climb on. “A really important thing for us is to stay in the industry,” Tom says. “You’re aware of what’s trending, you’re aware of what setters actually feel about holds and what they like and don’t like. A good ear to the ground of the routesetting industry is to be involved in it. Instead of outside looking in, I’m inside looking around.”

One of the secrets discovered through their combined 26 years in the industry is that to create the next big thing, they must be “more proactive and less reactive.” For example, once they identify a “missing” hold in the industry and are ready to sell it, the hold would have already been created and distributed by a different brand. “It is getting more and more challenging to create an original shape. With more hold companies on the market, there’s a lot more shapers, more ideas on the market,” Tom explains. “You still want to be original enough where a shape seems unique in the industry and seems unique to your brand.”

Grizzly’s “unique shapes and sizes” are what initially drew Yuji Hirayama—a repeat World Cup winner and founder of the Climb Park Base Camp gym in Japan—to their booth at the 2019 CWA Summit. As their hold distributor for Japan and “the first person to believe in Grizzly,” Yuji notes they were “one of the most attractive brands” at the trade show.

Tom and Anthony with Yuji
At the 2019 CWA Summit, Tom and Anthony pose with Yuji, “the first person to believe in Grizzly.”

Some of their shapes come from the need to have a variety of holds, like their original five sets, while some shapes come from random ideas. At times, Tom and Anthony will have shaping sessions with goals of making 20 shapes each, for example, then evaluating the shapes. “I know what a good hold looks like; I know what a bad hold looks like,” Tom says. “And because we’re really good friends, if one of us shapes a bad hold, the other one lets them know right away.”

Their ear-to-the-ground business approach also allows them to experience and solve evolving routesetting frustrations. For example, they are making most of their holds bolt and screw-on, allowing the boulders to be easily tweaked and usable in different types of gyms. Additionally, all screw holes are drilled at 90 degrees to prevent the wall from flaking while set screwing. Piggybacking holds is becoming much more common, so they designed holds with large, flat surfaces so that jibbed holds can sit flush.

“Our focus is finding ways, not just so it looks pretty, but so it’s functionally usable and it helps the routesetters get away with setting moves without having to forerun for three hours because you find a break in it,” Tom says.

Grizzly's route at the 2019 Shape Gallery
Grizzly creates sets that are diverse yet similar enough to make subtle tweaks by swapping similar holds, as seen by this line of Glaciers at the 2019 Shape Gallery.

Head Routesetter of The Gravity Vault locations Ferdie Araga adds that he finds the durability and texture of the holds to be most impressive. “When I first saw their holds at their booth in Salt Lake City, I was immediately drawn to check it out,” Ferdie says. “[The holds] have just the right amount of grip for training and the texture has held up.” Also enjoying the “spread of hold sizes within a family/set,” Ferdie has been a repeat customer of Grizzly.

Back to Their Roots

Even after winning the CBJ Grip Showcase award last year, one of the most important things for the Grizzly owners is to remember their humble beginnings. Tom says they frequently receive requests from university walls looking for competition sponsors, which hits close to home for the pair: Tom was on his university climbing team, and both Tom and Anthony competed in the University Bouldering Series, which Grizzly sponsors.

Grizzly holds at IFSC World Cup Innsbruck 2022
Climbers can find Grizzly holds—shown here at Innsbruck last year—in World Cups, national events, local gyms, as well as at university walls.

Even as their holds are being climbed on by some of the best climbers in the world, Tom and Anthony still open the emails from smaller gyms and universities, and happily send over stickers, t-shirts, and a couple free holds to make climbers feel like they have a sponsor. And because they’ve both been on the receiving end of hold orders, good customer service remains paramount. “My interaction with Anthony has always been pleasant,” Ferdie adds. “We never had any issues troubleshooting orders and deliveries.”

Anthony and Tom look forward to growing with the industry, positively impacting the climbing experiences of beginners and elite climbers alike, and creating new sets (two of which we can expect at the 2023 CWA Summit). “We care about our company, and we care about people enjoying our holds,” Tom says, “so we’ll go out of our way to make sure that happens for everyone!”


This story was paid for by the sponsor and does not necessarily represent the views of the Climbing Business Journal editorial team.

Harness Consulting