In the second of our new series of profiles on climbing gyms features Alex Cox-Taylor of Urban Climb in Brisvegas. We speak to Alex to find out more about the gym and the philosophy of those who run it.
What’s Urban Climb’s elevator pitch?
We like to help urban types become climbers
Who is behind Urban Climb?
A lot of passionate people, from the kids in our classes to our regulars, the yogis, our counter staff, instructors and route setters. It takes a mountain of energy from many people to create a place like Urban.
Can you tell us a little bit about the space where your gym is built, and what types of climbing you offer?
By April this year Urban Climb will be located centrally in West End, Milton and Newstead. We offer Boulder, Lead, and Top Rope and also regular social competitions in addition to the occasional whole-weekend climbing comp.
What kind of belay devices do you use in the gym and why?
Sometime around 2010 we made the switch from GriGri’s and pulley’s across to a combination of the DMM bug and a Slo-Go. This switch wasn’t without a hell of a lot of work around the retraining of both staff and our climbers, however, once settled in we knew we’d made the right choice.
Experienced lead climbers can be certified in either GriGri or tube style devices for the lead wall.
Climbing is inherently dangerous, what do you think are the key things you do to mitigate risk in your gym?
The key is to not let dust settle on risk prevention processes, in any modern climbing gym this is a working document that evolves to encompass the years of experience that each gym must go through.
Just as important is to have staff who take the safety aspects of their job personally and initiative to observe and report on possible risky situations before a serious outcome can occur.
The climbing scene in Queensland seems to be producing a lot of talented climbers at present, what’s going on up there that’s different from the past, and how much of it is to do with gyms?
There has been a serious volume of accessible outdoor development in the 25 to 30+ grade range over the last decade or so, in addition to a range of great climbing options closer to town for climbers at all levels, from beginner to advanced, allowing a smoother progression into the headier grades for those with the passion and drive.
As recently as five years ago the hardest grade band at our gym started at around 23 and rarely went above 25, now we are regularly setting climbs 28 and above and our hardest climbers are dispatching them over only a few sessions or attempts. We’re stoked every day to play a part in this evolution at a local level.
Who does most of the setting, and what kind of styles do they bring to their setting?
Our team comprises Daniel Gordon, Robert Parer, Patrik Banda, Blair Campbell, Sam Bowman and Jonathon Schwartz. Between the whole team we have a combined 35 years of route setting under our belts. All of us have set at multiple national and state level events.
We set a wide range of styles that are directly connected to who we have setting. For example, Rob has a very smooth and satisfying flow and Sam has unlimited ideas for how to make pure power moves. However, we do put a lot of time into training and working on our setting weaknesses, which we think is something that many gyms don’t do.
All of our setters have a hunger for better setting the moves we naturally wouldn’t set or climb. This ultimately works out better for the customer, you can remove your ego and become empowered to set what that customer and the business needs. We don’t like walls where all of the problems are similar, and our routes and boulders generally require a high degree of problem solving.
What brand holds do you use?
After travelling between gyms such as 9 Degrees, Boulder Club Kreuzberg and Stuntwerks Koln, head setter Daniel Gordon has shortlisted some modern and highly functional European brands to bring to the new gyms at Newstead and Milton. These include HRT’s new shapes/volumes, Beastmaker’s wooden system holds, Fiction, ARtline and, of course, Flatholds. Currently we have a massive mixture of brands that we’ve collected over the years. To list the main ones: Uncarved Block, Revolution, So ill, HRT and ICP.
Do you hold climbing competitions?
Absolutely, we love them!
Last year we hosted National and State lead championships, State boulder championships (or BoulderFest as we like to call it), ICP social series round one, and two university boulder bashes. We also kicked off a new concept in ongoing free social competitions for members, we call it Climb Club, but we’re not allowed to talk about it…
This year we are running a similar set of competitions and are ecstatic to report our application to run the National Bouldering Championships at our new Milton gym in 2016 has been recently accepted!
Competitions usually require a lot of work and expense; why do you do them?
We think that they are a lot of fun for the climbers and the community. They also help build a strong local community; everyone can be involved and surround these awesome events.
We also believe in growing competitions in every way to make the sport more professional in Australia. The people that benefit from this are sponsors, organisers, media companies, scoring companies, Sport Climbing Queensland, coaches, route setters and, of course, the athletes themselves. Without competitions the industry surrounding these groups will not become more professional moving into the future.
Competitions can also be a great way of exposing your gym and the sport to other climbers, interstate and international setters and non-climbers.
Is there a unifying philosophy underpinning the route setting?
Pure enjoyment through movement.
Do you offer any coaching for climbers?
We offer an extensive range of coaching for youth and adults. Our kids’ classes run five days a week and cater to kids as young as five years old all the way through to the champions in our Youth Squad program.
Adult’s beginning their journey can sign up for a very welcoming 101 class that spans over three weeks. Climbing 101 helps new climbers with the basic techniques and terminologies of climbing; footwork, balance, bouldering, ethics, clean climbing and more.
Intermediate climbers who are looking to break through that plateau sign up to ClimbTek. Our amazing coaches run the six week course four times a year ending in either a friendly competition or a bar tab! Different to 101, ClimbTek really focuses in on advanced techniques. Anyone can also organise PT or Personal climbing coaching sessions with our team of coaches and trainers.
Other than the walls that are full of things to hang onto, what other facilities does the gym offer?
In addition to climbing we have extensive fitness facilities, multiple yoga studios, cooperative workspaces, fitness classes and regular community events and presentations.
What have you got that other gyms haven’t?
One element that we are particularly proud of and work hard to cultivate is a true, solid, community that encompasses all instructors, climbers and local industry players regardless of ability and status. We’ve seen this in only a few other climbing gyms around the country.
Also, we open at 6am every weekday, it’s a great way to escape the heat in sunny Queensland.
What do you think people are getting wrong with their training?
Climbing training has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. By providing our members with great equipment and coaching we’ve really noticed that Urban members are getting stronger and stronger all the time.
Generally in newer climbers we see a lack of reflection/self-analysis at the end of each climb. Highly experienced climbers do this imperatively, which helps them tailor their training for the next period.
Intermediate or new climbers often fall off the wall and then keep having attempts making the same mistake or unbeknown to what is causing them to fall. By simply trying to understand the cause of your falls you can strategise ways to train your weaknesses.
What role do you think you play in the broader climbing community?
A climbing gym is there to provide a safe environment to learn and engage in top rope, bouldering and indoor lead in addition to being a community hub and meeting place for climbers of all skill levels and interests.
What, if any, responsibility do you think gyms have for the production of skilled, safe and knowledgeable climbers?
Ultimately, knowingly entering into an activity with inherent risk, the climber themselves are responsible for their own safety. A climbing gym is responsible for teaching the climber specifically how to engage with climbing and operate the equipment in the gym with best practice methods.
How have climbing gyms changed over the years?
The best climbing gyms are all doing the same thing: sharing their passion for the sport and putting forward the best facility and team they can to create a safe and challenging environment that achieves that aim.