Throughout the country, the long-time niche sport of rock climbing is steadily becoming popularized. Factors such as the Oscar Award-winning documentary Free Solo and rock climbing’s Olympic debut may have contributed to this seemingly out-of-the-blue climbing boom. On a more personal level, the pandemic has left many in search of community and a challenge, both of which can be found in rock climbing gyms. These are luckily no longer few and far between.
This increase in demand for climbing spaces can be seen in the rapidly rising number of Bay Area climbing gyms, including Oakland’s Pacific Pipe, the largest climbing gym in the country as of its June 2020 opening. The benefits of having many gyms has connected with Berkeley High School rock climbers. Riyen Rabe-Alexander, a junior in Berkeley International High School and frequent climber, noticed that, “There are a lot of Bay Area High School students that [climb] because it is so accessible now.”
Benchmark, another recently-opened climbing gym in San Francisco, has been attracting Bay Area climbers with its soft opening that includes free climbing for the month of September. It now has a second site under construction on Shattuck Avenue.
For Huan Le, a Berkeley resident of 24 years and CEO of both Benchmark locations, owning a business in Berkeley has been a long-time dream. To him, climbing gyms were the best way to achieve it, and despite the harshness of the post-pandemic industry, Benchmark’s beginning showcases climbing’s resilience. “The climbing community is very open and inclusive and it fosters a lot of positive things for your physical … as well as your intellectual and emotional well being. It’s about fixing, and it’s about figuring out problems.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been feeling helpless. A pertinent aspect of climbing’s appeal is how it allows one to focus on the problem in front of them and make visible progress towards a goal.