Community is a gathering of people uniting around a shared passion, within their own space. Zach Olschwanger, founder and head manager of Austin Bouldering Project, operates with the idea of community at the forefront of his gym’s growth strategy. “People have been so willing and anxious to help out in any way. Our approach is to do the best that we can to make it the best it can be, so that other people can enjoy it and tell other people about it. This is kind of the dream; it’s the culture of [bouldering],” he said.
Austin Bouldering Project, a 50,000 square-foot bouldering facility, opened its doors on Nov. 28, 2015, as hordes of Austin rock climbers rushed to finish their Thanksgiving feast to head to the new prime spot for indoor bouldering in the United States. After years of planning, city ordinance mishaps, and miserable rain due to El Niño that continually halted production, the gym was finally able to welcome the anxious public who had been continually checking updates for over a year, so they could get their hands chalked up.
Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that does not use ropes. Instead, large mats are used to protect falls from lower heights than those that would require ropes. Using balance, kinetic awareness and core strength, climbers determine how to best reach for holds that compose the problem (route) at hand.
With dozens of color-coded problems continuously reset by Austin Bouldering Project’s expert team of setters, there is always enough to keep climbers busy. There are four climbing rooms, with two spaces designated for adults, one for children and one for birthday parties. No patron is too young or old to venture into this world. All anyone needs is chalk to keep the hands dry, and secure climbing shoes for better grip.
Entering the gym can be intimidating. But after greeting the staff, you can sense the atmosphere shift from intimidating to inviting. Everyone is there to cheer one another on, with strangers leaping at the opportunity to help with the next move, or applaud you with sincerity once you’ve finally climbed to the top and stretched your fingers over the last hold or edge of the wall.
“There’s not a lot of barrier to entry, meaning you don’t need a harness; you don’t need to learn how to belay; and you don’t need a partner, which is really big. It’s super social because people can just come in and not know anyone, and be really, really motivated to meet with everyone and climb with everyone.” -Zach Olschwanger
If you feel the pressure while looking anxiously at the thirteen- to seventeen-foot walls towering over you, think again. Not only are there varying levels of routes to choose from, but it’s also key to remember that bouldering is a balance of upper and lower body strength, as well as learning how to lean and position your entire body. Another factor to note is there are firm holds specifically designed to help ease you down from the wall once you are done with the route, and the padded mats that make up the floor of each of the gym’s climbing rooms compensate for the shock of a potential fall.
Yoga and Fitness Studios
In addition to the bouldering rooms, there are two fitness classes that focus on circuit, and abs and core, within a larger weight training area that boasts multiple weight racks, medicine balls, weight machines, ropes, cardio equipment and more.
Vinyasa Flow yoga is offered at varying levels throughout the day within a separate yoga studio, so you’ll have a chance to find your center at whichever time suits your schedule. Afterward, grab a clean towel from the front desk and step into the locker room to relieve tension in the sauna.
Driving Change in Austin
Olschwanger and his team are just getting started. “We want to do events for the community and events to help further climbing. We’re planning, as of right now, a big competition during South by Southwest next year, which will be super fun. We want to do one or two big events each year, and I think it’ll just bring more people to Austin,” he shared. Also in the works are workshops for fitness and yoga, in order to bring diversity of cultures, skills and experiences to the gym. For youth climbers, Austin Bouldering Project will soon host after-school programs with a friendly club, as well as a competitive youth group for kids who want to train and compete.
Austin Bouldering Project is dedicated to fostering positive change, as investing time, money and passions back into the city is an initiative the staff will gradually drive. “I think our staff is going to get really involved in the community, just as we start to take on different events and meet certain people. I just see how art has such a huge impact on communities. I would love to help fund artistic projects and just use it as an opportunity to add to the neighborhood through different nonprofits, projects and initiatives,” Olschwanger said. Other than funding artistic endeavors, the staff is also interested in volunteering at local farms to help harvest and promote sustainable living.
Austin Bouldering Project Is All of Ours
Austin Bouldering Project understands the value of creating a passionate, local tribe, and their opening has created a space where that community can gather and embrace newcomers and curious Austinites alike. It’s only been three months since the gym opened, and in Olschwanger’s words, “We’re most thankful for the people, how cool everyone has been, and how surprisingly everyone has been so enveloped and active in the project. It’s all of ours.”
@theAustinot wants to know:
Where do you boulder in Austin?
Talena Ramnath lives in Austin, exploring the old and new in Central Texas. You can reach out to her through LinkedIn.