We went to the World Indoor Climbing Summit organized by Walltopia, the largest climbing wall manufacturer in the world. The purpose of the conferences & meetings was to talk abou “shaping the future of indoor climbing”. Here is the takeaway that you should know.

What is and what should be the image of climbing?

       Joe Zentmyer, co-founder and CFO at First Ascend Climbing & Fitness in Chicago opened the talk by saying, “climbing is becoming cool”. Everything started in France, Germany, and Switzerland with core climbers; the dirtbags and the fearless. Just like for the fitness industry, Zentmyer found a way to develop the industry of climbing faster by building climbing gyms in Chicago, Illinois really quickly. The problem in this sport lays in the difficulty of opening a new gym. When tennis started becoming popular, we saw tennis courts appearing everywhere, but opening a climbing gym is a lot of work. Climbing is isolated from this bubble effect. This is why the industry is growing, but never as fast as we would like it to! Moreover, climbing is still that old, un-sexy and old-fashioned sport in many people’s minds, but that image is wrong. It’s a social sport where your climbing partners become your family.

What’s the biggest challenge we face to make the industry grow faster?

       It’s not about building climbing gyms, but about preaching. The same applies to religion: nobody would have gone to church if people weren’t preaching and convincing people to go. We have to make climbing more social, more fun, and most of all, more accessible to anyone.
Jeffery Bowling, marketing, IT and business developer at Touchstone climbing & fitness mentioned that they are hanging pictures of their members instead of always showing world’s best athletes, so people feel more involved and confident. It’s important to them to highlight these people, and not always the most famous athletes.

What will be the impact of the Olympics game in Tokyo?

       Unexpectedly, the answers were mitigated and skeptical. For many climbing gym owners, it will mostly depend on the media’s coverage. If the media is only willing to show the most famous sports, it won’t change the future of climbing that much at once.

What should a climbing gym look like today?

       Jeffery Bowling from Touchstone helped us understand how they managed to create one of the coolest climbing gym in the US. For him, everything is about space: he wants the people to feel at ease when they enter the gym, to arrive in a large space and be able to see everyone climbing, to get inspired and willing to climb as well. The majority of people are not climbing but watching! So they made sure that there were enough cozy spaces on the floor. They want people to feel at home. Each one of their climbing gyms has a soul: a different name, a different theme, and a unique spacial organization. It’s important to have diversity for their customers so they don’t always feel in the same place but can discover new routes and feel a different atmosphere each time they enter into a Touchstone gym.

We talked a lot about diversity, but what does that really mean?

       By diversity, the climbing gym managers want to not only have walls to climb but create a convivial space, attractive to many different people. Touchstone understood that training is very important for their customers, which is why they dedicate a large space for fitness and call the brand “climbing & fitness”.
Christian Popien, CEO of Climb-Inn Klettersport, is also one of the co-founders of Bahnhof Blo – Bouldercafé in Wuppertal, Germany. They’ve created a very welcoming place with a restaurant and bar attracting this kind of diversity: people of different ages, genders, interests… through this place, they can watch people bouldering and be inspired to join the club and give it a try!
Ani Manova, creative director in the marketing team of Walltopia, added to this point that “climbing offers an instant feeling of achievement”. It’s different from skating or surfing where you have to be patient and learn for a very long time prior to feeling achievement. Climbing is accessible to everyone, and this is the message we need to transmit if we want to see the industry grow.

What is the future of climbing?

       The oldest climbing gyms need to rehab their spaces; make them more attractive and fun. It’s time for colors and geometrical shapes. People need to see that it’s a sexy and challenging sport. Diversification is so important: provide a large bouldering space, offer diversity with different training sessions, workshops, activities, fitness practices, etc.