Open For Fitness: Bouldering at The Arch Project Climbing Center
We took a beginner climbing clinic at O‘ahu’s only indoor bouldering gym.
Editor’s Note: Stacey and Katrina are at vastly different fitness levels (and ages) but both enjoy working out. We thought it’d be fun for the two of them to try new or interesting workouts together each month. This time they hit up a bouldering gym in a Waipi‘o warehouse.
WHAT IT IS
The Arch Project Climbing Center, run by a nonprofit, is the only bouldering gym on O‘ahu. Climbers can scale walls covered in colorful handholds and footholds and tackle routes of varying difficulty. Both of us have attempted bouldering before but signed up for the beginner climbing clinic, held every Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m., to learn the ropes. Or not: Bouldering differs from rock climbing in that there are absolutely no ropes, harnesses or helmets, only a soft floor to break your fall. But, thankfully, the walls aren’t crazy high.
HOW WE FELT: BEFORE
Katrina: I think bouldering is SO cool. Back when Volcanic Climbing and Fitness opened near Punahou, I snagged a free 10-day pass and fell in love with the sport but haven’t tried it since. I’m also a huge fan of American Ninja Warrior and even saw The Island Ninja, Grant McCartney, at the gym once. It’s been a few years so I was looking forward to giving it another shot.
Stacey: Nervous. I’ve seen people who boulder and they are ripppped. We’re talking no body fat, arms I would die for and legs so cut and muscular, they’ll never fit skinny jeans. And, the one time I tried bouldering, it was for an hour and I was chicken. There is no harness! So, no, I wasn’t heading into this all balls to the wall.
When you get there, in the boonies of Waipi‘o, you’re asked to sign a release form: In the slim chance that you plummet and break bones, they’re not liable. But, there is a very squishy, padded mat that is supposed to break your fall. Shoe rentals are $3. And, they recommend you get them tight. The top of your toes are supposed to curl a little; if you wear heels and are used to your feet being confined, this won’t bother you.
Katrina: Our instructor for the evening, Taylor Pfeiffer, went over the basics with us, first showing us how to fall. The gym prefers you climb down the wall whenever you can, but falls are inevitable, so you need to prove you can do it without hurting yourself or anyone around you. It’s simple: arms in, feet hit first, then butt, then back. Don’t try to stick the landing like a gymnast. And make sure you’re not walking below someone who’s climbing, or you both might end up on the floor in pain. Before you attempt any route, make sure it doesn’t overlap with anyone else’s.
Stacey: I love Taylor. His keep-calm-and-climb-on vibe was infectious and he babied my fears of falling to death. But, he wouldn’t stand under me to catch me, because of the rules. Not cool, T. He did go over how to not use T. rex arms to climb, but rather extend your limbs in order to use your muscles to their fullest capacity and keep your body close to the wall. And, he explained the color-tag system. YELLOW! That was the easiest, and that’s where I lived.
Katrina: Route cards show you where to start. No matter what color the tag is, you follow the color of the holds the starting card is attached to (so if there’s a green tag attached to a blue hold, you follow the blue holds). It’s a little confusing at first, but once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to map it out in your mind. Taylor demonstrated different approaches to problem-solving and since we have a similar body type (umm, except for the muscles), I figured I’d just copy what he did. Time to tackle that wall!
Katrina: We started on the easiest route: a keiki climb. The green holds were positioned low on the wall, which was leaning away from us at a slight angle, and they only went a few feet off the ground. No prob, Bob.
Stacey: I did it! I defeated the tough keiki wall. Booyaaaah. Then Taylor had to ruin my moment (in a very sweet way) by encouraging us to try the adult yellow route. Ugh. It was much higher, the holds were tinier and spread farther apart. Oh, and you’ll love this, the wall was leaning toward us! I’m no mathematician, but isn’t gravity pulling you away from the wall now? Taylor demonstrated and made it look like “no biggie.” Then Katrina went and did it fairly easily. I was up. My thought was, just don’t think and do it. And, that’s what I did. I started with the yellow card, looked at my route and started scurrying (like a gecko) up the wall. The holds aren’t too far apart once you’re on the wall (although I may have gone a little off course using another holder not part of the route), and the end goal came quicker than I expected. DONZO! Where’s my medal?
Katrina: Next we moved over to the other side of the gym. This area seemed a little more intimidating, with routes that went diagonal and a bunch of beautifully toned and muscular people standing by, just watching. But after nailing the yellow route on the other side, I felt confident. I finished the first route Taylor suggested, trying to keep my arms straight between moves. This felt counterintuitive, like I was holding all this dead weight (i.e., my body) with just my arms. That’s not what they do on American Ninja Warrior. But I still nailed it, so we moved to something a little harder. Aaaaand I fell. And then I fell again. But falling just motivated me more and on my third attempt I managed to get to the top. When I climbed down I was panting and sweating, even though it didn’t seem that intense at the time.
Stacey: The next wall looked intimidating with its slanted-ness and diagonal holds, but my soccer legs powered through and I hauled ass up again. I did it fairly quick, which was a mistake because Taylor then decided we needed something more challenging. A horizontal wall!! Really, Tay-Tay?
He started with a demonstration, and you guessed it, he rocked it by putting his feet on two lower holds and his hands on two higher holds. He hoisted himself up, again defying gravity, and started swinging his hips from side to side. The momentum made it easy for him to grab the next hold (that was inches away and upside down, which meant you had to grab it using all your finger strength). Then his feet followed, planting down on sequential holds. He must be part capuchin monkey. The great thing about this one is the mat is right under you, so if you fall it doesn’t matter, you’re good. So, I tried. And tried. And tried. I did get up easily and the swinging wasn’t difficult, but transferring to the next hold (that was again, a few inches away) was not happening. My spaghetti arms and bony fingers were like, “Uh-uh. Not today.”
Taylor still had a smile on his face, cheering us on.
Katrina: After an hour we’d gotten plenty of tips, so we were free to explore the gym and try whatever we wanted. We ran into our colleague from Hawai‘i Business Magazine, Anthony Bagnoli (see photo below), who climbs multiple times a week, and he showed us some other problem-solving methods. I couldn’t complete any of the routes he demonstrated so I went back to the first yellow one we did—and I couldn’t even get off the first holds. My muscles were spent.
Stacey: I DID NOT try a couple more with Anthony. The muscles that run from my wrists to my elbows were angry with me. I weeerked and strained them. And my swollen fingers looked like little red Redondo sausages. So I stretched my arms, turned in my shoes and watched all the climbers go easily from one teeny, tiny hold to the next. Their routes were not yellow.
SEE ALSO: Oʻahu Hike We Like: Koko Crater Trail
HOW WE FELT: AFTER
Stacey: TIRED. It’s surprising how much your whole body works just to boulder a couple of feet. My sweaty pits were proof; I usually don’t sweat when I run a couple of miles. Over the next couple of days my arms were Jell-O. Turning the steering wheel and putting on a shirt were painful feats and usually involved a lot of cussing. Would I go back again? Yes! Because that horizontal wall is my Everest and I WILL conquer it. And the people, from the staff to the climbers, are awesome.
Katrina: Trying it really gives you a newfound respect for the athletes who make it look so simple (I’m talking about you, Taylor). I skinned both my pinkies. Both hands were red and sensitive to touch. For the next three days, opening doors, picking things up, even squeezing a stapler were torture. The muscles you use when massaging other muscles? Yeah, those hurt too. My deltoids were the worst, followed by my lats, near my elbow, forearms, fingers and toes. But I love that this workout involves problem-solving, making it more like a game. And you can see your progress very quickly, so it’s rewarding.
Regular adult memberships are $71 per month, $19 for a day pass. Shoes are $3 to rent. See the full breakdown of membership rates here.
94-503 Uke‘e St., Unit 406, Waipahu, (808) 671-8000, archprojectclimbing.com