Field Notes: Rock into Shape at Volcanic Climbing and Fitness

Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: Volcanic Climbing and Fitness.
Photos: Odeelo Dayondon 


The path to fitness can sometimes be rocky, but the new Volcanic Climbing and Fitness on Punahou Street goes beyond the requisite humdrum elliptical or mind-numbing weight machines. The gym’s bouldering wall, with routes going straight up, slightly angled, and even basically horizontal, is attracting both curious newbies looking for a fresh way to stay fit and seasoned climbing scenesters alike.  


The location

Created by and for rock-climbing and bouldering enthusiasts, Volcanic Rock Gyms have been around for a few years (there’s one on the Windward Side). What makes the Punahou location different is the fact that it’s more than just a rock-climbing wall. Housed in the old Punahou Spa space on the corner of Beretania and Punahou streets, this intimate, newly renovated facility includes shower rooms, weight machines, treadmills and ellipticals, as well as a small yoga studio, saltwater pool, ice plunge, sauna, hot tub and, of course, bouldering wall. 


The digs

It would be hard to miss the climbing wall, front-and-center in the converted, recently renovated space, when you walk in. Under the wall is a springy, raised platform, a precaution for those inevitable tumbles, which is good, because there are no ropes to catch climbers. Welcome to the bouldering method of climbing, which tends to be shallower and doesn’t involve harnesses or lines. 



How it works

Climbing routes are switched up every month and are either color-coded by holds or marked with matching patterned tape. Climbers follow the tape trail, using the first tape point as a handhold, with feet on the floor or on matching-tape footholds. The gym provides climbing shoes and chalk for dusting your hands (so key for not slipping). 


In general, climbing isn’t just about yanking up your whole body weight with your arm muscles. There’s a learned technique involved that requires thought and a hefty dose of versatile skills: how to hold one’s weight, how to balance, learning which muscles to employ. Surprisingly, a lot of yoga principles pertain to climbing as well, including hip-opening, breathing and stretching.



Who goes

Gym-goers span the gamut from 5-year-olds scrambling up an improvised route, to seniors taking a break from their regular workout routine, to friendly young professionals with a few years of climbing under their belts and a lot of determination. Depending on the climber, you’ll see a range of technique styles, from zero for the kiddies speeding to the top to intense 20-somethings lifting themselves onto a stalactite-like vertical hold. 


For serious climbers, whether they tackle other indoor gyms across the Island or take the sport to the great outdoors, it’s much more than just a fitness routine. It’s a hobby, one they’re excited to share with others, a sentiment that’s obvious with the way everyone knows everyone, and the supportive attitude of fellow gym-goers. Seasoned climbers are quick to cheer newbies on or show stumped beginners the ropes on a route with technique tips that will get them working smart, not hard. Shouts of encouragement and cheers often erupt from the floor, as well as chants of “You can do it.”  It’s not uncommon for familiar faces to turn into climbing buddies, then social media connections, then real-life pals.


The Climbers

 Andrew Hanson, Makiki, tobacconist

“It involves a lot of critical thinking, at least for me. There’s a lot of technique involved. I like having my space and my own time and letting myself just think about it.”



Jennifer Bonifacio, Makakilo, holistic consultant

“[My daughter Aurora] has classes at Diamond Head Theatre for the summer, so before heading back to Makakilo, we stop here. She is lovin’ it!”



Līko Dowling, Kaimukī, bartender

“I like the community. There’s a family sense when you come in and you’re trying a route and it’s difficult and everyone jumps in and tries to help you.”



Did you know? Newbies can expect to feel the burn in the upper body and shoulders. Hands and fingers may also feel like they went through the wringer the next day, until they adjust. 


Volcanic Climbing and Fitness, 1212 Punahou St.,, 949-0001


read more stories by natalie schack