By Cyrena Lee
Scaling the indoor climbing walls at Brooklyn Boulders is not only a total body workout, it also challenges your mind — to think outside the box and figure out a route upward. Great metaphor for life, right? Brooklyn Boulders thinks so too, and in the 5 years since they’ve been open, the response in NYC has been in overwhelming agreement, with BK Boulders now working on their fourth location in Long Island City. (Chicago and Boston opened in between the two NYC-centric locales.) Cyrena Lee, in charge of Marketing for all BK Boulder locations, shares with us why climbing is such a draw.
How did BK Boulders get its start?
Brooklyn Boulders (BKB) was founded in 2009, essentially first digitally with a Facebook group called "New York City Needs a Climbing Gym." There was no dedicated climbing space in New York City at the time, and so the founders of Brooklyn Boulders, Lance Pinn and CFO Jeremy Balboni, decided to go for it — starting with that Facebook group. Overnight, there were over two hundred members in the group, and from that, the launch of Brooklyn Boulders was a genuine example of community building. Volunteers came by to help with the build, and climbing enthusiasts congregated and formed a community unlike any other — from there, history began.
We had world-famous graffiti artists come in and paint our walls. A ton of organizations formed: our BKBFoundation (which helps make climbing more accessible to underprivileged kids), the Adaptive Climbing Group founded by BKB member Kareemah Batts, and Brothers of Climbing - just to name a few. We started throwing events unheard of for most climbing gyms, always trying to make them innovative and interesting, and also hosted art shows and live music events. It started to grow into something much bigger than just a climbing gym — and we wanted to bring this unique Brooklyn spirit everywhere.
You now have 3 climbing gyms, and the newest location about to open its doors in Long Island City. How did you grow so quickly, and how do you choose cities?
Boston was our second location because of its history with the founders — some of them are from the area, and most of them attended Babson College close by. Brooklyn Boulders Somerville (BKBS) opened in 2013, and while there are already a few climbing gyms in Boston, we were attempting to establish something completely different. BKBS has an Active Collaborative Workspace — a co-working area with pull-up bars and stand-up desks, playing off the idea that physical activity can stimulate creativity and provide a break from the standard monotonous work day. Chicago was next on our list — and our mission is to bring the BKB spirit and community, and effect positive change in every metropolitan city.
For someone who has never tried climbing, what would you tell them to expect? And what are the first steps?
Most people who try climbing immediately get hooked. But for someone who has no idea of what it's all about, I'd say that it's not necessarily what they think. Rock climbing is no longer an obscure sport for brawny, insane dudes, outside on a 1,000 foot-tall rock. With the rise in popularity of indoor climbing, a ton of people are now bouldering — which is, climbing on shorter walls with no rope. It's a social way to hang out and to get a good workout in, that doesn't require a belay partner. Climbing communities are generally extremely friendly; if you're ever unsure of something, there is bound to be someone nearby who is willing to help you out or answer a question.
First steps: Be aware of the risks of climbing, and pay attention to your surroundings. Keep your arms locked off (as straight as possible), and recognize that climbing is more than brute strength; it requires a certain amount of mental faculty to determine how best to sequence and move across a problem. Most importantly: Have fun!
What sections of the body does climbing work most?
Everything. Really. People think it's just your arms, but your core gets the strongest workout — especially on steeper walls. As a former competitive gymnast, my abs have never been stronger. However, first-timers and beginners will definitely feel the pump in their forearms.
You also offer Yoga and technique classes at Brooklyn Boulders. How are these a good complement to climbing?
I've written about this before, but essentially keeping up your flexibility, balance, and focus is crucial to good climbing. As for our technique classes, it's a surefire way to improve your climbing ability quickly. Our classes are geared towards teaching people proper form, technique, and footwork.
As you mentioned earlier, climbing is also known for the amazing community that grows around the sport. Among many other programs, BK Boulders has a CSA produce-sharing initiative, and nights out with the community outside the gym. Why is climbing such a close-knit community?
What differentiates climbing from other physical activities is how inherently social it is — with top-roping, it necessitates a really close, trust-based relationship with your belay partner, and with bouldering, people are constantly giving each other feedback, advice, and encouragement. It's both a social sport, and at the same time, highly individual -because when you're up on the wall, you're wholly relying upon yourself. Climbing plays a different role in each person's life, but each person is there for the love of the sport. I don't think many people are there purely to work out their body - there are so many other benefits of climbing. The interests and passions of the individuals inevitably come up, and at BKB we encourage everyone to get as weird as possible, to be themselves, and to collaborate with others. It's been exciting to see all of these connections pop up, and real ideas come to fruition in the space.
Any advice, or last words for readers?
What I've found most fascinating is how climbing has changed lives for so many people. Talking to members at BKB about how they've started climbing is illuminating — I've heard stories about it helping cure drug addictions, or helping to assimilate those who've served in the military back into civilian life, etc. Climbing is a metaphor for life — it's about facing problems and challenges, and being relentless in your pursuit to continually make progress.
Cyrena Lee is the Regional Marketing Manager for Brooklyn Boulders. She’s a writer, traveler, proud Barnard graduate, lucid dreamer, former gymnast, and now rock climber.