What: Indoor climbing
WHO: A mom and her exuberant 5-year-old son
Or: HiClimb, 825 Ilaniwai St, Honolulu
When: 8 a.m. on Friday (the gym opens from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day)
My Landon, 5 year old son, can’t stop moving. Never. Unless he’s sleeping – and even then he kicks, punches and rolls.
So when our friends signed up for HiClimb, an indoor climbing gym that opened last summer in an old warehouse in Kakaʻako, I thought it would be a great way to exhaust it for once. .
HiClimb offers 14,000 square feet of rock climbing and fitness — there’s a yoga studio upstairs and a small gym with machines and weights — including lead climbing, climbing activity most dangerous indoor climbing. (It requires you to be certified to do it. We didn’t do that!) The centerpiece of this spacious, semi-open gym is a 35-foot climbing tower, where you must strap into a harness and use some ropes. to climb to the top. There are also rock climbing walls along the perimeter of the gymnasium, giant rock climbing walls that can reach 16 feet high. No harness here.
It was a Friday morning and we arrived at 8am, just as the gym opened. I had pre-booked our tour and signed waivers online, which speeded up the check-in process. A very helpful worker showed the ropes – literally! – and located us.
She gave us a quick tour of the facilities and then put us into our harnesses, which you can use for free on your first visit. (It costs $8 for kamaʻāina [$10 otherwise] to rent equipment afterwards.) The tower is the focal point, right in the middle of the gymnasium and surrounded by climbing walls. It’s an intimidating three-story building, with colorful climbing holds scattered about seemingly randomly. Our guide explained the scoring system on the tower. The lower the number – 5.4 versus 5.6 – the easier the climb. You must follow the same color, however. So if you start with yellow, you continue to use only yellow sockets until the end. (This is also true for the block wall, although the colors indicate difficulty.)
I wouldn’t class my son as a climber. He’s not the kind of kid who sees a chain-link fence and immediately wants to climb it. In fact, he’s not even in the playground monkey bars. He prefers hiking, swimming and building Lego. So I didn’t know how he would take the climb.
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At first, Landon was thrilled to get into the harness and felt confident he could climb the wall.
“Are you going to make it to the top? ” I asked.
“Oh yeah, just like Spider-Man,” he replied. (He has been was wearing his Spider-Man shirt that day.)
But when you stand at the base of the tower, it seems much taller than 35 feet.
I went first. I was locked in an automatic belay device, which automatically catches you when you’re about to descend – or when you fall, which happens – and slowly lowers you to the ground. It took a lot of getting used to at first; you have to drop (voluntarily!) to go down. I got halfway up the tower and couldn’t tell myself how high I was – and couldn’t get comfortable with the auto-belay.
Landon was next.
Despite his confidence – and his plans to shoot webs from his palms – he barely landed a few takes before quitting. It was too high, he said, and too scary. I did not argue.
It’s also a very different experience when you’re not quite 4 feet tall. I went another time with a girlfriend who is just 5ft tall and she said some routes were difficult because she just couldn’t easily reach the next slipway. Thus, height and arm length may be factors.
We abandoned the tower and headed for the block walls, which rest on very thick pads. We learned how to fall – get in and roll from your butt to your back – and found the yellow climbing holds, which are the easiest routes on these walls. I wouldn’t say these are easy– I suddenly wished I was locked in a self-belay device here – but these climbs were way less daunting than the tower. Landon struggled at first, but after trying different yellow routes, he gained enough confidence to climb higher each time.
These walls can reach 16 feet high and some paths seem impossible. But there are enough sections for beginners to complete, even as young as 5 years old.
We went up and down the walls several times, taking water breaks in between, for almost an hour. Other climbers came to cheer us on and show us where to put our feet or what holds to grab. It was interesting to work towards a goal – to reach the top – alongside other people without really interacting with them. We weren’t running the same race or maneuvering for the same wave. It was just us, a wall and a bunch of other people supporting our ascent – not competing with us.
“All sports help people improve their lives, but there is something very special and unique about indoor climbing,” says Anthony Bagnoli, general manager and long-time climber. “Overcoming these human obstacles – fear of heights, falling or failing or any self-imposed limitation – alongside other people overcoming the same human obstacles creates the most amazing camaraderie. Like other individual sports, rock climbing promotes bonding rather than competition Climbers learn by watching each other.
The youngest allowed climbers are 5 years old, Bagnoli says. “That’s usually the point where they have the mental dexterity and the physical ability to climb.” And on weekends, you’ll see parents with newborns in strollers or pregnant women – with their doctors’ permission – strapped into special harnesses and hitting the tower.
But, he adds, climbing is always dangerous, for everyone.
“You shouldn’t forget that at any time,” says Bagnoli. “We help you manage your risk. We explain to you how to use all the equipment properly, how to make a fall… but it’s not safe. This is where you take calculated risks. That’s part of the fun.
As well as a great workout, rock climbing makes people be more daring and confident, and, for kids, it can help hone their problem-solving skills.
“You don’t even realize you’re exercising [because] it’s so much fun,” says Bagnoli. “It puts the game back into our very prescribed lives. Young and old are ready for a nap at the end of their climb. They forget how hard they push themselves.
Did someone say nap?
Our 5 tips
- Arrive early. The gym is not crowded early in the morning, especially on weekdays. Weekends are busier. Street parking is limited; you can park in the adjacent lot (843 Ilaniwai St.) for $1.50 per half hour.
- Wear socks. We both got blisters from the climbing shoes we rented. Although not mandatory, wearing socks (the second time around) really helped.
- Be ready. Sign the waiver online in advance, to avoid your waiting time. And bring your vaccination record or negative Covid-19 test from the last 48 hours for anyone aged 12 or over.
- Bring lots of water. Rock climbing is serious training, so you’ll want to stay hydrated. There is a bottled water refill station at the gym.
- Grab a coffee or snacks at Cafe Villamor the next door. This lovely cafe serves great coffees and teas, acai bowls and other snacks that are perfect before or after the climbs. (I loved the avocado bagel with cherry tomatoes and pickled onions.)
Cost is $25 for kamaʻāina for the first time and includes equipment rental, $30 kamaʻāina for a day pass (does not include equipment rental), with various card options perforated and monthly subscription. Open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, HiClimb, 825 Ilaniwai St., Honolulu. (808) 888-2999, hawaiiclimb.com, @hiclimbhawaii