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August 12, 2011 > Bonding on rocks

Bonding on rocks

By Giovanni Albanese Jr.
Photos By Courtesy of City Beach Fremont

There's a common preconception that rock climbing is an individual sport -- just you and the rocks. Yes, while you're up on the rocks. You are by yourself, but you're never alone.

"A camaraderie that would take an entire season to develop with team sports can be developed over a single night in rock climbing," said Marcus Odor, Rock Gym manager at City Beach Fremont. At any given time in the Rock Gym at City Beach Fremont, there are upwards to 30 members just hanging out on the ground as one member climbs up the wall. While that climbing member is attempting to achieve a goal, the 30 members on the ground are spectators, encouraging and being a teammate.

At the 17,000 square foot rock climbing facility on Technology Place in Fremont, people of varying climbing experience come together like the "island of misfit toys," according to Odor.

Those "misfit toys" come together and form a makeshift team that forges bonds almost immediately. The sport offers fitness and entertainment all at once. "In team sports, the best part of training scrimmaging," said Odor. "In rock climbing, you're scrimmaging all the time."

Blending an even split of physical, technical and mental stamina, rock climbing builds lean, dense muscle that will strengthen your core, allowing you to do more pull-ups than ever, while trimming your waist line. "People will say you need to get in shape to rock climb," Odor said. "I will say you need to rock climb to get in shape."

Rock climbing started to explode onto the scene in the 1960s and 70s in North America out of Yosemite in an outdoor capacity. Indoor climbing hasn't come to the forefront until 20 years ago and City Beach has only been around for 10 years, founded in December 2001.

"Outdoor and indoor climbing are very different sports," said Odor. "Outdoor you look for solace; indoor you look for that buzz and excitement." Of the members at City Beach, more than half, according to Odor, haven't climbed outdoors.

What came along with the buzz was the whole community aspect of rock climbing. Continuing on the misfit toys idea, "For someone that might be shy, when you come to the Rock Gym, there's a community here that accepts you for who you are," said Odor. "In a weight room, you can be intimidated; on the rock wall, everyone is falling."

When your outdoors on a cliff, climbing a rock, there is some danger involved. When your indoors, climbing a rock wall, the danger aspect of the climb is taken out, but the thrill remains. Over the years, technology has developed so much so that a study by Climbing Wall Association reported that last year, there were more injuries in public swimming pools than at indoor rock climbing gyms. Ropes used today can hold up to 18,000 pounds. "When I go climbing, even outdoors, where it's more dangerous than indoors," said Odor, "I'm more worried about my drive to get there."

While the danger is virtually nonexistent, the difficulty of the climb still remains. City Beach's Rock Gym uses the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), rating the difficulty of climbs. YDS' entire scale covers walks, hikes and climbs, going from a Class 1 (wide road, straight path) to a Class 5 (climbing with use of a rope). In the Rock Gym, have differing levels of Class 5 climbs. To date, the most difficult Class 5 climb is a 5.15; City Beach's most difficult on the YDS scale is a 5.12.

With the added safety, it makes rock climbing, especially indoors, a sport for everyone. At City Beach, instructors teach kids as young as 3 years old (35 pounds is the typical weight you can get started) and there are members as old as 61 years. Just under 800 people are members ($35 a month for kids, students and families; $40 per month for adults) at City Beach, and over 200 people a week come in on daily passes ($17). All the equipment you need -- harness to hook the rope, chalk for grip and climbing shoes, although tennis shoes work fine -- for climbing is offered at the Rock Gym, free for members, a small fee for day passes.

For first-time climbers, City Beach offers six auto belay ropes, which allows climbers to go up a wall, reach the top, and let go, with the auto belay rope slowly bringing them down to the floor. If after the first-timers want more than the auto belay, City Beach offers classes to teach aspiring climbers the ins and outs of tying knots and belaying one of the 50-plus top ropes offered in the Rock Gym. Belaying is the safety aspect of climbing, where one person climbs up and another person on the ground, using the same rope, controls the slack of the rope. Essentially, belaying is manually doing what the auto rope does. City Beach offers 10 classes a week teaching the art of belaying.

In addition to the auto rope and top rope manual belay walls, the Rock Gym also offers more advanced walls -- the lead cave and bouldering -- for those looking to take their climbing to the next step. In the lead cave, a climber takes the rope along the climb, clipping it to the wall each step of the way. With bouldering, there is no rope involved. The wall is shorter, but is a more challenging climb with steeper angles. According to Odor, indoor climbing is heading in the direction of bouldering. It's in this advanced climbing where camaraderie comes through the most.

"A lot of the people that come in here, unfortunately, don't think they're good at a lot of things," said Odor. "Bouldering forces people to push their limits and be vulnerable in front of people; the encouragement (from people on the ground) keeps everyone in good spirits."

With all City Beach's Rock Gym has to offer, there is something for everyone. (City Beach also offers more than rock climbing. There are also billiards, ping pong tables, bocce, basketball courts, volleyball, badminton and more.) If you think it's not for you, think again. Odor reminds everyone, "Rock climbing is intuitive. We all climbed trees and jungle gyms as kids, rock climbing is just tapping back into that, and doing it in a safe environment."

And even though it is indoors, the Rock Gym is constantly changing. A route creation team is changing things up for the climbers at all times; once a month on the bouldering walls, and every three months on the top rope walls. Many climbers set challenges for themselves, which are as unique as a thumbprint, negating a finish line. Once you reach the top of a wall, there's another wall or route to conquer. But even though one's goals are unique, achieving that goal is a celebration for everyone.

"If I don't get a project today, but someone else does, I'm going to share in that celebration with them," said Odor. "And when I get a project done, everyone is going to share in the celebration with me. It really does build a camaraderie."

City Beach
4020 Technology Place, Fremont
Hours: M-F, 4-10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Contact Rock Gym Manager Marcus Odor: 510-651-2500 ext. 105 or

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