ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s not uncommon for Florida climbers to travel out west or go north to have better access to outdoor climbing and more indoor gyms, but many Central Florida climbers got their start at Aiguille, the Longwood climbing gym that closed in November to move to a new location.
For a long time, Aiguille, which opened in 1997, was the only indoor climbing gym in Central Florida.
Later this year, Moments Climbing, a Scandinavian company will open the first indoor rock-climbing gym in downtown Orlando alongside I-4 near Hughey Avenue. Swan City Boulders will be next to the brewery taproom and distribution center Brew Theory.
Bouldering refers to rock climbing without ropes, the “routes” made of hand and footholds are on walls usually under 15 feet. The sport also requires less equipment than rope climbing, which is what people typically think of when they hear “rock climbing,” including harness, belays and ropes, as well as another person to belay the climber.
The Orlando gym opening sometime this year, with an initial investment of $1.4 million, will feature 7,000 square feet of bouldering, a coffee and tea bar and group fitness classes along with more traditional gym equipment including free weights and cardio machines.
Moments Climbing vice president Dean Privett said the gym follows a more European model operating as a community hub that allows for more socialization around exercise.
Swan City Boulders will have an outdoor deck and some work stations where people can sit down with a laptop to get some work done and enjoy an espresso.
“Every gym I’ve ever gone to in Europe I drank an espresso, climbed and then drank a beer, it’s the general culture so we’ll take care of the espresso and Brew Theory across from us can take care of the beer,” Privett said. “It’s just a cultural way that people use facilities over there that we think is really great because it encourages social interaction, hanging out with friends a little bit before and a little bit after the exercise.”
Currently, Central Florida climbers have more options than they did five years ago but if you live near downtown Orlando, it’s still about an hour drive to the closest indoor gym. That will finally change this year with Swan City Boulders.
Another bouldering gym, Dynoclimb in DeLand, opened last fall and offers yoga and fitness classes. On the Edge Rock Climbing Gym and Adventure HQ are both in Melbourne.
Longwood’s Aiguille Rock Climbing Center will reopen at a new location Saturday.
Why Orlando and why now?
Privett said the fact that the downtown area didn’t have an indoor gym wasn’t a surprise to him. Privett formerly worked as the head of sales for Walltopia, a climbing wall manufacturing company based in Bulgaria, and has helped open and build gyms across the U.S.
“All of those cities that have been more traditionally associated with outdoor recreation, obviously Denver or Salt Lake City, San Francisco, LA, those are no brainers in terms of having indoor climbing gyms because when you look outdoors, you can see a mountain right or you have an uncle who's a climber or a friend who's a climber,” Privett said.
Moments Climbing chose Orlando not because of the existing community created by Aiguille but because of the area, Privett said.
“We’re here because of the amount of people in the area and potential we see to introduce those people to climbing, especially by being in a location that is less destination-based,” Privett said.
It also doesn’t hurt that climbing is about to get a lot more attention as a 2020 Olympic Toyko sport and the indoor climbing industry is experiencing a growth spurt, according to the 2019 State of Climbing report by the American Alpine Club.
According to the Climbing Wall Association (CWA), in 2017, on average, indoor climbing facilities grew by about 100 new members a month. The climbing industry is estimated to be worth $1 billion by 2021, up from an estimated $618 million in 2017, also according to the CWA.
“Climbing in the United States is no longer the niche activity that found me in Tulsa’s Chandler Park. It has grown and changed. It is an economic and cultural force,” American Alpine Club CEO Phil Powers wrote.
Swan City Boulders climbing style will be beginner-friendly
Orlando’s first gym will feature modern Walltopia climbing walls and routes for beginning to advanced climbers marked by colors and the most commonly used bouldering "V" or “Hueco” scale. V0 is the easiest and V12 is an advanced route.
Privett said the goal is to make climbing accessible for everyone. The climbing walls at Swan City will be about 30% slab, meaning it leans away from the climber, versus overhang, which leans toward the climber at an angle.
“What this does is it really allows people who don’t have the physical upper body or core strength to hold themselves on a wall on a small hold to actually learn better climbing technique through body positioning and movement and both mental and physical problem solving but doesn’t rely upon, again, strong shoulders and core to keep you on the wall,” Privett said. “That keeps the people in the facility for a longer amount of time.”
As for the name, Swan City Boulders, Privett said they wanted to come up with something unique to represent Orlando. Moments Climbing will do the same for a gym in Pittsburgh, opening after the Orlando gym.
“We don’t want to be Globo gym, or you know, Planet Fitness,” Privett said. After spending time in the area and realizing how much Orlando residents love the swans at Lake Eola, he said the name came easily.
An opening date has not been announced but Privett said it’s safe to say the gym will open sometime this year.
Pricing and more information about the gym should be available in the coming months at momentsclimbing.com.