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Housed in a warehouse in an unassuming area behind the ABC store and PT’s Grille in Porters Neck is Wilmington’s newest indoor recreation destination: the Wilmington Rock Gym.
Currently, it is the only public indoor rock climbing gym not just in Wilmington, but in the tri-county area, according to Hayley Swinson, the gym’s assistant manager. Though on the smaller side for rock climbing gyms, the 3,500 square-foot space located at 8118 Market St. has been utilized to fit as much as possible.
“We have 3,000 square feet of actual climbing surface,” Swinson said. “We really engineered it to make the most of what we have.”
The climbing area features both textured walls and flat wood walls that reach up to 21 feet high above a cushioned floor made of 6 inches of high-density foam covered with carpet. There are both bouldering and top rope routes that are color-coded and marked with cards noting their difficulty level.
“We use monochrome routes, meaning all the holds on each route are one color, because we think that using monochrome routes makes it easier to follow,” said Swinson, noting that other gyms use tape to mark their routes.
“We try to have a wide variety of routes. I’m kind of a stickler for having beginning and intermediate routes so new climbers can come and not have too hard of a time. Everyone has to start somewhere,” she said.
According to Swinson, the routes have been set by two guys – local setter Fenner Hoell, who also helps teach classes at the gym, and Paul Park of Fayetteville. The goals is to have the routes changed approximately every month. Since the gym just opened on Aug. 29, the routes are in the process of being changed for the first time.
In addition to the climbing area, there are restrooms and changing areas as well as two more spaces that will eventually become a fitness room and a room to hold birthday parties.
“We’re trying to respond to what people need and want as best we can,” Swinson said. “There are a lot of climbers here [in Wilmington] and a lot of people interested in climbing, so we want to provide services for them as best we can.”
One of those people is Ben Sciance, who said he’s been climbing for about three years.
“I’m definitely glad they opened this up, because now I don’t have to go all the way to Raleigh or Fayetteville just to go to a rock gym,” said Sciance, who is now a member of the Wilmington Rock Gym. “It makes it easier to keep up with climbing fitness.”
In addition to open hours, the gym also offers various classes throughout the week, including an introductory course, a beginning belay class and a program for middle school students.
“We’re just starting out, but we really want to be a community place where people with all kinds of climbing background can come,” Swinson said, pointing out the couches and lounge area where people can socialize when their arms need a break.
“We want people to learn how to climb but also have fun,” Swinson said.