Rock on // Islanders Hit New Heights at Island Rock Gym

By Susan Brandzel

Island rock gym co-owners Michele Lang and Jason Lawson are both fresh arrivals to Bainbridge. But the approach they are taking to their indoor rock climbing business, located in the burgeoning Coppertop business park, fits island life like a glove.

For starters, Lawson, who was associated with the Bremerton indoor rock gym that closed recently, procured the steel structures from the dismantled facility and had them installed inside the walls of the new gym.

Island Rock Gym’s front counter is made from reclaimed lumber that was artistically crafted to mimic the angles of the climbing walls. The climbing products that the gym sells, such as hand sewn cloth bags that hold chalk to improve a climber’s grip, are made on Bainbridge.

Lang and Lawson have fostered collaboration with the island’s outdoor outfitter Wildernest so as to minimize competition between the two businesses. Finally, the snacks the gym sells in-house come from local culinary businesses, one being Sweet Dahlia bakery, which is even located in the same business park as the gym.

This local community-oriented and sustainability-focused philosophy mimics both the culture of Bainbridge Island and that of rock climbing overall. Lang and Lawson both laud that culture for being inclusive, collaborative, intentional and environmentally savvy.

The gym contains three distinct areas. In the main part of the gym, 35-foot walls speckled with color-coded climbing routes (with names like Whale Wars and Hangry Birds) offer climbers the opportunity to work in pairs.

One partner is the climber and the other is the belayer, the rope-holding anchor who safeguards the climber in the event of a fall. At the back of the gym, a second space has 16-foot walls with climbing routes and a 12-inch padded floor. Ropes are not required in this space for what is known as “bouldering,” and free climbers dapple the shorter but challenging routes.

Upstairs, there is a small party room with a table, refrigerator and another compact climbing wall that is used for events such as birthday parties. For a relatively small space, Lang and Lawson have managed to adeptly create a facility that accommodates many without making the gym feel crammed or crowded.

Customers at the Island Rock Gym have flooded in from both Bainbridge and the Kitsap Peninsula. Climbers start as young as 3 years old, and there are plenty of climbers in their 60s scaling the walls. Whole families climb together, as do middle school buddy pairs, competitive climbers and adults looking for a great workout indoors.

Unlike many other team physical activities, the ability level between members of a climbing pair does not need to be matched. Novice climbers can be belayed by and get guidance from an expert on the other end of the rope, and can in turn support and watch the spider-like experts negotiate and tackle toe-twisting routes.

Rock climbing integrates a diverse range of skills and knowledge. Muscle strength, balance and flexibility obviously come to mind. But the sport also requires complex tactical planning before even considering getting that heart rate fluttering. A

nd it involves various math disciplines, such as geometry and physics. Climbing also provides a unique opportunity to enhance focus skills. Success on the wall requires the climber to maintain a constant vigilance about how to reach the goal.

Island Rock Gym welcomes climbers of all skill levels and has the expertise and programs to support the entire range of customers, from newbies to experts. According to Lawson: If you can walk, you can climb. Classes, competitions, one-on-one instruction and free climbing are all available. Whether you want to learn a new skill or refine one you’ve already got, why not try to scale an indoor mountain? For more information, visit