Chances are, if you’ve elected to read this article, you’re a rock climber. Another assumption is that you have most likely climbed at a climbing gym or at least have an understanding of what a climbing gym is. These facilities come in all shapes, sizes and are made up of a variety of materials such as fiberglass, plywood, concrete and plastic, to name a few. While every gym may look different, there is one thing that nearly all climbing gyms have in common; they all use climbing holds.
In recent years climbing has become one of the fastest growing sports in the United States. In 2013, climbing had a 25% increase in new participation with 1.6% of the entire population taking part in Sport Climbing, Bouldering or Indoor rock climbing. (outdoorfoundation.org)
This growth in popularity is visible to the entire climbing community by the recent boom of climbing walls being constructed across the country. There are no exact figures as to how many public climbing walls are operating in the United States and it’s difficult to fathom when you consider the number of mobile walls, boutique gyms, college gyms, and Scout group walls together, alongside the larger facilities, but it sure seems like a lot!
The prospering climbing-wall industry has had a direct effect on the growing number of climbing hold companies that are emerging in the U.S. and abroad. What was once was a small, low profit industry is now beginning to see a brighter future through the increased demand for their products.
I caught up with Peter Juhl, shaper and owner of Brooklyn-based, hold company Urban Plastix, to talk to him about how his company and where he sees the future of the climbing hold industry heading. I met him at his studio, hidden away in a quiet and trendy corner of Bushwick, where he showed me some of his latest work.
Hey Pete, thanks for taking the time chat. So I was wondering, how you started Urban Plastix?
I started it with a friend I worked at a night club with. He was already shaping using Floro-Foam to make goblin faces, sealing them in a gel medium and then painting them. I had just moved to the city and was new to climbing, and I had no idea what climbing holds were made of. One day, Mike Wolfert (owner of The Cliffs) told me what they were made of and I told myself I had to try this! I went down to Pearl Paints and bought this cheap kit and made a un-hold-able shape which I moulded. I didn’t even know that I had to put a bolt hole in it, so I just had a lump of plastic.
I the began working at a gallery in the lower east side, fixing the owner’s tin ceiling. He showed me how to mold good sections of the ceiling so I could replace the old destroyed ones. While working there the owner brought me to Complete Sculpture on the Westside. This place had every kind of plastic and silicon you can imagine, and so my friend and I began shaping climbing holds.
We then tried to start a company called Fresh Holds that didn’t really work out, so we stopped. I went to work for BKB (Brooklyn Boulders) and after a year I showed some shapes to them and proposed creating a hold company and they said they were ready to throw down. So I started with a giant piece of foam I bought and shaped the initial 100 holds in the back of BKB.
You have a lot of urban shapes like brick surface holds and the brass knuckles hang board. Are these shapes influenced by New York City and where do you get your inspiration?
The whole urban idea, and my thought process behind it, is that there are not many hold companies out there with an overarching idea of what they are. I wanted to put my own spin on holds and try and have a marketing plan from the get go and it hasn’t hurt business, especially in the Japanese market.
For me, [Urban shapes are] something artistic that I feel I can execute. I tend not to try shapes that aren’t in my wheel house. I feel like the market in the states is so saturated with people doing much of the same thing. For me though, the city was a way to stand out.
How long has Urban Plastix been going now?
It’s funny, I don’t really know now. I think August 2011 is when we started. I take that date off the Facebook page when we started (laughs).
Since you started, what’s been the biggest change to Urban Plastix?
I was shaping for probably four or five year when I first started Urban Plastix. Maybe one or two of the shapes came out really cool. I think with the initial stuff I made, I kind of lucked out and it ended up being good. I still didn’t fully know what I was doing and was going on aesthetics more than anything. I think the first thirty to forty holds really helped me understand and perfect my craft and I think the biggest change has been that my shapes have become much better.
Who are your shaping idols?
Ian Powell is the number one guy in my mind, and then Ty Foose. Ian kind of took me under his wing when I met him and we talk all the time about shapes and ideas. That guy has shaped some off the best holds ever. Jason Kehl is really good also, but I think Ian and Ty are some of the best guys in the game.
What is the future of Urban Plastix?
We started U.P. with around 100 shapes or 20 sets (a set is a group of shapes in a similar design). We now have around 79 sets which is about 360+ holds and I’d like to double that in the next six months. I probably have 100 holds shaped already and I’m working to fill out lines as the industry is going more towards large sets. Europe has been setting my hold style for a while now and shaping sets are around 20 to 25 holds there compared to the U.S., where we have five or 10 holds to a set. So the future (for U.P.) is to fill out sets and bring in a few new shapes. I’d eventually like for people to be able to buy fifty or sixty hold sets. I think there is a lot more that can be done in terms of products used to make holds and the shapes possible. One of the things I would like to change is foot holds. I’d like to find a way to make them better as I don’t think they get the attention they deserve.