Saturday, April 11, 2009

First Ave Rocks

The heat is coming in the Southeast and it's going to leave you with pit stains bigger than this guys:

Fortunately for us, an entrepreneur and a southern legend are giving climbers an outlet for bouldering in the scorching summer.

The name of the gym is First Avenue Rocks and it's in Birmingham, Alabama.

Yes. It's true. A gym in Birmingham.

I thought it would be a good idea to get an inside scoop by interviewing the two guys that know more than anyone. Joe Ortega and Adam Henry.

Here is the result:

Les: What was your inspiration for opening a gym in Birmingham?

Joe: Well, that would be no gym. I've been planning this for quite a while now. After I built a (sick ass) training center at Tim Diegmanns place I sort of let the idea slip to the back burner. We had everything you could want from a gym up there, steep walls, HIT strips, campus board, weights, you name it. It was great, not to mention he lived up stairs from me. Then Tim decided to move to Chatt and it all came down. That was definitely my re-inspiration.

Adam: The lack of any organized scene in the area. There are lots of climbers but nowhere with any centrality and energy. Too many disconnected groups leading to bad form (not southern). Woodies had always been in and around this place, but these have faded as an energy point.

Les: Why do you think it has not been done before now?

Joe: Maybe people are to busy talking about what a good idea it is to actually do something? Really though I have no idea.

Adam: Birmingham is considered a dead city that stopped growing after the civil rights era. Basically there were no big entities interested in investing. Actually, we had one over a decade ago, but it was poorly run thus it was driven into the ground.

Les: Other than four separate bouldering structures featuring plenty of varied terrain including top-out boulders; an extensive training section complete with a MOON board, HIT strips, system tiles, hang boards and campus rungs; a pro shop, top-rope wall, and lounge area with free WiFi...... What makes your gym unique?

Joe: Well when you put it like that, nothing.

Adam: Yeah, nothing really other than the fact it is in B-ham. There are tons of these types of facilities out west and up the east coast. However, we will be a bit unique to the Southeast by focusing on the bouldering gym aspect.

Les: Why go to F.A.R. instead of going to the UAB climbing facility?

Joe: Dude, I could talk about this for hours. As far as the climbing you will experience once you're at First Ave, there will be no comparison. The key is to have plenty of varied terrain (and we do). You want walls that can hold all grades of problems without making all of the moves awkward in order to increase difficulty and you want plenty of room for all of this to happen in. I think we have that well dialed in.

That's one of my biggest gripes about Entre Prises’s imprint system, including UAB's. All those damn features get in the way and severely limit how hard your problems can be, how big your holds can be and people who climb there a lot have every inch memorized (hell during comp time). They are just a real pain in the ass to set on. First Ave Rocks walls will have huge gradually curving sections with nothing to get in the way of our setters creativity. This really opens up the fun aspect of gym climbing. You can just about do anything.

We will have well thought out problems, fresh stuff every week. A sick training section as well as classes focused on power, tech, and endurance (training in a group is the best way to get strong, fo sho).

Adam: Why ask a stupid question???? Why drink a Milwaukee’s best when you can have a PBR?

Les: Word. What kind of texture will be on the boulders? What was the inspiration for the boulders?

Joe: All of the boulders will have textured surfaces that will feel a lot like the local stone. As far as replicating boulders though that's about as far as to goes. Often times things that work outside dont translate very well indoors. I tried to keep this in mind when I was designing the boulders. John Stack and Dustin Buckthal from The Front and Vertical Solutions had some great input as well. John started doing some amazing shit with curved walls at The Front, The Spot, Mamutt Send Fest, Etc. I built some curved walls up at Tim's Place and really liked the way they turned out so Vertical Solutions seemed like a natural company to consult with. I am stoked to say we will be working closely with them when we do our rope gym.

Les: I know most gyms survive on birthday parties and such, how will F.A.R handle this?

Joe: Basically we are aiming to be like Chuckie Cheese. Or Pump It Up. Or Both! This place will be off the chi-zane with pizza grease and frosting!

Adam: There will be set times and days for the events. People will know when these will happen therefore they can determine if they wish to be present or not. We are a bouldering gym first and foremost, but will have the option for any party eve nt. Leslie you could even have your "grow up and get a real job" party there whenever that happens..

Les: Yeah…. That’s never going to happen. With the recent boom of bouldering popularity, the Trifecta (Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee) has become a popular destination. Climbers are now moving to the southeast (I know I did), and people that are from these parts are realizing how lucky they really are. How does this factor into your decision to open a bouldering gym?

Adam: Well we hope the gym just sweetens the pot. Any real climbing town has to have a cultural scene and quality climbing facility (not to mention rock close to the area). B-ham has enough culture for sure, and our gym will give people another reason to stop and stay.

Joe: Totally. I am from Cali where f'n everyone climbs, but here there is this special psych for bouldering that people don't expect. I was stoked to see how many people down here boulder. The climbing here was one of the reasons I came to B-ham.

Les: Do you think the gym will change the climbing scene in Alabama? How so?

Joe: Shit, I hope so. Both Adam and I want to bring something positive to the region. We want a place where climbers can come hang out and learn from each other. Some place to focus all this crazy climbing energy. Of course we are also hoping to lighten the impact on HP40, Moss Rock. Those places are getting hammered from all the traffic. Actually, if anyone is interested April 10th we are sponsoring a trail day at HP where we will be planting a bunch of native trees to help stop the erosion. Hopefully we will have a bunch of volunteers. It'll get you in free for the day and all you gotta do is plant a tree.

Adam: I think it definitely will change the scene in Alabama. It will bring the energy back to one area. The disconnect gap will be filled and climbers will have a place to get good beta and become better representatives for the area. Right now there is lots of bad beta and misinformed climbers out there that need a bit of guidance.

Les: What are you individually responsible for as far as First Avenue Rocks is concerned?

Adam: The pretty face and flow.

Les: I know that a LOT of people are psyched about this gym, including me, is there anything you want them to know?

Joe: We are busting our asses to get this thing open for you as fast as possible. Trust me, no one wants it open sooner than I do. Summer fast approaches...

Adam: I’m psyched too. It will be killa...

Les: Closing thoughts?

Joe: Lots of people are asking if there is anything they can do to help. The best thing anyone can do is join the gym before we open. All of the info is on the web page at and you can sign up right there. This is a killer deal for the members because we are waiving their start-up fee (which is up to 80$) and if they are one of the first 100 to join they get a limited edition barcode t-shirt. Since we launched the web page last week we have had people sign up every day. We are psyched to see this kind of support from the community. Oh and a quick rant: Pick up your damn trash! That includes f'n cigarette buts and tape you slugs.

Adam: Leslie, why do you keep claiming this plains shit like you are still from Oklahoma? You are southern (albeit a poor version). Get with the program. Change your heading (from the cow fields of auburn or something like that). Also, add something interesting to your blog like maybe recent female interactions or "how i feel today." Who wants to read about climbing??

Les: Notes taken.

Once again, check out all the info on Also, you can find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you, come again!

1 comment:

  1. NICE.... I'm glad somebody is covering all this. Too bad it had to be an OKEY in Auburn. Word up burn up... glad you're psyched.