Indoor Climbing Gyms Rise in Popularity
If you want to see a skilled climber scale 56 feet of rock with ease, no need to head to the mountains. Instead, drive to the parking lot of Pembroke Mall.
The floor-to-ceiling storefront windows of Latitude Climbing + Fitness allow passersby to get a glimpse into the ropes area of the region’s newest rock-climbing gym, where newbies and experts alike clip carabiners, grasp for the best holds and then rappel back down to do it all over again—all indoors.
“We have climbed all over the country and all over the world and really wanted to provide a world-class experience in Hampton Roads,” says avid climber Marisa Beck, who owns Latitude with her husband, Matt Beck, and partner Jason Mckenzie.
The trio opened their first location in Norfolk in 2018 and then a second in Virginia Beach in November 2020. While the Virginia Beach Rock Gym remained the only indoor climbing option for quite some time, Latitude added to the competition, along with Norfolk’s Send It Climbing, which also opened in 2020.
Beck credits the recent rise in popularity partially to documentaries like Free Solo and the fact that sport climbing was slated to be added to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan. The latest iteration of Latitude reaches new heights with bouldering, ropes, a yoga studio, fitness area, kids’ section complete with twisty slide—and an Olympic-regulation speed wall.
Beck says it’s common for members to train together at the gym and then travel out West to tackle tough climbs. To practice, they can spend time closer to the ground in the bouldering section without ropes (and plenty of cushy crash pads below) or in the ropes suite with several types of climbing. Lead climbing, when you clip into metal carabiners in the wall, is the most difficult, and top-rope climbing requires a harness and belay partner.
A goal is to never let an athlete get bored, says Beck. Moveable boulders allow for many different challenges. “Any time we want to take down and change all of the routes, we can re-set everything.”
But what if the extent of your experience is climbing ladders or trees alone? Show up and purchase a day pass, rent some gear and maybe even take a lesson. Ropes with a yellow triangle signify an auto belay function that automatically lowers a climber when they are ready to come down, and all boulders and ropes are marked with a grading system that ranks difficulty.
“Climbing is a unique sport because it provides a physical challenge—it’s not easy to climb up a wall—but it’s also a really great mental challenge because you have to keep figuring out what to do,” says Beck.
And if you want to get better, strength train with free weights or stretch post-climb muscles in a yoga class. Latitude VB even has a physical therapist on location.
“The dream behind it was to have multiple sports under one roof so people can cross-train,” says Beck. “The majority use all of the resources.”
The clientele is a mix of regulars, families and, especially since COVID-19, people looking for stress relief, says Beck. She notes that the sport helps them focus, fights depression and also fosters friendships.
“I think that’s why climbing and bouldering in general are a social and supportive sport because you are only on the wall for 10 to 20 seconds at a time, but most of the time you are resting, and when you are resting, you are hanging out,” she says. “You are talking to people and asking them, ‘How did you get this one?’ or ‘Did you put your leg like that?’ It’s a very community-oriented sport and very welcoming.”