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Climb Tulsa heralds new era for area climbers

A sloped bouldering wall at the new Climb Tulsa

Greg Bollinger

It took a lot of work and persistence, but on June 15, the long-term vision of Jason Burks was finally realized when the new Climb Tulsa had its grand opening.

The new building near the corner of South Yale Avenue and East 31st Street is on par with the best climbing gyms in the country, featuring two floors of climbing walls, including bouldering (unattached, free-hand climbing) and belaying (with ropes and harnesses) on walls as tall as 45 feet. There are also a number of specialized training areas, including a campus board, a digitized moon board, a peg wall, and even a tightrope area (soon to be completed).

It was all inspired by Burks’ travels around the United States. Visiting other cities, he saw examples of what a climbing gym could be, and he wanted that in Tulsa.

“I’ll be in a lot of different large cities, and I’ll go to their climbing gyms and they’re like this,” Burks said. “And I’d think, ‘Man, I need this.’ Once you’ve gone down that road, you don’t want to go back.”

At that point, Burks had been a customer at the original site (which opened in 1997 and was located near Highway 169 and East 11th Street) for about two years, and as he formulated this grand plan, he decided to buy Climb Tulsa in late 2015.

After increasing its business over the first few months, he realized that not only was a new, bigger place desirable, but it was also necessary to sustain the growth.

“I had already started designing and looking for land, and it was somewhere in that next fall, of 2016, that I found this land right here,” Burks said. “A realtor friend of mine called me up and said, ‘Well, it’s zoned residential, but you could try.’ So I kind of took it from there. It was a heck of a process.”

That began a seemingly endless series of obstacles that had to be overcome, as Burks worked to change the zoning. He met individually and in groups with the residents of the surrounding neighborhood, trying to convince them to agree to let the city change the zoning laws so Climb Tulsa could build on the land.

It was a lengthy process, but eventually, Burks overcame the hurdle. There were others, though, including inevitable construction issues. At some point, Burks realized his original design just wasn’t big enough, and in order to finance a larger place, he needed a business partner.

“What I wanted to do (initially) was probably about exactly half this size, which was way bigger than what we had (at the old facility) and still a pretty big gym,” Burks said. “But I’ve been in the biggest gyms in the U.S. many times, so it’s hard to step down from that. You see what you could have.”

Lee Sherman, who had just retired and sold his company, Hahn Appliances, agreed to become Burks’ partner, and with the additional money he provided, the scale of the plan significantly increased.

Now that the move to the new place is finally complete, the response has been overwhelming, far exceeding their expectations.

Climb Tulsa has already set up weeklong Summer Camp sessions for kids, running through the rest of the summer. Unlimited adult memberships cost $70 a month. There are different classes offered for beginners, for intermediate climbers looking to step up a level of difficulty, and for more experienced climbers ready to transition to outside rock climbs, as well as individual coaching sessions available, and even regular yoga classes. (A climbing-only membership runs $55.)

“It’s this very unique activity that gives you something active that you enjoy. We have some really in-shape people in here, but they’re not meatheads in a gym. They’re just a bunch of really cool people that love to climb,” Burks said. “It’s just an environment shift, because I had a membership at a gym, and nothing against them, but their culture is not my culture. My culture probably is to hang out with people that sit around and eat granola bars and talk about philosophy. So it’s a unique mix of people.”

“We have tons of outdoorsy people here, tons of athletes here, tons of people that are into the arts. For some reason, this sport has a wide variety of people that find interest in it, and the community is really what I think I love most about it.”

For more detailed info, visit climbtulsa.com.

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