Grip Boulderhal – from dream to reality

An idea. An idea that turns into a dream. And a dream that turns into a project. A project with many questions, variables and sleepless nights.

This is the starting point for many of the climbing gyms we know. Sometimes there is no good climbing gym in the area, sometimes there is one but it is just not enough to serve the community, sometimes you just think you can make it better. Or, you know, you just believe the 9-5 job has served you well till now. And now it is time to start nurturing that idea of yours, make it a dream and then a project.

Inspired by the story behind every climbing gym and the lessons along the way, we’ll start a series of short interviews with gym owners to explore the driving force behind their decision to create and run a climbing gym.

We’ll start with an old friend. We’ve known Noel for something like 10 years now. Or more. We’ve been working together in the Netherlands and Belgium, completing many projects and growing the climbing scene there. Based on his long-term experience in the climbing industry he decided it was time for him to take a step further and see things from the other perspective. The perspective of the person with the dream and the endless to-do list. The owner. His gym – GRIP Boulderhal, which opened doors in 2016, has been among our best works. See below what he has to share.

WT: Do you remember how you first got the idea of owning a climbing gym? What brought you there?

Noel: It must have been 15 years ago. While working in the local climbing gym as a general manager I soon found out that a climbing gym in my opinion should not be some place where you just train to climb elsewhere (as in outdoors on rocks), but a place where you actually climb. Climbing in a gym can be awesome! This I felt was missing in the gym I used to work in, and even more so in other gyms in the country at that time. Creating the walls GRIP Boulderhal in 2015 I was still deeply convinced that this is exactly the way we should go. That’s when we came up with the idea of these brutal walls we got: the Wave and the Alien Head in particular. People love climbing those walls and I wouldn’t change a thing.

WT: What has been the hardest challenge along the road from dream to reality?

Noel: Finding all the pieces of the puzzle: finance, location, permits and then bring it all together in the right order. Which doesn’t exist by the way. At some moments it really felt like tightrope walking: the bank needed guarantees regarding location and permits, the landlord needed bank guarantees and for permits, we were supposed to deliver guarantees regarding location and finance. It was like having to bite your own tail. There were some serious deadlines there too. In the end, we somehow managed to get it all done in the designated time but it took a lot of energy keeping track, convincing people and precise planning. It was such a big plus for us that everything regarding Walltopia went super smoothly. These people are pros.

WT: How did the night before the official opening look like? And then, how did the next big day feel?

Noel: Crazy. Totally exhausted in some way and totally psyched in another. There were so many things left to do but we did them! The next day was very satisfying because of the incredible amount of positivity from our customers and friends who came to the grand GRIP Boulderhal opening. Very rewarding indeed!

WT: Looking back, would you change something?

Noel: I would have used more margin in both build up time and start up money.

WT: Any advice for people who are thinking to follow your path?

Noel: Don’t do everything yourself. Have professionals do the important things. We had a contractor to do most of the building adjustments like making dressing rooms, change the layout, etc and we had specialists come in for electricity, sound and light. Most important we had two really good advisors showing us the way through the bureaucracy swamp: the first one being a company specialized in fire safety regulations and the second being an architect with lots of experience in permitting. Last but not least: we had Walltopia with all their knowledge of wall building, wall planning and finding the exact sweet spot for the way my customers experience the place.

WT: In three words, what does owning and running a climbing gym mean to you?

Noel: Make climbers happy.

Noël Poels, Owner of Grip Boulderhal in Nijmegen, The Netherlands

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