Starting A Climbing Gym In A Pandemic

The world was facing a pandemic, lockdown restrictions in place, gyms and restaurants closing. The new normal. Who opens a climbing gym in the midst of all this?

It goes without saying this your Friends and Allies did exactly the thing that everybody warns you not to do. Taking financial risks for the beauty of the community. But Oh Baby! Aren’t we all glad we did!

Indoor Climbing Holds for a Gym in JHB
This is us at the start of an amazing journey to get you stoked on climbing and community.

The thought of starting a climbing gym in Joburg has always been at the forefront of our minds, and in so doing have the greatest impact on South African climbing. Naturally, a facility carries all of those benefits and we started assembling investors and visionaries alike.

We were going big. 1000sqm of climbing epicness. We had a few locations that fell through. I remember the one location we saw that I was set on. It was the perfect size, the location and layout were just right but the deal fell through.

“Things always happen for a reason,” my mom reminded me. I wasn’t interested in hearing that at the time. About a month later we were in lockdown level 5 and gyms were closed! Yet again my mother was right, things always happen for a reason.

The Start of Friends and Allies in JHB
Once upon a time at 10 Naaf Street...

It was the relocation of Made in Workshop in the middle of 2020, when Scallywags followed with their production line and Workshop 6 caught our attention and our minds wondered at the possibilities.

Small, intimate and impactful is how we have always seen and envisioned the FA experience.

The workshop on the second floor turned out to be the perfect little place to help us have a great impact on the climbing community in Johannesburg. At the end of the day, the risk for creating FA was smaller at. Smaller risk, with less capital and no outside investors, but still large enough to touch the lives of all our Friends and Allies.

Tim Building a Climbing Gym in JHB
Tim Slab, the architect of the gym drilling in the vision of FA.

To be honest, we briefly spoke about the pandemic and the effect it could have on us starting a climbing gym, but we knew if we could get through the first year we would always make it, regardless of more restrictions to come.

After some negotiations we signed the contract with Made in Workshop towards the end of October 2020 and we haven’t looked back since! 

We believe that adding diversity to the climbing scene in the North was so important for climbers that we had to try, regardless of the fears we had obscuring the our dream.

Mayhem Mountain Festival 2021
Making mountains accessible to everyone who wants to experience them.

It’s crazy now that we are 6 month in and so, so much has happened! From the 2021 Mayhem Mountain Fest, to public holiday outings throughout the City of Johannesburg.

We have also faced challenges with the gym closing due to lock down, but we always seem to find a way thanks to how stoked our community is to keep us psyched and focused on the climbing community. Here at FA we have done all we can to make a difference and we can promise you that we will continue to do so.

Friends and Allies is all about Community and Climbing
This is how it looked, just friends coming together building a climbing gym.

This is all easily said and done, but it is 6 months in and we have you, our Friends and Allies, the climbing community to thank for all your love and support.

To all the hands that helped build our gym, to the people chalking up our holds, you have made FA what it is today.

The thing that warms our hearts the most is the culture and the community that is being cultivated at FA. A community of self expression and a community that encourages all. Every one of you are unbelievably beautiful and amazing.

Making friends at a Climbing Gym in JHB
Shaka everyone, much love!

You guys have taken it further than we could have ever thought possible. From the start, you have helped build the gym. Facilitated the building connections at the gym, while getting to know new and old Friends and Allies on our Balcony.

Much love and gratitude to you all who call us your Friends and Allies. You are the beating heart of a little climbing gym in Johannesburg, the lifeblood of FA! 

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