Climb On

Michael Bascou collected all of the holds from his old gym to help outfit the walls at his new location, at University Plaza in Seaside.

If Michael Bascou and Kristin Horowitz were gunslingers in a Western flick, the camera would zoom in on one of them, who would threaten, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

In this case, the two entrepreneurs are hoping to open rock climbing gyms – Bascou in Seaside and Horowitz in Sand City – but neither thinks the region can sustain two.

For more than two decades, the Monterey Peninsula had Sanctuary Rock Gym in Sand City, which Bascou opened in 1996. It was probably one of the first 100 such facilities in the country, he says. But Sanctuary’s landlord shut the place down in February to make room for a hotel and residential development project. The 400-500 members of Sanctuary were left with nowhere to climb indoors; outdoor options are limited or remote.

Since then, Bascou has sunk close to a million dollars and countless hours into a plan to reopen Sanctuary in a new 10,000-square-foot location at Seaside’s University Plaza shopping center. He says padded flooring will be delivered from Canada and climbing walls will be shipped from Bend, Oregon, in time for a grand opening in October. Just a few days ago, Bascou adds, a structural engineer inspected the building per city code and found that the walls and ceiling can handle the strain of the sport.

Meanwhile, Horowitz is trying to build a larger climbing gym at 325 Elder Ave. in Sand City, a mile away. She needs a coastal development permit, but City Council declined to give her one at its Aug. 20 meeting, citing concerns over parking congestion. A continuation of that hearing will take place on Sept. 17. After receiving a permit, it would take nine months to a year to open the gym, Horowitz says.

Horowitz’s gym would be modeled after the two others she runs with her husband, Yishai, in San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria. She says she’s undaunted by Bascou’s running start and longtime presence. “We don’t think the climbing community and the community at large is being well served by the gym that’s coming in,” she says.

Bascou counters, saying that Horowitz’s plans for a second local gym “don’t make sense.” Seaside city planner Rick Medina agrees. “This guy has been doing this for years,” Medina says of Bascou. “He is known and he’s going to keep his clientele.”

But considering the latest data on the climbing gym industry, this town might just be big enough for both of them: More gyms opened in 2018 than in any other previous year, according to a report in Climbing Business Journal.

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Of note for the Monterey Bay area, “the majority of the gym development happened in small and mid-markets. The opening of facilities in smaller markets alongside select city developments signals the staying power of the climbing industry.”

The buzz around the success of two recent climbing movies – The Dawn Wall and Free Solo – and the inclusion of the sport in the upcoming Olympics is driving its growing popularity.

Instagram also appears to be a factor. More than 3 million posts on the social media app are tagged #bouldering, up from 2.7 million in January.

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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(1) comment

Jay Mayor

“We don’t think the climbing community and the community at large is being well served by the gym that’s coming in,”-Horowitz

Sound like another outsider who thinks they know what's best for the community they don’t live in?

All I know is that Sanctuary is a locally owned gym that has been here a long time and has built a strong bond with all the locals and even visiting climbers. Considering The Pad if based out of SLO and with two other locations besides Sand City to focus on, I can’t see them building the same level of community that Sanctuary already has.

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