Justin Ridgely is taking the climbing scene to new heights with the only indoor bouldering gym of its kind in Hawai‘i located in Our Kaka‘ako.
Text by Lisa Yamada | Images by Ryan Moss
With Justin Ridgely dangling 20 feet above the pounding surf, fingers clutching a slight groove in the rock face, it’s hard to believe that the avid boulderer could be afraid of heights. Climbing The Arch on O‘ahu’s Westside without the aid of ropes, harnesses, or any other gear makes the ascent even more perilous, but Ridgely expertly moves from hold to hold, following the natural lines of the rock formation with broad, spider-like movements.
Ridgely is the owner of Volcanic Rock Gym in Our Kaka‘ako, the only indoor bouldering gym of its kind in Hawai‘i. They gym features a 130-foot long climbing wall that Ridgely—utilizing his background in carpentry—built from the ground up with brightly colored grips and holds mimicking various terrain found in natural landscapes. “It’s like a yoga class or coffee shop where there’s all these different people and you wonder what they do,” says Ridgely of the gym’s diverse clientele. “Well, you find out what they do here. … There’s a baker named Kyle, a vet named Cliff; there’s Matt who does marketing and his girlfriend Nancy that cuts hair.” The gym accounts for people of all skill levels, and Ridgely emphasizes that climbing is more mental than it is physical. “There’s stuff that going to be easier for you than it is for me,” says the brawny, six-something Ridgely. “It’s about allowing your mind to embrace that thought and to try everything and being able to feel what you’re doing wrong. It’s more than just try harder or be stronger.”
Ridgely got the bouldering bug while attending University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when, despite his acrophobia, a friend convinced him to come out to a climb with him at Lookout Mountain. “The movement was a lot different than the aspect of just climbing high,” Ridgely recalls. Unlike top rope or lead climbing, bouldering utilizes body positioning and movement rather than sheer strength or equipment. “Just like yoga, if you’re in a perfect stance or position, the move will feel effortless. With bouldering, whether it’s overhung or you’re standing on your feet, no matter what, body positioning helps out.”
With the climbing community growing in the islands, Ridgely is seeing a steady stream of people flow into his Our Kaka‘ako gym. “Before, people in Hawai‘i may have viewed climbing as a novelty, a carnival ride they tried at a birthday party a couple times,” he says. “It’s impossible for me to look at it as recreational. For me, and a few other people out there, this is how we live.”
Much of Hawai‘i’s bouldering environment remains uncharted, but Ridgely will soon be launching a website that documents 44 climbing sites he and friends found, cleaned, and climbed. But even after climbing something many different times, there’s always a new path to discover. “The natural lines of what I’ve see at The Arch have all be done,” says Ridgely of what he describes as one of the most dramatic climbs found in Hawai‘i. “But there’s still much more to do. Now, it’s just which way do I go?”
Volcanic Rock Gym is located in Our Kaka‘ako at 432 Keawe St. For more information, visit hibouldering.com.