The Studio Climbing

Workouts in San Jose have just become a little more interesting.

Touchstone Climbing has opened a rock-climbing gym downtown. Located at 396 South First Street, The Studio is the only gym of its kind in San Jose, and only one of two in the entire South Bay. It features forty-foot high walls and over 11,000 square feet of climbing terrain.

The Studio takes its name from the classic movie house in which it has been constructed, the Studio Theatre. Long since converted into a nightclub, the building’s large and once brightly lit sign remains above the front entrance. Attractive as a climbing gym because of its large space and high ceilings, the interesting location and classic sign make The Studio unique and help it fit into the environment of downtown San Jose.

Touchstone CEO Mark Melvin and his wife, Debra, have been avid climbers since high school, and according to director of marketing and social media Lauryn Claassen, they often dreamt of creating a home for “climbers who love to climb.”

The Studio was not only built with climbers in mind, but by climbers themselves. Mark Melvin actually welded the walls, and as Claassen points out, “It’s an awesome company. Everyone who works here climbs.” She believes the environment makes it easy for everyone to have a great experience. The last time new member Cody Kraatz climbed was 2010, and he describes himself as “no expert.” He enjoys his workouts because they remind him of the outdoors and “there’s a point to it.” Kraatz admits, “It’s not the tallest set of walls in the area, but because I live downtown, it’s so convenient. I could climb on a first Friday, sauna, yoga, shower, and then hit the street with my friends to check out the music and art on South First.”

The Melvins founded their first gym in 1995, in the Mission District of San Francisco. Before the formation of their company, there were so few indoor climbing options that the new gym hosted the National Championship of the sport within a month of its opening. Touchstone now has seven locations in Northern California, making it the largest indoor rock climbing company in the United States.

There hasn’t been a climbing gym in San Jose for nearly four years, but The Studio isn’t the first venture downtown. In 2003, the company opened Touchstone Climbing and Fitness San Jose, a bouldering-only gym located across from Camera 12, and only about two blocks away from the new gym location. The smaller gym was forced to close in April of 2008 when there simply wasn’t enough room to accommodate all of the gym’s members.

Bouldering differs from the more traditional roped climbing in that it is done almost entirely freeform, or without any climbing gear. Referred to by climbers as “problems,” the bouldering courses don’t reach the extreme heights of the typical roped ones. Climbers can simply let go and fall to the padded floors when they reach the top. Kraatz is impressed with the new space. “Very nice bouldering area, too, catering to all the old guard that used to climb when Touchstone had a place on El Paseo de San Antonio.”

Though the focus is on roped climbing and bouldering, The Studio will offer other fitness options. Yoga classes are already open, and the company is planning kickboxing, Pilates, and core fitness classes as membership increases. Exercise machines have been set up on the second floor, which allows guests to watch climbers as they work out. There are also plans to establish youth classes, summer camps, and climbing teams in San Jose as soon as there is enough interest. Claassen, a coach of one of the company’s many youth teams, says rock climbing is a “great outlet for energetic kids.” First-time visitor Liz Sandberg, a mother of three boys, agrees, saying, “It’s fun. They want to keep coming back.”

The Studio will also incorporate a wireless café, built into its climbing walls. A large cutout in the main wall opens up almost like a balcony, giving café-goers a clear view of climbers making their way to the top. Claassen says that a quiet place became a necessity for their members because the gyms “become people’s homes.” The Studio’s café isn’t completed, yet, as parts of the gym are still under construction. Claassen hopes that the gym will be able to remain open during construction and that hours and membership will increase once the building is finished.

Climbers can become members for $69 a month or $759 a year. Membership includes access to all Touchstone gyms and the use of any of their facilities, including drop-in fitness classes, rock climbing, and exercise machines.

The Studio also offers individual day passes, which run about $18. The passes allow the same all-access use of the gym that memberships provide, and newcomers can sign up for a full “Intro to Climbing” class for $11 more.

There is one catch for those looking to drop in for a day of rock-climbing fun. For safety reasons, climbers must pass a few tests to climb on their own. The required skills include tying knots, attaching the harness, and belaying a climbing partner. This may sound difficult, but it only takes about three minutes. Kraatz says, “As long as you pay attention in the training class, it’s easy stuff.” Once the tests are completed, climbers are certified and receive a card verifying their ability to climb without staff assistance.

Claassen says The Studio is meant to attract members from “all across the board,” welcoming young professionals, college students, families, and seniors. The Touchstone team wants to reconnect with the community and is hoping The Studio will introduce rock climbing to many newcomers, as well. Everyone’s needs are met, whether the goal is getting in an interesting workout, sampling rock climbing without a trip to the mountains, or just having a day of fun.

Written by Ryan Brown
Photography by Daniel Garcia

Article originally appeared in Issue 4.2 Vacation (Print SOLD OUT)
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