Urban Rock Climbing Done Right"New York City has plenty of climbing walls within gyms and fitness centers, there was no legit, in the eyes of a rock climber, place to go rock climbing."
It's not unusual to see Steve Spaeth slaloming around pedestrians on the streets of Manhattan on his way to a business meeting in the financial district. With a longboard tucked under his arm and sporting a pair of well-loved DC skate shoes, he can't help but make an impression when he enters a building. "In the lobby, the security guards are like, 'Who the hell is this kid? You're not allowed in here, sir,'" Spaeth admits. "And I'm like, 'I swear I have an appointment.'"
The owner of Brooklyn Boulders, New York City's largest climbing gym, boasting more than 18,000 square feet of bouldering and climbing walls, Spaeth is an adrenaline junkie who turned his passion into a successful business. Spaeth, who also enjoys mountain biking, surfing, snowboarding and kiteboarding, says he was inspired to open Brooklyn Boulders after realizing that while New York City has plenty of climbing walls within gyms and fitness centers, "there was no legit — in the eyes of a rock climber — place to go rock climbing."
Even if you're not an expert belayer, rock climbing is great for entertainment and socializing — something that's hard to do in New York without an adult beverage in hand, according to Spaeth. "That's the sort of outlet that everyone resorts to and relies on, and you can't blame them," he says. "But there's a lot more to life in the city than alcohol. So by creating the climbing facility, I knew I'd be making a lot of people happy, purely on an entertainment basis."
Spaeth designed the climbing walls himself with the help of his family's business, Spaeth Design, which was founded by his grandfather and made its name constructing department store holiday window displays in the city. Spaeth worked there himself when he graduated from college. "The hardest part for me was come January 1st, these things get destroyed," he says. "You've put in almost an entire year of work that's appreciated for six weeks by 10 million people, but because they're not permanent, because they go away, it's such a shame. And that's one of the things that inspired me to make something permanent for New York City."
He hired the firm's team of carpenters, welders, sculptors — all the people who traditionally make Christmas windows — and taught them how to build a climbing wall, which was assembled inside a former Daily News delivery garage near Park Slope. The building's interior is sprayed over with graffiti by artists DIVA and PEAK, whom Spaeth knows personally. "They called all of their friends who are either retiring or retired who were looking for a safe place to spray," Spaeth says. "So we have major, major figures calling us the graffiti hall of fame."
When he's not climbing, you might find Spaeth enjoying extreme sports in other New York City locales. Not too many people know that you can take a subway train to some decent surfing beaches. "There are some pretty good waves at Far Rockaway," he says. If you're willing to travel slightly farther onto Long Island, other good spots are Long Beach, Gilgo Beach and Lido Beach. "People forget we hold it down here on the Atlantic. When it's good, it's good. It's a very technical, heavy wave. Sometimes it even barrels and stuff. It's pretty rad."
Check out Steve's New York.