Armadillo Boulders, a rock climbing gym in the Tobin Hill area, opened this past weekend, and also gives people a place to do yoga and sip cold brew from tap.
“We wanted to break down the barriers or the obstacles of the sport to people,” co-owner Michael Cano said. “It’s not an alternative fitness thing. It’s a lifestyle fitness. So it’s just like going to the movies or going (to play) putt-putt.”
There are no ropes, harnesses, certifications or 50-foot climbing walls at Armadillo Boulders, 1119 Camden St. Instead, all of the walls are under 30 feet, and after a five-minute safety course, anyone can scale them.
The facility is the result of a three-year endeavour by Cano and his longtime friend Joe Kreidel. Both men are San Antonio natives and graduates of Clark High School.
Kreidel was living in Tucson, Arizona, when he came home to visit family and realized there were hardly any indoor climbing facilities in San Antonio. He emailed Cano, who was living in Brooklyn at the time, to gauge is interest in opening a climbing gym.
“I was surprised at how quickly Michael was on board,” Kreidel said. “I think it was quickly apparent to both of us that it was a pretty clear path forward.”
The two men made the move back to the city with their families about two years ago and spent much of that time driving around the city, eating barbecue, drinking coffee and searching for the perfect location for their business. Finding a building with 50-foot ceilings, however, proved nearly impossible and they narrowed their original plans for a rock climbing gym to be solely about bouldering.
“We want to be a fantastic bouldering gym,” Cano said. “We didn’t want to be mediocre at ropes and mediocre at bouldering.”
A former industrial building at Camden Street fit the bill. They nearly doubled the size of the original ceiling and had the walls built by Vertical Solutions, a Salt Lake City-based company which Kreidel and Cano deem the best climbing wall builders in the industry.
From there, every aspect of Armadillo Boulders was created to give people a curated experience.
They left the natural birch walls unpainted so the colored climbing holds, which indicate difficulty levels, readily stand out. Kreidel resets a portion of the wall routes twice a week, giving people new bouldering problems to solve. Within a month, every wall at the facility will have been changed.
“So if you climb in July and you climb in August, it’s going to be a new gym,” Cano said.
There are also homages to San Antonio throughout the facility. All of the walls are named, including the “dancer” wall, because it resembles a folklorico dancer’s swaying dress, and “Wall-ito,” a smaller, 16-foot kid’s wall adorned with a hula hoop and pool noodles. It was used by a group of 15 kids who attended a 9-year-old boy’s birthday party at the facility on opening day.
In a more secluded part of the gym, the only paint on the walls depicts the Virgin Mary.
“It’s nine feet tall and I think the craftsmanship is incredible,” Cano said.
They also paid close attention to other details in the gym, as well.
For instance, guests can sip on Element Kombucha and Pulp coffee on tap. And parts of the wood cutting tables, marked with saw burns, were repurposed to border the front desk.
Kreidel and Cano also teamed up with the Southtown Yoga Loft to offer yoga classes, and has a fitness area.
“There’s also a lot of people who are going to be members who aren’t going to climb much,” Kreidel said.
They hope that with multiple fitness options, Wi-Fi and tables on which to enjoy coffee, Armadillo Boulders can become a community oriented space for people.
Armadillo Boulders is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. every day with additional members-only hours. Day passes are available. For more information, visit the website here.
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron