9 degrees: The Changing Face of Climbing Gyms
In a burgeoning industrial hub of Sydney, change is afoot. People are freeing themselves from ropes and belay duties, and revelling in the free-fall from four metre heights to the padded cushions circumferencing the room. They are taking delight in a light-flooded room, with quality caffeine, and a genial, social atmosphere. They are free, they are bouldering - and they are all at 9 degrees.
Opening just weeks ago, in the Sydney Corporate Park of Alexandria, 9 degrees feels anything but corporate. It is a new indoor boulder climbing gym, with climbs of all difficulties, the latest new grips, a good vibe and great coffee.
Brought to fruition by the work of Martijn A. van Eijkelenborg, 9 degrees is a nod to the current state of climbing gyms in Europe. After completing a PhD in Quantum Physics in Holland, working as a Sydney University researcher in optics for 10 years, then operating a bicycle recycling shop back in Holland, Martijn starts afresh again with 9 degrees. '
Moving continents allows you to re-invent yourself often,' he says. While Martijn reinvents himself, he hopes to reinvigorate the climbing scene as well. His aim – to create an accessible climbing gym that is social, fun and easy for new climbers to get into.
We chat to Martijn about his vision for the new boulder climbing gym, and what first timers can expect when heading to 9 degrees.
Q & A with Martijn, Director of 9 degrees
Martijn, can you tell us a bit about your background in climbing, and what gave you the vision for opening up 9 Degrees?
As a Dutch/Australian who travelled between Holland and Sydney often in the last five years, I’ve noticed that the market shift towards bouldering that was happening in Europe was not happening yet here in Sydney.
In Holland and Germany, boulder gyms were sprouting up in every major city, all using the latest wall designs, new hand grips and route setting styles, with a very welcoming attitude towards beginners to increase the customer base. For instance, Berlin now has six boulder gyms, the largest of which is four times the size of 9 degrees and always full of happy climbers.
Meanwhile conventional (roped) climbing gyms were getting left behind there, as people no longer wanted to be 'stuck' on a rope and having to alternate climbing with 'belay duties'. When I got to see one of Holland's most successful new boulder gyms get off the ground, Boulderhal Sterk, it was clear that bringing this style of indoor climbing to Sydney would be a good idea.
How long did it take to get the project off the ground? What do you like about being based in Alexandria?
From the very first idea to actually opening our doors took a bit over one year, with the main hurdles being the financing and finding the right location. Alexandria ticks all the boxes we were looking for. A transformation has been (and still is) taking place as Alexandria gentrifies from industrial to residential, providing both suitable converted warehouse buildings as well as a growing local residential customer base. In addition, we are close to the Eastern Suburbs, easy to reach for commuters from the CBD going South and conveniently located for all the Inner-West suburbs.
What kind of community do you hope to build around 9 degrees? Where does this inspiration come from?
The popularity of bouldering in Europe probably stems from the very social aspects of this style of large boulder gym, where there is enough space to interact with others while for instance working out how to climb a particular boulder 'problem', or to strike up a conversation as you enjoy a coffee and rest. Communities will form naturally as regulars start to recognise each other, and I hope that we can become a gym where there is an open atmosphere of sharing 'beta' (climbing information), where more experienced climbers provide tips and encouragement to those less experienced. In the end, climbing at your personal best is a very comparable experience for everyone, whether it concerns a blue climb or a white one, and I think that is something we all recognise and want to share with others.
What can first timers to bouldering expect when they go to check out 9 degrees?
First timers can be climbing our walls within minutes of arriving, without the need for harnesses, ropes, safety courses, special shoes or belay checks. And we have paid a lot of attention to our beginner climbs to make them super enjoyable and at a starting level that is a good 3 grades below the 'traditional' beginner grade of V0.
How will you keep the bouldering fresh for returning members?
Every week we will change all the climbs of one colour. We have nine colours of grips in total (corresponding to nine degrees of difficulty), so every nine weeks, the whole gym is new!
What sets 9 Degrees bouldering gym apart from your average climbing gym in Australia?
We are very accessible to first-time visitors and at the same time offer some of the best indoor climbing for experienced climbers of all levels. Our location is a very large, brightly lit, open space that is dedicated entirely to bouldering and we offer some of the best coffee in Sydney from our La Marzocco machine with beans from Sample Roasters Sydney. Our climbs are also quite different from other places in that they are a full body workout, not just focusing on upper body strength or finger strength. Some of our returning customers have commented that after their last visit they were sore in parts of their body that they normally don't use in indoor climbing!
With the gym open 4pm – 10pm on weekdays, that really frees up your days. What do you get up to in your spare time?
That's funny. What spare time? Although we open at 4pm weekdays (9 am weekends) I have still been doing 14 hour days, seven days a week! The work involved in opening 9 Degrees has completely permeated my whole life and there is still much left to do to perfect and promote the venue. The little spare time I have I try to spend with my wife and little daughter, and I look forward to being able to climb outdoors again soon when things become more routine at 9 Degrees.
Where do you climb outdoors? What are your favourite bouldering spots around Australia?
Funnily enough, on doctor's orders, I am not allowed to boulder outdoors anymore thanks to my two torn knee cartilages (bouldering accident). But my favourite nearby climbing spots are the Blue Mountains and Point Perpendicular.
Will 9 Degrees be hosting any courses/workshops or other community events that people should know about?
Athlete By Choice is offering some great training courses on October 10 at 9 Degrees, with both beginner and advanced levels. They can be booked at on the Athlete By Choice website.
Tell us the number one reason, in your opinion, someone should try bouldering for the first time.
Bouldering is a fun way to clear the mind at the end of the day and get a complete workout at the same time!
If you’re a Sydney-sider, or a visitor passing through, check out 9 degrees. Accessible enough for complete beginners, and challenging enough for the veterans. Questions about bouldering? Check out the FAQ from 9 degrees.
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