My Visit to Twisters Climbing Gym

April 12, 2009

So there’s this gym in Mountain View called Twisters.  They seem to focus on gymnastics and dancing, but they also have a small climbing gym. Last month I meet a few folks there that had never climbed before so I was excited to see them have a good time.  I had also never been to this gym so I was going to experience something new as well.  Sadly I think everyone walked away feeling pretty disappointed.

First impressions can say a lot, but sometimes they don’t say enough.  I showed up right around 2pm on a Saturday and strangely enough I couldn’t get into the building.  The entrance was around the side of the building and honestly felt more like the back door of a restaurant than the entrance to a gym.  The fact that the door was locked only added to this sensation.  But apparently the guy working there heard us trying to get in and opened it up for us.

As soon as I stepped in I realized that this was a very small gym and that we were the only people there.  The guy behind the counter got out some harnesses and tried to give me one even though I was already wearing one.  But what was really surprising is that he didn’t give anyone any climbing shoes.  He didn’t even offer to rent anyone a pair.  This was very surprising because I had heard that this was suppose to be a really good instructional climbing gym and climbing shoes really make a world of a difference.  In fact, this quote taken directly off of their website seems to suggest the same thing:

If you are just starting out, you will want to take advantage of the Bay Area’s best instructional rock climbing gym!  Twisters is a nationally recognized member gym of the USAC and is the only rock climbing gym in California with certified coaching staff! We are excited to help you climb!  Of course our expertise will be available to you at all times, but our classes are definitely the best around. In as little as one hour you can be off on your own, handling the ropes and reaching new heights!

There are some pretty bold statements in that bit of text and given that they ended 80% of the sentences with an exclamation mark tells me that they even realize how bold they are.  The only problem is that from my experience I have a hard time believing a single part of that quote.  The “instruction” that our group got was miserable at best and actually woefully inadequate.

The guy there did show the group how to tie a figure eight knot as well as a fisherman’s knot, so in theory they should have been able to tie themselves into their harnesses.  He then spent a couple minutes showing them how to use a grigri belay device.  The grigri is a locking belay device which can give people a false sense of security.  It’s also a more complicated device than an ATC, so proper instruction is really important.  On top of that, it’s somewhat awkward the first time you try to belay someone and he didn’t even bother to see if people were understanding the basics.  Instead he demonstrated belaying one person and then expected everyone to just get it.

I guess the last sentence in the above quote could be correct.  He did have everyone off on their own in only 15 minutes and I was a tiny bit worried that they would be off to new heights, heaven.  At this point we had four people who had never climbed before barely understanding how to tie some knots and maybe understanding how to operate a grigri.  No mention of any voice commands.  No helpful hits on climbing technique.  No confirmation that anyone knew what they were doing.  Climbing is a dangerous sport and he was treating it like it was ping pong.

Not only were these far from the “best classes around”, this guy clearly wasn’t excited to help.  In fact, I’d actually be surprised if he wasn’t completely stoned at the time.  Thankfully the two of us that had climbed before could fill in the gaps (and by gaps I mean very wide canyons) in the instruction.  However, what we couldn’t make up for was the safety of the gym itself.

The floor of every gym I’ve been to is covered in this thick foam material with a blue fabric on top.  It can absorb a fall from six feet off the ground without issue and is really great stuff.  This gym had the same blue material on top but was actually missing the foam underneath!  I didn’t realize this at first and hopped down from a bouldering problem and landed on the floor so hard that it caused a great amount of pain in my heal for a few days.  I then started inspecting the rest of their gear.  I then found carabiners with stuck or sticky gates, a couple ropes that looked like they should be retired and I think I even saw a static rope.  I can’t help but wonder who is insuring this gym.

I will say that their routes were challenging and that they were playing some good music (Dispatch) but I really can’t recommend anyone going to this gym.  For the sake of the people that love this gym, I hope I caught them on an off day (or month… or year…) and that it truly is a safe place to climb, but somehow I doubt that.  Besides, when it comes to safety and climbing, off days can result in serious injury.

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2 Responses to “My Visit to Twisters Climbing Gym”

  1. p black Says:

    Sounds like you came on the wrong day. Weekends are not the preferred time to visit this gym. Weeknights are as their two USAC certified competitive coaches stay late into the night setting top routes and having a great time teaching adults as well as kids how to climb. Come back on a day when they are there and you will certainly have a better time than this!

    • Ryan Grimm Says:

      It’s very encouraging to hear that others are having good experiences at this gym. I know at least one person who helped create Twisters and he happens to be a climber that I have a lot of respect for so it does not surprise me when I hear about talented young climbers getting their start there. Perhaps my initial reaction was a bit harsh, but I felt bad for the others in the group who had no climbing experience and simply did not feel like the gym was as safe as I have come to expect.

      So for the casual Bay Area resident who’s interested in trying out climbing for the first time my recommendation is still to visit one of the Planet Granite gyms. But if you already have a love for the sport, know how to climb safely and want to get serious about training, perhaps Twisters is worth looking into.


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