_Review: Brooklyn Boulders Somerville

 "Exist to Inspire"

Nowadays it's not big news anymore when you hear that a new climbing gym is opening up. It's exciting that your neighborhood has new stomping grounds for when you're aching to pull on plastic, but for most people that's where the excitement ends. Most climbing gyms built these days are really just a big metal box with climbing walls inside. You go in, you climb, then you leave. Another day at the climbing gym.

When I visited their base gym in Brooklyn, while not the largest of climbing gyms, I was impressed in the creativity and expressionism that's very apparent as soon as you walk through their doors. The masterminds and staff of BKB really appreciate not just climbers, but artistic talent that goes far beyond professional-set climbing movement. Decor of graffiti are their preferred wallpaper instead of concrete blocks and industrial paint, and there's a lot to be said about a gym that welcomes people to plaster their walls with spray cans. So when BKB Somerville's July 5th soft opening finally arrived, I was not disappointed. 

Spiderman and Venom.

A long entrance hall leading up to a rotunda front desk welcomes you, but what caught my eyes first was, once again, the graffiti art. During our conversation, COO Gavin Heverly mentioned to me that over 20 artists have been hired/invited to put their talent on their walls so far, an amazing spread of artistic talent that continues all over the gym. I had the privilege of speaking with one of the artists who was working on a Spiderman and Venom piece (and gave me a ride up on the lift for the shot), one of several superhero motifs around the gym. 


But I can't mention "artistic" without describing the climbing walls that greet you as soon as you enter into the main climbing room. The only word I can think of is "beautiful", like... jaw-droppingly beautiful. I remember taking one of their Hard Hat tours a few months back and it had the same effect on me. Standing there staring at this bouldering wall is like staring at the perfect tidal wave on Oahu.


No more pulling pads around and twisting ankles. Every inch of every possible landing zone in the bouldering area is covered with about 16 inches of padding. With the bouldering walls peaking probably around  18 feet tall , I think that's a good idea.


A bouldering wall, or art deco.

Reluctantly peeling my eyeballs from the wall, I noticed other fine points that confirmed my assumption of BKB's attitude towards artistry and attention to detail. Wooden planks lined the opposing wall to the bouldering area, but Gavin gave them special treatment.

"We got delivered this crappy looking wood for our stairwell wall, which [its color] also matched very closely with our climbing walls. It would have looked horrible. So instead of returning them, waiting for new ones to be delivered, and costing us more money, we were like, 'Screw it, let's just burn them.' It took me over 7 hours with a giant weed burner to create the effect that I wanted on all the planks." 

The idea was that the burnt wood would go well with the "industrial" aesthetics of the gym, matching the custom railings, the floor, the ceiling beams, etc. More importantly, it contrasted well with the bouldering wall, and it looked fantastic.  

And speaking of attention to detail, one question that did cross my mind was that the climbing walls were wood, varnished or lacquered (I am not told of the exact coating used on the walls). How is it going to withstand the abuse of climbing shoes over time? What about all the scuff marks that will accumulate? 

"They come right off. They're specially coated so that you just spray the wall, wipe, and the scuff marks will come right off." 

Wait, then wouldn't that make the walls especially slippery for smearing? 

"It's supposed to be somewhat slippery - you're not supposed to smear the heck out of the walls. We want the routes to be dictated by the routesetters and the holds that are on the walls, not the other way around. At a lot of other climbing gyms the walls dictate the route because it has way too many features, and that severely limits the type of movements as well as the variety of routes that can be set. " - Gavin Heverly


The lighting placement and positioning throughout the gym was also part of the project plan prior to the soft opening. Instead of high-intensity flood lamps aimed towards the ground (and the climbers) that is very common with large climbing gyms, they placed fluorescent lamps aimed up towards the ceiling (some art galleries use this same technique). As a result, the light bounces off the ceiling and the walls, creating a much more natural glow throughout the facility instead of a lot of shadow-casted, cold lighting. Also, lamps are place asymmetrically, concentrating the lighting to the climbing walls and the more populated areas.

I'd like to see is some sort of spot lighting to light up the bouldering wall some more however. The overhanging walls tend to create a massive shade, and with walls as big as BKB's, it would almost be essential to have the wall well illuminated. Plus it will enhance the aesthetics of the wall and the holds.


The "tongue" .

Follow the bouldering wall and the transition from thick pads to seamless 2-inch padded carpeting leads you to the rope area. The first feature you can see from even the entrance is the massive quarter-dome lead wall, and on the right, the "tongue" , a 60-foot linear vertical wall that puts the climber nearly horizontal at the top. Climbers who prefer rope for the thrill of heights will love this feature. Get high enough and you'll be treated with a view of the Boston skyline through one of the gym's massive windows.

Upstairs you have access to a secluded private rope-climbing area for beginners and top-rope lessons. Most experienced climbers wouldn't give wall a second thought, but this functional little area is quite ingeniously placed. It's secluded enough that lessons aren't drowned out by other noises in the gym, and a scheduled lesson does not include closing off a section of the regular climbing areas. Being a prior instructor, one of the most common feedback I get often is that students prefer classes that were held in an all-purpose training wall instead of just closing off a part of the gym. BKB obviously knew of this, and to add onto the value of the class experience, all classes are taught by AMGA-certified instructors.

A "beginner's" bouldering wall is available upstairs as well, perfect for kids, warm-ups, and those that aren't too keen about letting go from the top of the highball bouldering wall downstairs.

Continue to traverse through the balcony walkways and you'll find several empty rooms reserved for fitness purposes (also splashed with graffiti art). Personally, I am crossing my fingers for a lot of free-weights, a real kettlebell set, and a real barbell system. No Smith machines please.

They've also reserved a massive area, almost the entire width of the bouldering wall, for a lounge which will be furnished with couches, TVs, etc. for members to relax or work. BKB's attitudes towards lounges and sitting areas actually needs a bit of highlighting, and I think Gavin said it best:

“If you look at the traditional, more linear climbing gym model… you come from work, you change into your climbing clothes, you get your workout in, you go home. But we really want this to be a place where you can go on your day off- because it’s a biking community, its a pedestrian area- that... you’ll want to stop in here.”  - Gavin Heverly (Williamson, 2013)

Welcome to BKB Somerville.

To me, that point right there is what sets this gym apart from most climbing gyms, the same difference between a "budget", $99/year fitness gym and an all-inclusive athletic club.  This gym wants you to use it as a "hangout", not just as a gym. The friendly and professional staff doesn't want you to go get your workout in and then leave as soon as you're done (this is why budget gyms have almost no chairs and tables). They want you to stay, to relax, to type your e-mails, to use it as a meeting place for friends and family. They want a community in there. 


Check out the rest of the photos of my visit below.



BKB Somerville plans to have all their other amenities up and running by July 31st. Other features of the gym include: 

  • At least 2 lounges, one of which has a working fireplace.
  • A full-equipped pro-shop.
  • Full cafe - get your latte on!
  • Fully equipped fitness room.
  • At least 2 birthday party rooms, one of which has a neat castle-like climbing wall as its entrance way. 
  • Sauna room for men and women located in each locker room.
  • Yoga and private rooms for instructed classes for yoga, pilates, etc. 
  • Multi-computer room.

I can't wait until their grand opening when they have all their amenities set up. Expect a follow-up review. 

Visit BKB Somerville's website for additional info, as well as their Facebook page for the latest updates and news.

Williamson, K. (2013, April 15). Bkb somerville is coming!. Retrieved from http://www.climberism.com/bkb-somerville-is-coming/


Steven WongComment