PRG Approaching 25 Years, Meet Owner Gary Rall

Posted by on Jan 6, 2013 in People Profiles | Comments Off on PRG Approaching 25 Years, Meet Owner Gary Rall

Q: 25 years of Portland Rock Gym, when exactly did the gym open?
A: The Grand Opening was on February 1st, 1988.

Q: To give our readers some context, what was climbing like as a sport at the time?
A: Climbing in 1987… Locally, you would be climbing at Rocky Butte Quarry, Beacon Rock, and Smith Rock. The birth of sport climbing was a couple of years prior, and so it was right there in the golden era. The Spring of ’87 was the French Invasion. J. B. Tribout and Jean Marc Troussier came to Smith Rock to repeat a whole bunch of Alan Watts’s test pieces, and they liked it so much that they stayed and put up a ton more routes. Thus, there was a lot of climbing available for everybody resulting in an explosion of climbing activity at Smith Rock. Throughout the early ’80s, I would go there on a weekend and maybe see 6-10 people there on a busy Saturday, but once sport climbing occurred and people started bolting routes, it became popular really quickly. It was exciting to go there and climb with 25-50 people climbing at the same time. Bolting routes made rock climbing seem so much safer that more people chose to join the sport.

Q: What inspired you to start the Portland Rock Gym? Where did you get the idea?
A: Throughout 1986, climbing became less of a hobby for me and more of an obsession. In order to climb three days a week, I started climbing more in Portland where I found a lot of good climbers, a lot of good climbing, and a lot of crappy weather. I really wanted a better way to train during the winter then just doing pull-ups. Then, in the Summer of ’87, my wife and I went to England to visit family and climb. There we found local “climbing centers,” with very rudimentary indoor climbing walls made of rocks glued to brick walls over the hardwood floors of basketball courts. We also found that the average climber there was stronger than the average climber back home, and that they were climbing at a higher standard. After that trip, I really started putting the idea together. A gym tailored exclusively to rock climbers, run like a weight gym or athletic club, perhaps, with the birth of sport climbing, there would be enough climbers to make it feasible. I wanted to give running my own business a try anyhow, so I figured, what do I have to lose? If it failed, I’d do something else.

Q: What hurdles did you face in starting the gym?
A: First, I needed to know if there was enough interest. The good people at Oregon Mountain Community let me conduct a survey with their customers. The Mazamas gave me access to their advanced school for surveys as well. With a resounding response, I quit my job and went to the bank, only to get turned down for a modest loan. Remember, there wasn’t such a thing as a climbing gym, I had never managed an athletic club, nor did I have any collateral. Metolius Mountain Products were great, they helped me secure a lease on the tile wall that we still have today. I was Metolius’ first wall customer, so they delivered the tiles and installed them for free. I had around 20-30 friends that pitched in to help build the first walls. On the grand opening night, many of them bought annual memberships to help me get started. I felt like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The gym was built by the climbing community; I could never have done it myself.

Q: What inspires you going forward? What are your plans for the future?
A: Well, since I own the land that the parking lot is on, ultimately it would be nice to double the size of the gym at its current location. The financial climate right now is such that doing so is not altogether feasible, however, what would still be really cool and much more feasible would be to open up a second location somewhere in the greater metro area. A second location would be a means of making the PRG community larger overall, enabling us to make the current location a bigger, better gym.

Join us on February 1-2, 2013 to celebrate our 25th Anniversary! Stay tuned for details!