Before showing visitors San Antonio’s newest climbing gym, co-owner Michael Cano stopped to pour a cup of cold-brewed coffee from a kegerator.
“Coffee and climbing – it’s the best combination,” Cano said. “What else would you want to do on a Saturday morning?”
For months, Armadillo Boulders' opening at 1119 Camden St. has been the talk of San Antonio’s small but devoted climbing community. Cano and his business partner, Joe Kreidel, hope to open the facility, which features 5,200 square feet of bouldering terrain, in the next few weeks.
Their space not only offers bouldering, in which climbers scale short routes over a padded landing without the use of harnesses and rope, but also a studio for yoga and pilates and a fitness room with weights.
On a tour of the facility Thursday, crews of expert carpenters from Salt Lake City-based Vertical Solutions were painstakingly installing the last pieces of wood on some of the gym’s walls.
Cano and Kreidel pointed out a few pink and green bouldering routes that have already been set. They intend to color-coordinate routes using the color of the holds, unlike some gyms that mark them with colored tape. The gym will not have any rope-climbing areas.
“Joe and I didn’t want to do a mediocre rope gym and a mediocre bouldering gym,” Cano said. “We wanted to do an amazing bouldering gym with all the variety of terrain.”
The two said Armadillo’s strengths will be route-setting, with Kreidel reconfiguring new routes on various walls twice a week. They’ll also emphasize safety, with seamless, 12-inch padding to cushion falls.
Creating a community space is also a focus, they said. The gym will have cold-brew coffee on tap, Wi-Fi, areas for sitting and socializing, and a pro shop where people can purchase climbing gear like shoes – the only essential equipment for bouldering.
In launching their business, Cano and Kreidel are responding to a growing mainstream interest in the sport across the country, including Central Texas. San Antonio already has one downtown bouldering gym, and Austin has one of the largest in the country.
“The industry changed,” Cano said. “All of a sudden, climbing is for a lot more people, not just dirtbags and vagabonds. It’s not some counter-culture thing. It’s for middle-of-the-road people.”
The idea of welcoming new people into the sport is important to Cano, 37, and Kreidel, 40, who grew up together in San Antonio. That’s partly why they’ve filled their gym with little homages to their city.
They pointed out the Grotto, a training area where one wall bears a roughly 13-foot-tall outline of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a nod to San Antonio’s Mexican heritage.
There are other symbols as well, including markers for the routes’ difficulty rating system shaped like papel picado. A curving wall near the front entrance is named the Dancer Wall because it resembles the sweep of a ballet folklorico dancer’s skirt.
There’s also Bandland, named for the nine-banded armadillo, a Texas symbol. Mañana Wall faces east and gets a full dose of sunshine in the morning.
“And if you can’t make it up today, there’s always mañana,” Cano said.
The venture marks a big life change for the business partners who had long been interested in the outdoors, hiking the area’s many trails and hanging out at spots like the Frio River in the Hill Country. But as youth, climbing had seemed like a distant possibility.
“In the '90s, if you’re in San Antonio, how do you get into climbing?” Kreidel said. “I’d see climbers at Enchanted Rock and just wonder, ‘How do I do that?’”
In college, it was Cano’s older brother, Marcus, who got Kreidel interested in sport climbing with ropes and harnesses. When Cano’s brother left the United States to study abroad, Kreidel took up bouldering as a way to climb solo.
“I’d get a crash pad and go to McKinney Falls or Enchanted Rock and climb by myself,” Kreidel said. He continued climbing when he lived in Missouri, Connecticut, and Arizona.
At the same time, Cano was living in Brooklyn, climbing at indoor gyms and working as an oil and gas banker. He was looking for a way out of that field into something new.
Three years ago, when Kreidel was living in Tuscon, he was attending Cano’s cousin’s wedding reception and and got to talking with Cano's mom about the dearth of climbing gyms in San Antonio.
Cano and Kriedel eventually decided they wanted to do something about it.
For a city of 1.5 million, San Antonio’s climbing scene has long been underdeveloped. Local climbers have few choices, both indoors and outdoors. For years, the only serious option in San Antonio has been The District, a 24-hour gym with multiple bouldering walls at the intersection of Broadway and Army Boulevard.
“It’s a difficult formula to solve,” Cano said of starting a gym. “Where do you put it? It’s so expensive. There’s a tight supply of suitable buildings. You go for it, and you get your heart broken, as we did with several buildings.”
Both said it took them six months of driving around town looking at buildings to find the right place, an 11,200-square-foot former petroleum equipment supplier.
Armadillo Boulders is set to open in late July. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Memberships are available at $69 per month and $109 for two family members, plus $15 for each additional family member. Day passes are $17 for adults and $14 for youth.