A rock climber for 28 years, Joe Czerwinski turned his passion into a business.
He opened Focus Climbing Center near Dobson and Broadway roads, Mesa, in 2013 – years after a friend had told him about a rock-climbing facility in Tempe.
“I got into climbing in general by hiking Camelback Mountain every week with a friend,” explained Czerwinski. “My friend asked, ‘I wonder if there’s a company that takes you outside and does this?’ I said, ‘I don’t think that sounds very safe.’ That’s how I left it.”
The following week, Czerwinski’s friend
told him about an indoor rock-climbing facility in Tempe.
“‘It’s totally safe. It’s a great place to meet girls,’” Czerwinski recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s go.’ Oddly enough, I ended up meeting my future girlfriend and wife at that facility.”
Czerwinski and his wife have been married for almost 21 years.
Making a business out of his hobby seemed only logical.
“Climbing is an instinctual sport,” Czerwinski said. “Every person has tried to climb. We’ve all have climbed out of our cribs, up the counters towards the cookie jar, on the couch.”
At Focus Climbing, he said, “We offer a variety of accommodating angles, all types for kids, adults, all shapes and sizes. The youngest one who has scaled the full height walls in our gym at 28 feet was 18 months old.”
“What sets us apart is we don’t have any top ropes,” said Czerwinski. “When I was growing up as a climber, a lot of these other gyms I went to in Phoenix had a lot of top ropes with their main style of climbing of vertical walls at full height.
“I would always run into people who weren’t climbing or didn’t come in for a couple of weeks because their partner was on a work trip or was sick.”
Instead, the gym offers full-height climbing with auto blades which allow people to climb by themselves.
“Auto blades is a device that allows you to climb a full height wall without a partner,” Czerwinski said. “There’s some fancy technology in this device that sits at the top of the wall and if you happen to fall or slip off the wall, it’ll lower you down to the ground at the same rate as if you’re walking across the ground at a regular pace.
“It’s a very comfortable control of descent as you get down to the ground. Then you start all over again.”
Each auto blade gives climbers access to about eight routes for a total of 64.
The 6,500-square-foot gym also has a bouldering area with 3,000 square feet of seamless landing area.
Bouldering has become increasingly popular over the past 10 years, Czerwinski said.
“Saying I’m a climber is as general as saying I’m a car racer. With climbing you can be a big wall climber, you can be an Alpinist climber, you can be a sport climber, tread climber, boulder climber or someone who just goes to the gym. All of those give you a different experience.”
Czerwinski said indoor rock climbing has both similarities to and major differences from outdoor climbing.
“You’re moving the same way but outside, things might be a little sharper or a little tougher to reach for shorter people and crunchy for taller people. It just depends. I could ride my exercise bike for 12 miles in my house and peddle it but it’s different when I get on the street even though I’m still riding my bike.”
Indoors, climbers have handles to grab.
“Most of the people coming in here do some form of bouldering or sport climbing,” said Czerwinski. “Those are the two most popular and easiest.”
For first-time climbers, Czerwinski recommends starting indoors.
“It’s definitely much more useful. You end up having a much more positive user experience when you go outside. When you’re inside, you know what to expect a little bit more.
“If you frequent an indoor climbing gym for at least a couple of months, you’re going to build up a little more muscular endurance, you’re going to be more confident, you’re going to know what to expect a little bit more than, ‘I’ve never climbed before. Let’s go outside.’”
While it’s not necessary to be physically fit, it’s helpful.
Nor is climbing just for young. Czerwinski said he many climbers older than 55 and one who is in his early 70s.
“As you get older as a climber, your body doesn’t bounce back,” Czerwinski explained. “The impact of bouldering can be pretty hard on your body. The pad system we have here is very unique. In our orientation, we show everyone how to fall in the bouldering area. It really limits the amount of impact on the body.”
Most climbers at Focus purchase a day pass for $20 and usually spend up to 2 1/2 hours. Discounts are given to college students, frontline medical workers and teachers.
Czerwinski said climbers have the option of leaving and returning on the same day. Some like to leave for lunch and come back. Rental gear such as shoes and a harness is also available. Both are needed for the bouldering area and auto blades.
“One of the other big things we do here is make sure we have enough A/C power on the roof,” explained Czerwinski. “Many of the other competitors in the Valley don’t run their A/C very well or they don’t even have air conditioning. That is a deal-breaker in the summer.”
The gym also offers parties for kids and summer camps with the emphasis being on climbing, not babysitting.
The gym is open every day from 10 am-10 pm on weekdays and 10 am-7 pm on weekends. Right now, due to the pandemic, there’s a limited capacity of 50 with masks required.