In another sign of rock climbing’s ascendancy in San Antonio, the operators of a Houston-based company announced they have closed on land to build a new gym with climbing walls high enough to require ropes and harnesses. 

inSPIRE Rock posted last week on Aug. 22 in a Facebook group for San Antonio rock climbers that it had secured a location for its San Antonio gym. In an interview with the Rivard Report, inSPIRE Rock founder Paul Short laid out his vision for what could become San Antonio’s first indoor high-ropes gym. 

“Because we’re in locations in the Houston area where you have to drive hours to go climb outdoors, we are introducing a whole new population to climbing, people who’ve never done this before,” Short said. “We think that’s going to be the case in San Antonio as well.”

Short and his co-owner, Bryan Robbins, plan to build their gym on a currently vacant roughly 5-acre parcel near the intersection of UTSA and Utex boulevards just south of Loop 1604 near the University of Texas at San Antonio. They plan to offer 24,000 to 26,000 square feet of climbing terrain, most of it devoted to high walls. Roughly 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of that will be dedicated to ropes-free bouldering. 

The gym will be the third indoor climbing location for Short, and the first outside the Houston area. inSPIRE is a family business, with Short’s wife at the head of the financial and human resources work. His two sons, ages 20 and 18, are both serious climbers who work at inSPIRE, he said. 

Short said his company’s move to San Antonio has been years in the making. At one point, he and his business partner were looking at another piece of property in the area, but it didn’t work out, in part because of zoning issues.  

“Folks in San Antonio, they’ve been promised a lot, and some have delivered,” Short said, pointing to Armadillo Boulders, a bouldering gym that opened near downtown in July 2018. The District, a gym in the Broadway area that also has bouldering walls, is the only other gym in the San Antonio area that offers serious climbing opportunities.

San Antonio also is set to have access open to Medicine Wall, its first officially sanctioned outdoor climbing crag, in 2020. 

The sport has gained a major foothold in popularity in the U.S. and around the world, with sport climbing set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020. However, San Antonio’s only climbing-focused gyms are bouldering gyms, with low walls and no ropes. 

Bouldering is related to the type of high-ropes climbing that inSPIRE hopes to offer, though the necessary skills are different. Boulderers climb above padded floors or crash pads to reduce the impact of falls. By contrast, inSPIRE will have climbers and belayers using harnesses and ropes to scale walls at least 55 feet in height, Short said.

Large walls give climbers the opportunity to ascend greater heights in a safe environment.

This type of climbing usually involves the use of a belayer attached to the other end of the rope to help keep the climber safe and feed out the correct length of rope during an ascent. However, Short said the gym likely will have some autobelay devices that don’t require a human belayer. 

Most of its climbing routes will have ropes affixed at the top of the route, a technique known as top-roping, Short said. The gym also will have routes that more advanced climbers can lead, meaning they’ll clip the rope into regularly spaced bolts on the wall to help the belayer protect them as they climb. They’re anticipating the routes to vary in difficulty from 5.6 to 5.13 or above on the Yosemite Decimal System scale, he said. 

For Short, the business is all about pursuing his passion “for introducing people who don’t know they’re climbers to this adventure called climbing.” 

Born in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and raised there and in Georgia, Short, 51, said he first was introduced to climbing while attending Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1990, he got his start at Sand Rock, one of that state’s longtime climbing areas. 

After a job running high-ropes courses for a summer camp, he was struck by the similarities between the skills required for rock climbing and high-ropes courses, often used in team-building exercises. After moving back to Texas, he founded a company that focused on guiding ropes courses, building them, and teaching others to safely run them.

Paul Short, middle, poses with this sons Luke, left, and Drew, right, at one of the family’s climbing gyms in the Houston area

In 2000, he bought his first portable climbing wall. He began teaching schoolchildren climbing-based personal growth skills through a program called Rock Solid Character. 

“Life is full of challenges and obstacles, but we need to get a grip on good character, things like respect, responsibility, honesty, trustworthiness, caring and cooperation, courage, perseverance,” Short said. “If you get a grip on something good, you go up. If you get a grip on a bad rock hold, which way are you headed? That’s kind of the way it is in life.”

Short purchased the land for his first gym in Spring, Texas, in 2005. They struggled to attract banks and private investors, often with little success. He still calls those the “dark years.” 

Then came what Short calls his “miracle.” An angel investor provided the capital he needed to build the gym he wanted. The first location of inSPIRE Rock opened in 2013. It now offers 18,000 square feet of bouldering and rope climbing on walls up to more than 40 feet tall. 

In August 2018, they opened the Cypress location –  24,000 square feet, with wall heights reaching 63 feet, and a café named 5.ATE, a play on the climbing rating of 5.8. 

San Antonio climbers will have to wait a bit before the gym becomes a reality, though. Short said they are hoping to start construction within 18 months to two years. Construction likely will take eight to 10 months, he said. 

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He serves as the assistant manager of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.