Community Spotlight: The Hangout climbing gym in Duncan

How four climbing enthusiasts created an inclusive space to work out and hang out.

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Four Canadian friends have launched a dream project to create a space that not only entertained climbers, but also nurtured a sense of community.

Now, The Hangout climbing centre in Duncan has become exactly that; not just a gym, but a place to relax, engage with encouraging people, and also work out. 

David Murray, Kayla Murray, Thomas Ristine and Jeanette Ristine have for years wanted to share their passions for climbing with the world, and also promote a healthy area for youth to learn and grow. Almost serendipitously, the two couples reconnected and launched The Hangout, located at 1065 Canada Ave #2, in Duncan.

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The space was built through local talent, from the signage to the climbing wall itself — co-designed by High Performance Climbing Walls in Cobble Hill. 

Re-thinking fitness

The large warehouse doors at The Hangout ascend into the ceiling, marking the start of their day. Slowly groups start to arrive: young, old, newcomers and experts. 

David recognizes some of them and welcomes them back to the gym. One teen excitedly introduces David to his friends — international students from Japan and France. 

David watches proudly as groups put on their shoes and start assessing different climbing routes. 

Several climbers with evident experience offer advice to newcomers and shout encouragement as they climb a difficult route. One man reaches the top of a wall after several attempts and shakes his fist with pride before dropping back down to the floor mat. 

The Hangout Duncan
Kevin Vanderveen climbs a problem at The Hangout on Sept. 6. Photo by Philip McLachlan/The Discourse

“I think what I love so much about this community (is)  — I’ve never had an experience where it is a competition. And even if you are competing, the person next to you is rooting you on the entire time,” says climber Kevin Vanderveen, who was seen encouraging those around him.

“We all want to see everybody succeed, which is what’s so awesome. … There’s no sense of cliquey-ness, no sense of exclusion.”

Kevin and David both described the gym as a place for youth to connect with adults in a healthy, safe way, through sport. 

The Murrays have made The Hangout their life. In fact, they live in the same warehouse, just a staircase away from the gym entrance. The space has become an extension of their living room, by design. The climbing wall revolves around a living-room-type space, featuring rocking chairs, tables, a swing set and climbing area for youth as young as three years old.

Thomas and Jeanette, their business partners, reside in Cowichan Bay.

Nurturing diversity

The four owners hope the space becomes an area where people from all backgrounds and walks of life can feel at home.

David pointed out a young man climbing the wall, saying he comes to the gym in his spare time and waits for his parents to pick him up.

“We enjoy being a place where people feel safe to be,” says David.

Their mission, he explained, is to build a strong community of inspiring climbers. The community, he says, comes before the climbing. 

The global climbing world that currently exists, David explains, seems to attract a specific kind of person. For those who don’t fit that model, entering the climbing scene can be difficult. 

“I’m the demographic that’s attracted to it. I’m the introverted, white male; there were no barriers for me to enter, none whatsoever,” he says.

the hangout duncan
David Murray watches a climber ascend the bouldering wall. Photo by Philip McLachlan/The Discourse

The goal is to make the space comfortable for anyone, David says. Part of that is in the name and the design of the space itself. You don’t have to be a pro climber, or even a climber at all. You can just come hang out. And it seems to be working. “All these misfits have somehow found their way … into this gym,” he says. 

“My 2 [year old] and 4 [year old] had a blast,” one online reviewer writes. “They even have a special pregnancy harness so I could climb on the belay wall.”

In David’s vision for the space, there will be no one type of person that overwhelms the rest. Just a rainbow of diversity. 

Kevin stood outside after finishing a climbing session. 

“I think if there’s one thing we need in the world, (it) is more places where we can just connect on a human level, regardless of who you are, your faith background, regardless of anything. Put all sorts of dividers aside; this is a place where we can just, as human beings connect, have fun, enjoy each other, support each other, encourage each other,” he says.

“I think the world just needs that. And this can be a place like that.” [end]

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