A teenage boy and a young man smile for the camera at an indoor rock climbing gym
Keenan Litmon

Pro athlete Manoah Ainuu helps new climbers learn the ropes

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It’s not easy to get into rock climbing. Starting out means building strength, mastering knots, and—for some of us, anyway—conquering a fear of heights. But for many would-be climbers, the hardest part isn’t technical know-how or tricky moves: it’s just getting to the wall.

It’s a problem Manoah Ainuu knows well. “Where I grew up in Los Angeles, we were just locked in by concrete and traffic,” he says. “There was not much getting out of the city, and there was definitely no place in my neighborhood to climb.”

It wasn’t until he headed to college in Montana—“an outdoor mecca”—that Ainuu “fell in love with everything about climbing. Overcoming pain and fear, spending time in beautiful places, being part of this sport’s awesome community … it just clicked,” he says. Fast forward five years, and he’s earned a spot on The North Face’s team of elite climbers, taking on daring expeditions in big mountains around the world.

Manoah Ainuu wraps a climbing rope around his shoulders with a big mountain in the backgroundGrowing up in L.A., "There was not much getting out of the city, and there was definitely no place in my neighborhood to climb," says Ainuu.Photo credit: Manoah Ainuu

As much as he loves pushing his limits in remote, demanding locales, Ainuu is equally stoked to introduce people to the sport. “I share what I love,” he says. “Especially when it’s something that is so fun and can help you grow.” So earlier this year, Ainuu and his North Face teammate Fred Campbell led a climbing clinic with kids on Atlanta’s West Side.

We’re teaming up with The North Face to build free climbing walls in parks around the country—starting in neighborhoods where kids face the highest barriers to the outdoors. In the past year, we’ve debuted climbing walls at Denver’s Montbello Open Space and Chicago’s Palmisano Park. A climbing boulder is just one of the features planned for Rodney Cook Sr. Park, a 16-acre green space that’s slated to open on the West Side in early 2020.

Ainuu and Campbell were in town to help kids learn the ropes and get excited about the new climbing wall coming to their neighborhood. “Some of these little kids who’d never even heard of climbing were just crushing it!” says Ainuu. “Everyone deserves a chance to at least give it a try.”

A middle school aged girl wearing a climbing helmet prepares to climb an indoor wallKids from Atlanta's West Side neighborhoods gathered with The North Face and The Trust for Public Land to learn the basics of rock climbing.Photo credit: Dexter Davis

He’s proud to be part of the effort to make the sport more equitable and inclusive. “It was super cool to be there as a role model, and show how climbing has affected my life and how much it means to me,” says Ainuu.

Is there a new outdoor activity you're looking forward to trying in the New Year? Let us know in the comments, or head over to Facebook to discuss!

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