Why are Asian Americans exploring the world of rock climbing?
As an immigrant child from Taiwan growing up in Queens, Peter Wang always had a rebellious side. While her parents ran a family restaurant in Fair Lawn, Wang dropped out of high school and eventually earned a general education degree.
“I didn’t like being told what to do,” Wang, 42, said.
He eventually became a professional medical technologist. But he yearned for more life than work. In 2014, he found the meaning of his life during a trip to Yosemite National Park when he discovered rock climbing.
“I felt challenged, not just physically, but also mentally,” Wang recalls.
Climbing became Wang’s all-consuming passion as he sought out other enthusiasts to join the hobby. Two years ago, he felt the need to create a new group dedicated to Asian American climbers. He was motivated by what he said he saw during an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, who have been scapegoated for the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in China.
“We saw an incident where someone who turned to the climbing community for comfort and support was met by someone who was not attuned to the situation,” Wang said. “We realized that Asian climbers may feel unsafe…and may need to connect with people who are experiencing the same issues.”
Soon, Wang and some of his fellow climbers began talking about a group where Asian American climbers could socialize and promote local Asian-owned businesses. In December 2021, the first meeting brought people together at The Cliffs at Harlem. Asian Climbing Tribe was born.
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Climbing is exploding in popularity – and diversity
No longer a sport dominated by white Americans, rock climbing is now a trendy “it” sport, attracting people from all walks of life. With indoor climbing studios opening at a breakneck pace in 2021, the number of climbing gyms in the United States will exceed 600 by the end of 2022, according to Climbing Business Journal.
At Method Gym in Newark, more than three dozen climbers from the Asian Climbing Tribe focused on scaling the walls with poles. Method is an Asian-owned gym that the group wanted to support financially, meeting in New Jersey for one of their regular dates. The group consists of more than 1,300 members from across the Northeast region who travel to different climbing gyms, Wang said.
Rock climbing has exploded in popularity in recent years, spurred by its debut as an Olympic sport at the Tokyo Games last year, Wang said.
“We’re also seeing that popularity extend to the Asian American community as well,” he added.
Method Climbing Gym partner Richard Song tapped into the popularity of rock climbing in 2020 when he and his business partners opened the gym in Newark.
“It’s a social and inclusive sport,” he said. “We’re really proud of the way we bring people together.”
Beyond Asian groups, Method has organized social events for black female climbers and LGBTQ groups. Climbing is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one, Song said. It is particularly popular with Asians as it has been promoted as an Olympic sport with excellent Asian athletes, he said.
Asian parents enrolled their children in the sport after seeing it at the Olympics, Song said.
“You can be 5-foot-7 and 120 pounds and do really well,” he added.
The climbers range in age from 8 to 70, Song said. The image of the skinny white and buff male scaling mountains is no longer the case, he added.
“We really made it more inclusive,” Song said.
There are climbers of all age groups who attend Asian Climbing Tribe meetings, Song said, adding that the group welcomes anyone who supports the cause, and the climber does not need to be asian.
Sometimes there are social activities after a meeting, such as dinner, Wang said.
“Climbing is a very unique community, it’s a small community and we all know who’s who,” Wang said.
The club travels to climb – its farthest adventure has taken its members to St. George, Utah. He’s trying to build relationships with all the gyms in the New York area and make his way to New Jersey, Wang said.
He said he hopes the group can become a national organization.
An inclusive and healthy community
There is no membership fee to join Asian Climbing Tribe. To become a crew member or volunteer, the member must attend at least three meetups, “so that you understand who we are and what we have to offer the community,” Wang said.
Hunter Lee, 19, from Boston, joined Asian Climbing Tribe for the camaraderie.
“I find that in those communities where I’m not a minority, I feel more free and comfortable to express myself,” Lee said. “I don’t feel the need to suppress or excuse the parts of me that stem from my cultural identity. It’s nice to have that kind of comfort and support in a sport that I love.”
Husband and wife team Eric Wan and Caroline Zhang, both 26, decided to try Asian Climbing Tribe to make new friends. They recently moved from Texas to Jersey City and were hoping to meet like-minded people in Method.
“Climbing is a very inclusive community,” Wang said.
He said the sport changed his life.
“I slowly quit drinking regularly and eventually quit smoking,” said Wang, who lives in Queens.
Beyond the new health habit, climbing has allowed Wang to form deep lifelong friendships.
“We often go on adventures where our lives are literally in the hands of our friends, so when we say we trust them with our lives, it’s really true, for the most part,” Wang said.
Mary Chao covers North Jersey Asian communities and real estate.
E-mail: [email protected].