New Times: How does bouldering differ from traditional rock climbing?
McNamara: Bouldering is a form of rock climbing. The heights you reach usually are not so great you would need a rope. If you fall, generally you have a little pad on the ground and someone to spot you and you are perfectly safe. SLO Op tops out at about 16 feet and has padded floors.
New Times: What does a SLO-Op membership entail?
McNamara: For $30 a month, or $20 if you are a minor, you are given a bar code card that scans into our door system and 24/7 access to the climbing walls. We offer free shoes so if you're just getting into it, there's a cheap way to start climbing. We hold competitions. We will be having one at our open house on October 18.
New Times: Does the gym accommodate beginners and experts?
McNamara: Absolutely. We have a mix of terrain and problem (routes to the top) difficulties that allow even kids to have a good time. That's absolutely the goal.
New Times: What was the inspiration for the nonprofit climbing gym?
McNamara: Yishai Horowitz (the other executive director) wanted to build a gym to help strengthen the little climbing community in SLO when he moved here. He and some friends got together and built a gym in a storage unit in Alamo Rentals and it snowballed from there. Given that both he and I are more philanthropists than profit-driven, it made sense for us to make it a nonprofit.
New Times: How often do the climbing courses change? Who changes them?
McNamara: "Problems" is what "courses" are called in climbing lingo. They change fairly frequently, depending on how people are feeling about their quality, quantity, and duration. We have competitions that force us to completely strip the wall holds and replace them, which means at least once a year it's completely fresh. Other than that, we have designated route-setters.