Uniting Canada's Largest Climbing Community

Friction - An interview with one of Canada’s oldest climbing hold manufacturers.
Based in downtown Toronto, Friction is one of Canada’s oldest climbing hold manufacturers. We recently caught up with the owner of Friction, Luigi Montilla, and asked him a few questions about what it’s like to run one of Canada’s most successful climbing hold companies.
You have to be one of the oldest climbing hold companies in Canada. When did you launch Friction and how did you get involved in the climbing hold industry?
Friction: We started making holds in the fall of 1999. The idea behind getting into the business of producing holds was the result of a slow day working at the climbing gym, staring at the walls, and trying to figure what company made which hold. A light bulb went off when we realized that none of them were Canadian and the rest, as they say, is climbing hold history.
Luigi Montilla at Friction HQ

Luigi Montilla at Friction HQ

How would you describe Friction's philosophy when it comes to climbing hold shapes?
Friction: When it comes down to it, a hold is a hold, but we want setters and climbers to gravitate towards our product when selecting grips for their new route or problem. Form and function go hand-in-hand when we design our holds. Aesthetically, they have to be appealing to the eye but more important, the holds have to be functional.
You're based in downtown Toronto. From a business perspective, is this an advantage or a drawback?
Friction: Being based out of Toronto has been beneficial from the get-go. It’s the biggest climbing market in Canada and there’s a high density of climbing gyms and climbers in the Greater Toronto Area that devour our holds. Being in a big city, we essentially have everything that we need at our doorstep.
Pouring the holds

Pouring the holds.

What do you think is the most transformational technology to hit the climbing hold industry since the introduction of shaping foam?
Friction: It would have to be the introduction and subsequent mass conversion to polyurethane as the preferred raw material for hold production. I think the switch moved the industry forward as urethane holds are far superior to their polyester resin predecessors.
Most of the climbing hold industry has moved production offshore or to a centralized US-based hold-pouring company. Friction, however, continues to pour all its holds in Toronto. Why have you not followed this trend?
Friction: Outsourcing has definitely been on our minds. We are looking into increasing our capacity as well as getting a foothold (pardon the pun) in the US market so producing our product down there would make sense. It’s something that we are strongly considering.

Having said that, we enjoy making holds and servicing our community. Overseeing the entire production process is important to us, and that’s essentially a major reason for our reluctance to hand over control to someone else.
Cleaning up a new shape.

Cleaning up a new shape.

Many folks may not know that you are the man behind the Tour de Bloc (TdB), Canada's national bouldering series. When did you launch TdB and what were you hoping to accomplish with the series?
Friction: From the start, we thought that it was important to be involved in the local climbing scene and that included sponsoring climbers and competitions. The TdB was established in 2003 as an extension of the support we were providing comps. We felt that starting an organized and cohesive series would be far more beneficial to the sport than just giving out schwag at the events.

We wanted to create something organic that was very inclusive, but we also had an eye on preparing serious competitive climbers for the highest level of competition. The end goal was to build a strong grassroots base of climbers that fed into the National program as well as bringing all of the bouldering events around the country under one banner that operated under the same rules and format.
What are some of the biggest challenges with organizing a national bouldering series?
Friction: I would say that scheduling and sponsorship are the two biggest challenges with organizing a national series. The competition season is very congested, which makes selecting 16 to 20 dates that don’t conflict with other events a bit of a chore.

Sponsorship requires a ton of legwork, email, phone calls and meet and greets. You have to start early and follow up a lot. Having said that, we’re lucky enough to have several long-term partners that have been supporting the TdB from the very beginning like MEC and Gripped.
Grinding the back of a freshly finished hold.

Grinding the back of a freshly finished hold.

Back to climbing holds. I've always been a huge fan of your shapes. The simple, straightforward holds are ideal for training while the more organic shapes offer a number of hidden thumb-catches that make them surprisingly versatile. Any advice that might help folks when they are trying to choose between these two styles of holds?
Friction: It comes down to a couple of things that you alluded to in your question. Some holds are designed to be mono-directional. So if you’re hoping to force specific moves, then you probably will gravitate to simpler cleaner designs such as the ones found in our House or Comp Series line of holds. If you’re the adventurous type that likes unlocking sequences and hidden thumb catches, then you might be more inclined to pick holds from the Naturals line.
What are some of the best and worst current and past climbing hold trends?
Friction: Best Trends = Font style slopers, dual textured holds, screw-on holds.
Worst Trends = Font style slopers, copying designs and passing them as your own.
The moulds of all your favourite shapes.

The moulds of all your favourite shapes.

What are Friction's plans (hold shapes and otherwise) for future?
Friction: Expect bigger and better things from us as we continue to SHAPE THE FUTURE of this industry. We’re going live with a new website as well as launching a sub-brand called SML later this year. Initially, SML was just going to be a line within Friction for wall companies that needed Small, Medium and Large holds for their projects. It then morphed into a platform to feature collaborations with other shapers/setters. Obviously, new holds will continue to roll out of our shop.
You can check out the complete line of Friction climbing holds at http://frictionclimbing.com/
Photos courtesy of Friction and Aidas Odonelis at Ruby Photography Studio.
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Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.