Uniting Canada's Largest Climbing Community

RockBase – Connecting Climbers and the Climbing Community

RockBase is a new Canadian climbing app committed to connecting climbers while celebrating and supporting the sense of community that is so core to climbing. We caught up with Kelsen Chau, RockBase's co-founder, and discussed the need for a Canadian climbing-partner app, the challenges of starting a new company during a pandemic and the surprising findings from the recent Canadian Climbing Survey. 
  •  RockBase Climbing App

    RockBase Climbing App

Congratulations on launching RockBase. Can you briefly tell us more about the app and some of its more compelling features?
Kelsen: The RockBase mission is to connect climbers. The driving force behind creating the app is a strong focus on community. That is why the app is completely free. The name RockBase comes from the concept of a home away from home. Whether climbers are meeting at the foot of a mountain or the local gym, our goal is to ensure RockBase provides a safe option for climbers to build connections. RockBase focuses on safety by giving climbers crucial partnering information (locations, climbing grades, gear list, and more) and the ability to manage climbing sessions. Climbers are the only focus because building belaytionships is serious stuff!

As a bonus perk, we provide an e-wallet for storing your gym memberships! We think this is an environmentally friendly alternative, and you don't have to worry about losing those pesky keychain cards!
What prompted you to create RockBase?
Kelsen: As a researcher and avid traveller, I'm often visiting interesting places on short notice. During these trips, I want to get out to local gyms or climbing areas, but issues like language barriers or limited crag info often get in the way. Other climbers echoed these challenges, and I realized there was a need for an app that provided more than directions and grades. While many apps provide this type of content, very few support and encourage the important sense of connection and community that is so core to climbing. As for actually creating RockBase, my team deserves the credit. They have put in hundreds of hours towards ensuring RockBase is climbercentric. 
  •  Canadian Climbing Survey

    Canadian Climbing Survey

Amid the COVID situation, you created a Canadian Climbing Survey. What were some of the more interesting findings from that survey, and how did you use this information to help improve RockBase?
Kelsen: The Canadian Climbing Survey was really a community initiative. Early into the COVID situation, several gym owners and local climbing businesses were concerned about addressing this crisis while protecting the local climbing community. As a researcher, I recognized that data could help shed some light on this struggle. I happened to be in a position to provide support and did my best to cobble together a survey that responded to their most urgent concerns.

In terms of findings, I was shocked to find that 40 percent of respondents said they were not members of a climbing organization. I see this as a great opportunity for outreach and education. These organizations play a critical role in addressing access issues, informing policy, and managing public relations. Not to mention, most of them are operated by volunteers who really care about the future of climbing. Another interesting finding was that 44 percent of respondents felt that climbing's growing popularity would increase the costs associated with climbing outdoors. While there was a noticeable cost increase for accessing climbing areas across Canada, it's hard to tell if it was directly associated with climbing's increased popularity. 
We are ordinary climbers who enjoy the sport, care about the environment, and want to give back to the community that has given us so much.
The most valuable piece of information for RockBase was finding out how big a role outdoor climbing and climbing tourism holds in the climbing community. There have been many conversations around the rapid growth of indoor climbing. Our research suggests that this growth will continue to fuel increases in the outdoor climbing sector. As a response, we are working hard to expand our partner finding feature to support climbers with getting outdoors and travelling for climbing (when COVID finally subsides).

I want to take this opportunity to also say a big thank you to Gripped Magazine for putting up with me and helping the community out with publicizing the survey and then publishing the data under the tight turnarounds we were facing.
  •  RockBase Climbing App

    RockBase Climbing App

At the moment, RockBase is focused on the GTHA market. Do you have any plans to expand into other regions?
Kelsen: Short answer, yes! We know climbing is a global activity. We want to support local climbing communities by connecting climbers locally and at a worldwide level.
Enough about the app, let's talk about you. What's your technical/business background?
Kelsen: I come from a project management and research background. While my project management experience prepared me for running a business, my research experience helped me understand the climber experience in a way that could be translated into technology. Whether it is reflecting on my own climbing experiences or talking to climbers, being able to form quality questions has been very helpful.
And how about the rest of the RockBase team?
Kelsen: The team consists of an amazing group of people. They come from the technology industry and have a passion for climbing. Most of them have built multiple web and mobile products, so I have learned a lot from them along the way. We are ordinary climbers who enjoy the sport, care about the environment, and want to give back to the community that has given us so much. I always say actions speak louder than words. The quality of the team is in our app. The product speaks volumes on their behalf.
  •  RockBase Climbing App

    RockBase Climbing App

Now that we got that out of the way, tell us more about your climbing experience and how you got into climbing.
Kelsen: I got into climbing because a friend of mine needed a belay partner and roped me into trying it out. I enjoy problem-solving and have played sports my whole life, so I took to climbing right away. I suppose you can say it all came full circle with RockBase.
Operating during the COVID situation has created many challenges for all businesses. How has it impacted RockBase? 
Kelsen: Launching our product during Covid has been a challenge. As a self-funded new business, we cannot access any government business support programs, so we've been surviving off savings and small side gigs. That said, we're just one of many climbing related businesses struggling with the current situation. If anything, we're lucky because the climbing community has been super welcoming and supportive.
On a more positive note, are there any pleasant surprises you experienced during the development of RockBase?
Kelsen: The community support from climbers and climbing business owners has been amazing. Having been able to launch only intermittently between lockdowns, I'm happy to say we already have a small user base on the app. In the meantime, we are hard at work developing exciting new features for when we can really roll out the app!
  •  RockBase Climbing App Co-Founder Kelsen Chau

    RockBase Climbing App Co-Founder Kelsen Chau

Finally, when all this is over and travel restrictions are lifted, what is the first climbing area you plan to visit?
Kelsen: For bouldering, definitely the Glen. I have a fondness for the Escarpment, and I love the movement on some of the classic problems. For sport climbing, it really is a hard decision. Locally, I think I'll wait to see how things look when we come out the other end of the tunnel. Beyond local crags, I'm super-stoked to work off the rust by starting up my regular gym routine again and maybe even plan a climbing trip outside of Ontario!
You can find out more about RockBase at https://rockbase.io.

Join the discussion of this and other climbing related stories at www.ontarioclimbing.com/forum/
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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.