From a young age Zak McGurk had loved climbing and eventually turned it into business, forming a positive environment for climbers in Calgary. However, the team’s vision did more than that, breaking down barriers by creating an entire climbing community.

McGurk’s love for climbing began the day he stepped into his first climbing centre for his 12th birthday party. After that, McGurk would bug his dad to bring him to the centre every week.

Its owner later decided to create a junior team and added McGurk. He would soon be training, travelling the world and competing in multiple climbing competitions. At first, the competitions McGurk participated in were Western Canada, but in later years they’d compete nationally and then internationally – including in China, Austria and Australia.

“As a youth it’s pretty awesome to travel around the world doing something you love.”

“Each place had its own thing that was really amazing about it and totally different from the other years that we went. But each year was really awesome, and I had a really great group of friends,” said McGurk.

Friendship forms business idea

From this team McGurk was fortunate to meet lifelong friends and future business partner Josh Muller and later Craig Doram.

As the three got older they leaned towards different career paths.

McGurk went to school for graphic communications and technologies, later getting an art directing position at  a marketing design agency called Black Bar Creative. He had been the third hire for the new company, which began in the basement of a Subway restaurant. McGurk helped build the company over the next five years creating partnerships within music festivals, magazines and many different restaurants in town.

“It was really cool and was an amazing experience,” said McGurk

Muller and Doram worked in Oil and gas and McGurk continued with his desk job. However, they would come together to climb on weekends or travel to different climbing destinations when the opportunity struck.

As they continued climbing, Muller and Doram noticed how busy their regular climbing facility was. At that moment one turned to the other and said, “maybe we should start our own gym or something because this is crazy.”

After a few months, McGurk was asked to join in and the three began to make this vision a reality. However, it was a learning curve for all of them.

For the first few months they would work their eight-hour day jobs and then reconvene to do zoning applications, finances and construction for their budding business.

Climbing centre takes hold

Opening day finally came on Apr. 8, 2017, and Bolder Climbing Community was born.

The team also decided to incorporate a coffee bar to fit with the atmosphere they wanted to create: making people feel as though they could also come climb, relax and hangout.

“It’s a great place to meet people and it’s a very positive environment. Climbing is a very supportive sport by nature, but among Bolder there is a healthy level of competitiveness while also balancing a lot of support for each other,” said McGurks climbing partner Andrew Hamill.

BoldersBolder Climbing Community atmosphere. A place for Climbing, coffee and community.  Photo by Vanessa Iula.

McGurk continues to do the marketing for Bolder where his position revolves around branding, merchandise, designing and working on promotional materials. McGurk, Muller and Doram still try and climb together when they can, but it has become much harder to find the time with their new business up and running.

McGurk recently had to change the focus of his exercise to recovery after shattering his knee while climbing at Bolder. He was bound to a wheelchair for months. However, McGurk would continue going to the gym with a rehab trainer to work on strength exercises.

“I never really noticed him being down during his injury. It was tough, but I think he did really well throughout his recovery. He made the best out of it,” said Hamill.

Though his recovery is still ongoing, McGurk has returned onto the climbing wall and has relearned how to fall again. He continues to practice and build his strength, getting back to the place he was once in.

“I love being here every day and sitting down having coffee and people come in and getting to chat with them … That’s probably the most rewarding part of it. Seeing people come in and being excited about something that we built and that they really love the gym,” said McGurk.

Boulder Merch copyBolder Merchandise, designed by Zak McGurk. Photo by Vanessa Iula.

Next year in 2019 Bolder will also be hosting the open bouldering nationals, bringing together top climbers from all around the country for a large climbing competition.

“That’s probably the most rewarding part of it. Seeing people come in and being excited about something that we built and that they really love the gym.” – Zac McGurk

With their business, McGurk looks towards the future not only wanting people to feel welcome to try out climbing but to also feel comfortable to hang out afterwards. In doing this the team will continue towards the path of community, which is important to McGurk and something that sets their business apart.

“The whole point of when we opened the gym was to break down the barriers of just climbing and build community as well. So, you don’t need to be intimidated by climbing. It’s a really supportive community so come down and hangout,” said McGurk.

Editor: Andrea Wong |

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