My sister Molly met several of her closest friends – including the guy she ended up marrying – while rock climbing. She initially sought out the sport as a new way to exercise, but quickly learned that climbing brings people together in addition to building physical and mental strength. I tried climbing over the summer for the first time in Washington State and had a blast, but I didn’t think I’d be able to find something like that in New Orleans due to our lack of … well, mountains and rocks.

But then the New Orleans Boulder Lounge opened, and since then it’s been building a steady membership base of experienced and amateur climbers of all ages. (You can also just drop in to climb or take a class, but to save time, sign the online waiver first.) Owner Eli Klarman says he opened this gym with every intention of developing a community. “It’s as much a social outlet as it is a fitness or health outlet,” he says. “People like to come after work and hang out and meet up with their friends – that’s why we stay open so late. Building a community is our biggest goal.”

When I went in there, Eli’s younger brother, Steven, explained the climbing routes and offered useful tips, including the proper way to fall (there’s a very thick layer of padding below the climbing walls to ensure a safe landing). Another staff member guided me on a route, telling me which way to swing my hips and suggesting how to coordinate my legs and arms.
 “Climbing is really cool because it’s very interdisciplinary,” Eli says. “You are setting your own challenges and you’re not competing with anyone but yourself. There’s an intellectual aspect to it – it’s like finishing a problem. You have to figure out how to execute it.”

Eli also notes how confidence boosting it can be. “We have kids who come in who are really shy and soft-spoken, and now they’re the ones giving the others advice on how to climb. It carries into their social interactions and even their schoolwork,” he says.

I can see why: From my experience there, I had to be fully present and concentrating on the task at (literal) hand. It was a challenge, but a welcome one – everyone in there was supportive, and my pleasantly sore arm muscles the next day were a testament to a good workout.

The New Orleans Boulder Lounge is located at 1746 Tchoupitoulas St.; for more information call 510-2990 or visit