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Cape Coral Living Magazine

Teaming Up to Tackle New Heights: SWFL rock climbers have patience, perseverance

Rock climbing takes concentration and physical agility. With the right gear and adequate training, it’s a sport that many can enjoy. Photo courtesy of Alec Kratoska.

Bettina Zafiris of Naples, Florida, likes to head to the hills—whether they are indoors or outdoors. She began rock climbing in 2013 in Miami, and thanks to indoor and outdoor rock-climbing opportunities, she was able to climb often enough to get hooked on the sport. Now she and her husband, Harry Zafiris, are the co-owners of Naples-based Experience the Challenge LLC, an adventure sports and fitness-based company that does business as Hang Xtreme Rock Climbing. Bettina Zafiris is also one of the organizers of SW Florida Rock Climbing Meet Up. 

“I enjoy how the sport challenges your mind and body,” she explains. Zafiris adds that she particularly enjoys setting her routes on the rock wall and challenging herself to meet them. 

She likes to climb with SW Florida Rock Climbing Meet Up group members at such indoor places as Vertical Ventures, with locations in St. Petersburg and Tampa. While traditional rock climbing takes place outside on hills and mountains, climbers can take part in their sport just about anywhere—thanks to rock walls that are made of wood or concrete. Some of the walls are even portable. 

Eight to 15 group members generally head out every month or two from about 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., including drive time. Once on location, they work with one another to increase their skills. Sometimes they take a break together for lunch or have dinner afterward, so it’s a social event as well.

Photo courtesy of Alec Kratoska.

“We have been discussing a longer trip to an outdoor climbing location such as Tennessee for a weekend,” says Alec Kratoska, who is also one of the group’s organizers. However, having the right amount of expertise and gear has prevented the group from yet trekking that far.
Some individual members head to cold-weather locations such as Alaska to ice climb on frozen waterfalls or glaciers. Others enjoy boulder climbing in Colorado or Utah, for instance. They say that type of climbing is quite intense because the boulders can be 3 to 7 meters high. 

Generally, all climbs are done in groups of two or more for safety reasons. It’s not often that climbers—even experts—climb alone.

The SW Florida Rock Climbing Meet Up group is primarily made up of beginners to intermediate climbers, but all levels are welcome.

“I've seen climbers as young as 5 years old at the indoor climbing centers with their parents,” adds Kratoska. Indeed, Vertical Ventures offers a children’s climbing section and classes just for them.

Climbing is a great activity for children. “It’s a fun, full-bodied exercise that burns off energy and helps both children and adults learn how to focus and use strategies to accomplish goals,” Kratoska explains. Climbing can also be good for those with certain disabilities. “Bettina also knows quite a bit about how to climb with disabilities,” he notes.

Every climbing experience differs—depending if it is an indoor or outdoor climb in a warm or cold climate. Climbers wear appropriate clothing and shoes, and use ropes and harnesses. Although there is some danger to the sport, there are many methods and devices, along with courses and instruction that aid the climbers’ safety. Vertical Ventures offers a variety of classes and personal instruction. It also has a variety of walls for beginners to experts, so climbers can climb at their own level of expertise.

Rock climbing is growing in popularity. A 2010 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report by The Outdoor Foundation, a non-profit organization, states: “Climbing attracted the fifth-highest number of new participants in 2009, a whopping 24.4%, which ranks behind only whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, non-traditional or off-road triathlon, and traditional triathlon, which led with 43.5% of new participants.” Today an estimated nine million people rock climb in the United States, and millions more climb worldwide.

Indeed, “sport climbing” has been added to the competition list of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The sport has finally made it to the top by being included in the world’s leading international sporting event.

For More Info

SW Florida Rock Climbing

Vertical Ventures

116 18th St. South 
St. Petersburg, FL  33712

Vertical Ventures

5402 Pioneer Park Blvd.
Tampa, FL  33634

Written by Ann Marie O’Phelan, a Southwest Florida resident and regular contributor to TOTI Media.