A new community is popping up in an area some developers are coining the “Trade District.” Walk into the New Orleans Boulder Lounge (NOBL), and trade is what’s climbing to new heights.
Situated on the stretch of Tchoupitoulas that acts as a corridor between the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and Walmart Supercenter, NOBL is investing in much more than just rock climbing. They recently hosted Permaculture 101: Intro to Sustainable Living, a workshop focusing on regenerating native agriculture, integrating strong social and cultural aspects/ethics, and emphasizing the importance of aligning oneself in harmony with nature. “My hope is that climbing can be a starting point, where ideas and experiences can lead people to a new direction; hopefully, bringing positivity to themselves and the people around them in the community,” Eli Klarman speaks with vision.
Eli Klarman – the young, wiry built, red-headed bohemian who can often be seen walking around the gym with no shoes – is the creative mind behind NOBL. Klarman’s entrepreneurial spirit was born out of his dissatisfaction for pushing paper.
“I left New Orleans because I thought that I had to go get a job and all the kids I knew were going to New York, so that seemed like the appropriate thing to do,” he explains. “I only made it eight months.” After giving it another try in his hometown of Atlanta and not feeling any different, he decided to pack up and head to Tel Aviv. While living there for six months, he joined the Israel Climbers’ Club and traveled with the group to Wadi Rum, Jordan. The trip sparked Klarman’s desire to make climbing a career and with an absence of any type of climbing gym in New Orleans, he knew he wanted to come back to the city.
Klarman shares that the idea of NOBL was planted by one of his good friends, Daniel Bressler, when they were seniors at Tulane University. Upon returning state side, Klarman reached out to Bressler and NOBL was hatched. They realized, however, that they had to initially scale back their original plan to realistically get the doors opened. Part of the Centennial Cotton Press building, completely renovated and a blank canvas, which was once inhabited by Good Eggs Warehouse, now, became the New Orleans Boulder Lounge.
Hearing the story behind NOBL, I knew it was time for some immersive journalism. I was going to climb.
My first experience with NOBL can be characterized by fear, intimidation, and wonderment. It was visually paralyzing: a bright, open, colorful space with a haze from the chalk blanketing the air overrun by what looked like spiders scaling the walls and dangling from the cave’s low ceiling. It transported me to when I was a little girl again, climbing the great live oak trees in City Park. Just what is bouldering you may wonder? It is climbing shorter heights, approximately twelve feet, without ropes or harnesses.
Greeted and taken care of by Diari – a bubbly, strong personality who immediately had my full name memorized and spoke it every time we met thereafter – assured me that this was not a boy’s world. Grabbing my shoes and filling my lungs with air, I sighed, “Here goes!”
Many painful scrapes, bruises, and blisters later, I began noticing a lot of activity buzzing around the gym. It wasn’t just climbing I was experiencing. “Yoga in 15 minutes,” and “Going outside to garden, if anyone wants to join?” can be overheard from the din of the climbers sharing technique tips. NOBL was a place where people from different communities were coming together to share their skills, talents, and sense of adventure.
“I live in New Orleans but I’m not big in the party scene,” explains Klarman, “I would meet people around the city and they would be into the same things – climbing, hiking, and the outdoors – but we weren’t running into each other often because there was no place for us to bump into each other. Building the gym was also a way to allow this community to come together.”
NOBL’s ventures are expanding into the community, connecting with other local businesses and fostering personal relationships among its members. A business relationship formed with Goodwood NOLA, a custom design and fabrication firm, after co-owners Jordan and Mike began climbing at the gym. Goodwood is providing custom-made climbing volumes, which are assimilated rock features to mimic the real thing, for NOBL. They have also partnered with Breads on Oak to carry an array of snacks. “I think they are doing important things in terms of offering affordable, healthy, organic, vegan, environmentally friendly food,” explains Klarman.
The space plays a significant role in facilitating the social and communal feel that radiates from NOBL. They are constantly reinventing the forty-five hundred square feet space, which is small compared to other climbing gyms around the country. The yoga studio converts to a classroom for workshops, the lounge area becomes a stage for live performances, and the rafters turn into anchors for Ariel Silks – acrobatics while hanging from long specialty fabrics.
Once a month they host a Free Day Pass by Donation, giving the proceeds to a different non-profit each time. NOBL’s Boulder League is a six-week program consisting of teams of five competing for fun each fall and spring with social events following. It allows members to connect with other climbers and get together outside the gym.
NOBL participated in the Louisiana Rock Climbing Series, hosting one of the three-part competitions along with Rök Haus in Lafayette and BREC’s Extreme Sports Park in Baton Rouge, bringing in climbers from all around.
NOBL’s Boulder Youth League is excited that one of its own Turtles, Jack – wearing his lucky shirt – will be representing New Orleans at Divisionals in Tuscan next month after placing fifth at Regionals. Committed, focused, and confident, nine-year-old ‘Jack the Gripper,’ his nickname, climbs about four days a week and has incorporated jogging and listening to the Rocky soundtrack in preparation. Ask him what his favorite part of climbing is and he will tell you with a shy smile, “It’s fun!”
Pivotal to NOBL’s continued success, Klarman credits Sean Johnson, owner of Wild Lotus Yoga Studio, as a mentor. “He’s someone who I admire because he has a great deal of passion and wants to share his passion through his business.” Klarman shares that he sought Johnson’s wisdom on, “How to create a certain intention about your business outside of just operating a business, what is it that you really want to accomplish, and what is it that you really want to provide for people.”
“If you make these deeper connections…that’s a sustainable business model…if you build that really strong foundation on a personal and communal level then you’re going to be relevant, because to people you’re relevant,” Klarman says.
As New Orleans continues its journey to rebuild, there’s a new community forming, helping it climb – not only back, but to even greater elevations. I went to NOBL for the climbing, but stayed for the wealth of ideas and information being cultivated and traded.
The New Orleans Boulder Lounge is located at 1746 Tchoupitoulas St. New Orleans, LA 70130.