There are many hobbies that can be associated with the region, from fishing to street art, but few would view rock climbing as a rising activity for locals. Yet, Southern Stone Indoor Climbing has taken up the mantle as a hub for both current and aspiring rock climbers in the Lafayette area. I spoke with the 33-year-old owner Jonathan Matt about his passion for climbing and the core of the 23-year-old rock climbing gym.
Q. What got you interested in climbing?
A. It was New Year’s Eve 2010, and I had a friend who worked over here. He had never really told me that he’d worked over here, and it was raining, so there was nothing to do. He said, “Look, I know the gym is closed for New Year’s Eve, so we can go in and climb for free.” I was the biggest one against it, man. I didn’t want to come at all. When we came, I just never left. I came every single day and fell in love with it. I just fell in love instantly.
I remember I was climbing a route, and I got up to the top, and there was this little crimp rail that I couldn’t grab on to. I yelled down to my friend, “There is no way anyone can grab on to this. Why is this on the wall?” He said, “No, man, it’s good. It’s good.” Sure enough, six months later, I was climbing, and I was back on that rail and remembered that I couldn’t grab it, but now I can. That was the first time I felt like a rock climber: when I could grab that rail. I now I grab it, and it’s like this thing is huge.
Q. What made change your mind about climbing so quickly?
A. It was not knowing what it was. It was the idea of change. I was really big into riding BMX and skateboarding and track bikes and stuff, so I just wasn’t interested in it. It’s like knitting. I’ve never knit before, and I don’t really want to try it, but I might love knitting. It’s just one of those things.
Q. How did you get the ownership from the previous owner?
A. Like I said, I was here all the time. I got a job here after I started coming here. My first job was washing hand holds outside. I asked the owner, “I don’t have the money to become a member. What can I do for a membership? I want to be a part of this place.” He said we need some holds to be washed, so I would come in once a week during the summer to come and wash holds for a couple of hours, and then I’d climb the rest of the day. I could come any day of the week I wanted as long as I washed holds for two hours a week. After that, I got into route setting, which is actually putting the hand holds on the walls and creating routes. After that, I started working behind the counter. I just slowly moved up. Anything that this placed needed, I wanted to be a part of.
Q. How often do you do lessons/classes?
A. It’s weekly. We don’t get a whole lot of people doing it because I think people get very embarrassed, and after they’ve done it, I find that a lot of people find out that it’s a lot harder than they thought. People see other people doing it and think, “Man, that experience would be really great,” but they don’t think about the physical aspect of it. If one of your friends said, “Hey, let’s go rock climbing,” you’re not going to say “Oh my God, how easy. This is gonna be so much fun. Have you ever bowled? It’s the same thing.” It’s completely different from anything you’ve ever done, and that’s the thing that keeps me coming back to it. That’s what keeps people coming back.
Q. Have you ever thought of expanding the business?
A. Sometimes I think about it, but I quickly dismiss it. It’s a lot of work, and it’s small, so a lot of stuff is done with just my wife and I. We do all of the marketing, all of the research, all the maintenance, we handle the payroll and paying the bills. There’s a lot of small stuff and bumps in the road, but as long as you can just keep going.
Take right now, during finals. College students are the main people that we get through here. It’s a Friday, and it’s dead in here right now. Everybody’s studying or in class right now. And that’s fine, as long as vibes are good. There could be two people in here and if the vibe is good then the rest of the gym is going to be fine. I depend on the community, so as long as everybody stays together and keeps the good vibes, then I’m never concerned.