Myth #1: It’s a chain owned by some dude from New York
Nope. Tufas is locally owned and locally operated by three long-time Philadelphians —Andrew Deming, Reiver Ketcham and Rory Coughlin. Collectively, they have decades of experience setting and managing programs at other gyms in the area—Temple, Go Vertical, UPenn, and Drexel. “Those gyms had a heavy influence on us and helped us become the climbers we are today. We’re taking that experience and putting it back into the climbing community, giving Philadelphia a gym that people have been asking for,” said Rory. “There’s a lot of really great climbers in Philly, and we want to give them a modern gym and a space to create a supportive climbing environment.”
Myth #2: It’s a bouldering-only gym
You won’t find any ropes here, but Tufas isn’t restricted to bouldering. The gym also has cardio equipment, weight training, training boards, classes and events. You’ll notice when you walk in that the cardio and fitness area isn’t tucked away in a back room or dark corner - this is an “open concept” gym where the weights and cardio are right across from the bouldering cave. “We’re hoping that by having it out in the open, people feel more comfortable asking questions and trying it themselves. If they see a friend following a training program, they can ask about what they’re doing,” explained Rory.
In the future, Tufas also plans to have a staff trainer, providing classes on proper technique (like deadlifting), climbing-specific strength training, and injury prevention. “If you start climbing and you don’t have good habits, over time those little things will add up to injury. You can be climbing for 3 years without any problems, and then wake up one day going ‘what the hell—my elbows are killing me!’” Reiver said. “We’re hoping to provide the resources for people to ask ‘how do I push myself and get better without going overboard?’”
Myth #3: Bouldering...and bottle shop?
Not entirely untrue—“We did talk a lot about having a bottle shop. But it was like ok, let’s focus on opening the climbing gym first, and then we can talk about adding a bottle shop or having a BYOB policy,” Rory said.
Andrew explained that regardless of whether they ever have a bottle shop, the space is intentionally designed so people have a nice space to hang out after they’re done climbing or if need a break. “We’re going to have tables and chairs towards the front of the gym, near this glass garage door that we’ll be able to roll up. So when you’re done climbing, you can hang out, eat and drink in a semi-outdoor setting.”
Between the desk and training equipment, they will also have a reading nook with a library with guidebooks, magazines and other climbing literature. The collection will start small but grow over time. “We’re hoping it will feel like your living room...if it had 40 guidebooks and looked out onto a bouldering gym,” said Andrew. Rory added, “We’re hoping people come together here to plan their next trip—and if they have any questions, they can ask one of us, because we’ve probably been there or know people who have.”
Myth # 5: There's a 24/7 access code for members so they can party there when the gym is closed
It’s not happening, but “its not out of the question. Other gyms have them and have found its a system that works pretty well, but we decided it wasn’t a priority for opening day. Honestly if it’s something our members want, we’ll find a way to make it happen,” said Reiver.
Myth #6: It’s a gym exclusively for experienced, hardcore climbers
This is very much the opposite of the “big picture” vision for Tufas — this vision is what brought the three owners together in the first place. “I used to run team-building programs at Drexel, where we connected Drexel students, youth groups and the Police - using climbing as a way to break down barriers and make everyone see there are real people being affected by their biases or judgements,” explained Andrew. “And then I met Reiver, and he was talking about wanting to create programs that help people who aren’t typically exposed to climbing, and that’s when we really clicked and decided to go in on this together. We want to make climbing accessible to the Kensington community, and host after-school and youth climbing programs.”
Equally important, said Rory, is the feeling of belonging for new climbers. “We want them to feel comfortable and welcome here — we want to be a resource for them.”
Myth #7: They’re not opening until 2025
It’s been a long journey for Tufas but construction is finally wrapping up — Tufas has not set an opening date, but they have announced their “Meet the Setter's Party” which will give a sneak peak to what the gym has to offer on June 6th. To get tickets, sign up for the newsletter and find out more, go to the Tufas website.