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Michelle Vakman’s Homewall in Astoria, NY

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Michelle Vakman’s Homewall in Astoria, NY

Michelle Vakman

Michelle Vakman // Astoria, NY

When did you build your wall? Was it a “COVID baby”?
This was definitely a COVID baby! When we moved into our apartment four years ago, my husband had looked at our outdoor space and said “we should build a climbing wall out there.” I kind of patted him on the head and changed the subject. Well, four years later, and it isn’t a joke anymore!

How long did it take you to build and what did that time look like?
We came up with the idea in mid-March, bought the lumber around the end of March, and had the first holds up by the first week of April. Of course, I’ve been buying holds constantly since then, and we added a modular angled training section/pull-up bar in July, so I don’t know if we’ll ever be completely done. In general, our timeline was a little unique since we have ply mounted on both sides of our frame, so we couldn’t just get it all done at once.

Not including holds and padding, how much did it cost you to build? Any surprises there?
Maybe about $400 including lumber, screws, t-nuts, and varnish? I underestimated how much the wall would cost for sure.

What are you doing for padding?
Since this is a traverse wall and we’re never more than 2-3 feet off the ground, I just set up a perimeter of 1″ interlocking foam squares. I also bought one crash pad to use for practicing sketchier moves.

What was your primary incentive for the wall? Did anything in particular inspire your wall design?
We were pretty hemmed in by our available space – 10’x12′ courtyard with an upstairs neighbor. Since we generally top-rope and don’t usually boulder, we were more concerned with practicing technique than with practicing power moves on an overhanging wall. To maximize our space but still give us room to move around, we decided on the “L” shape. We ended up with some fun features and 24′ of traverse in our small space, plus a tarp “roof” so the upstairs neighbor can’t watch us 🙂

What was the most difficult aspect of the design and build?
Working together! My husband had the plans in his head, but I didn’t fully understand the scope of what we were doing until the lumber showed up…and kept showing up! Other than that, I hadn’t thought much about screwing in 200+ t-nuts, moving so much lumber, or varnishing everything and giving it time to dry. To me, this was a “slap it together and then have fun” kind of project before we started building.

What would you do differently?
Protect the wood. I hadn’t realized that we’d need much more than one layer of varnish to protect the ply from the elements. Next time, we’ll paint and seal the wood so the New York humidity doesn’t get to it.

Did you make any mistakes along the way or choose to re-do any aspects?
We didn’t buy enough t-nuts, and the non-climbing-specific ones we bought to finish out the wall couldn’t hold the load of our holds. It took a few extra weeks to get replacements, pull the panel in question off our wall, replace the t-nuts, and remount/reset the panel. That section of wall will forever be known as “hack job” for all the abuse it’s taken.

What is your favorite aspect?
I love the corner! Smearing and big leans are two things I rarely practiced at our gym, so being able to hop outside and “hang out” for a few minutes in between meetings has been amazing. Plus, I mean, this thing is just absurd. Who has a traverse wall in a New York City apartment?!

How often do you use the wall? Do you think you’ll still use it as much when the gyms fully open back up?
We’re out there a few times a week, weather permitting. New York has been having either very rainy or very hot weather most of the summer, so sometimes we only get two nights a week when the weather cooperates. If we’re lucky, we get 4-5 days a week. Since the wall is in a walled-in courtyard, it doesn’t get much breeze, so temperatures are regularly 90+ out there. Come winter, good luck to us! We’ll probably buy a portable space heater… Our gym is opening next week, but we’re not in a hurry to go back right away. I think we’ll keep using our wall regularly until we both go back to work in the office…right now, while we’re both working from home, this is our escape.

Any words of wisdom to aspiring homewallers?
My biggest piece of advice is to realize that this will become an obsession. You’re not just building a structure, you’re joining a community and you’re going to envy other walls, other holds, other routines. I have spent so much more on holds than I ever thought possible, and I also have some new friends because of wall-related conversations I’ve had online. Also, however long you think it’ll take to build, double or triple it.

Do you have any connection to climbing brands or gyms?
No connection to any brands, but my husband and I are both members at The Cliffs LIC. I dragged him there on one of our early dates, he fell in love (with climbing, of course), and we even did our wedding photo shoot there.

Michelle Vakman

Michelle Vakman

 

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