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WATCH NOW: Long Lines Climbing offers activities that challenge mental and physical stamina

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Alex Erwin, the new manager of Long Lines Climbing Gym, talks about the recent improvements to the gym in Sioux City.

SIOUX CITY -- David Salem's eyes darted to the left, then quickly to the right.

The Sioux City man was cunning enough to develop a strategy, but he knew any wrong move would mean swift defeat.

Was Salem engaged in an especially taxing chess match? No, he was climbing a 42-foot wall inside of Long Lines Family Rec Center, 401 Gordon Dr.

"Thought I could make it all the way to the top but came a bit short," he said, wiping away sweat following the climb. "It was exhilarating though."

According to Alex Erwin, mastering the 42-foot rock wall, the 52-foot rock or the shorter-but-still challenging boulders can test a person's physical and mental stamina.

"People think climbing is all about physical strength," he said, shaking his head. "Relying solely on your body, you'll burn out. Instead, you need to use your mind, solving problems as you grip onto climbing holds while charting a route to the top."

Erwin knows what he's talking about.

Not only is Erwin a climber with more than a decade of experience, he's also the manager of Long Lines Climbing.

For many years, Sioux City Parks and Recreation supervised Long Lines Family Rec Center's climbing gym. In May 2022, day-to-day management was shifted to Whitewater, a North Carolina-based company specializing in recreational experiences like whitewater rafting, rock climbing and mountain biking.

"Sioux City's climbing gym is the first indoor facility that Whitewater has ever managed," Erwin said.

Already a fan of the Family Rec Center's rock walls, Erwin jumped at the chance to become manager at the renamed Long Lines Climbing.

"Climbing became a passion for me ever since I was a student at Iowa State University," Erwin, 35 explained. "While I loved the fact that Sioux City had its own climbing gym, I didn't think the city's parks and rec department was using the space to its full potential."

Under its new management, Long Lines Climbing now has a yoga studio, a dedicated lounge area as well as walls where routes are changed regularly in order to challenge experienced climbers.

Erwin is quick to point out you don't have to be a Spider-Man in training to have fun at a climbing gym.

"We offer classes to climbers at all levels," he explained. "You'd be surprised at the range of ages that climbing walls attract. We've had young kids as well as people in their 60s come here."

Indeed, Erwin hopes to encourage all sorts of groups to try Long Lines Climbing facilities.

"Elementary school kids, high school kids, college kids, even corporate groups can have a blast here," he said.

Another demographic group that Erwin wants to pursue might come as a surprise. 

Erwin, the longtime vocalist and guitarist for the alt-rock group GhostCat, is already using the landing on top of the 10-foot boulder wall as an impromptu stage.

"GhostCat has already performed here and we want to book different acts every Thursday night," he said. "Who knows? Rock music lovers can also learn to love rock climbing. Even if they don't, I want to get them in the door."

In fact, Erwin has several ideas when it comes to creating interest in the space. These include special movie nights in which films are screened while climbers climb.

"I envision Long Lines Climbing to be more than just a climbing gym or a yoga place," he said. "I want it to be a community center with a number of different uses."

It seems like a devoted rock climber like Erwin has landed a job where he can climb as much as possible, right?

"You'd think that would be the case, wouldn't you," he said with a laugh. "Maybe things will change but I'm spending more time managing a climbing gym than I am climbing rock walls."

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