This Couple Has A Rock-Solid Plan For A Community-Focused Bouldering Gym
When we think of Esplanade, we tend to associate it with the performing and visual arts. Not Kenneth Ng and Sarah Chua, a married couple who thought out of the box – and, quite literally, off the wall – and decided to include sports and fitness into the mix by way of bouldering.
Say hello to their brainchild: Project Send, a space where you can train to become the next friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Picture this: walls filled with colourful holds, grades of varying difficulty, and a lot of chalk. And then there’s a café within the gym that serves delish meals (vegan options included) so we can chillax in the al fresco area after that crushing climb.
Most importantly, by the way the couple planned the space and their launch with the help of friends and family; how they schedule family days for their staff; and how the very cool space encourages a sense of community, it's clear that Project Send, with its focus on people, is a different player in the bourgeoning bouldering-gym market.
We speak to 32-year-old Ken (a web designer) and 29-year-old Sarah (a video editor) and find out how they intend to rock our world.
What does "Project Send" mean?
Ken: Both words are climbing terminologies. When you're working on a route, you say I'm going back to the gym to work on that "project" or that grade. So, "project" is something that you're working on. "Send" is when you complete something. So, when you're about to complete the project, some people will chime, "Come on, send it! Send it!" You know, complete it.
But it's open to interpretation. And when you put those two things together, it's kind of like this ideology where we want to help you to work on your projects so that you can send it - whether it's your climbing goals, your fitness goals, or even your mindset. There's a very mental aspect [to climbing], which we're very excited to go into in the future.
Ken, you're a web designer. Sarah, you're a video editor. How did bouldering even come into the picture?
Sarah: Ken was on a 75-day TikTok challenge where you do two workouts every day for 75 days and have to drink one gallon of water. And he was on this mission to get fit. I think he was doing really, really well. But towards the end, he was getting very bored. He decided that he wanted to try something fresh, and started researching different kinds of workouts. He was talking about how Jason Momoa does rock climbing and bouldering as a form of cardio. And he was like, "oh, a bunch of my friends boulder. I never tried it before. So, why not give it a try?" So, he went – and got addicted to it, like very addicted. Five times a week kind of addicted!
Ken: It's kind of like a game - the first time when you try it, it's like, ooh, okay. You got one level, and then you go to the next. And then I guess it's like, endorphins. You finish something and then when you can't do it, you spend time thinking about it, discussing it with your friends. And when you complete it, it's just, wow! I completed something, you know? It takes your mind off work.
Sarah, you mentioned a fear of heights. How did you combat that to start bouldering. And how does your video editing background fit into the picture?
We went to a climbing site in Utah when we were still kind of noob - we still are - and it was like really a life-changing experience. So nice. I was so scared, because of a fear of heights, but it was really beautiful and just the way that you approach climbing is very different there.
And for me, why I like video editing is because I really like to tell people's stories. So I did a lot of documentaries. My favorite things to do is content that has to do with people, and friends' passion projects is actually my favorite. And so, when I did this - because Ken said that he wanted this to be very community-focused, we thought, okay, let's make it about people. So a lot of our videos online feature our friends, feature the place, feature the people who make it happen.
We just really want to focus on people and their growth. If, in the process, they can fall in love with bouldering, then that works out for us as well.
Project Send is closed on Sundays. Is there a reason behind it?
It was a decision that we made after talking to a lot of staff that we were gonna hire, especially our head coach, Akmal Aziz. It was because we talked to a lot of staff and realised that the problem with service jobs is that they never have time to spend with their family. They're always "on" on the weekend. And when you have a day off on a weekday, you just stay at home by yourself.
So we decided that we were gonna open late on Friday and Saturday until 1:30am. And then on Sunday we're completely closed just to give everyone a good break, and let everyone rest. And we think it's better [in the long term] for our full-time staff. It's also better for us when we wanna start our family next time.
But every quarter we will have a Sunday that is just for family. It's a closed-door event, and staff can bring their kids, their parents to come try climbing. We’ll have family meals too! This is one of the initiatives that we wanted to do to promote a healthy work culture.
What are some of the biggest life lessons you've learnt from this venture?
Sarah: Don't be afraid to ask people for their advice or their help. I feel the reason why we got this gym up and running is because we were not afraid to research, and look for experts in the field because we knew that we were not experts. So we really wanted to get people who knew what they were doing to come and join us.
And that's why we got really good people to to do our mats, and to build our walls. We got coaches to come in that are really qualified. And we weren't afraid to say, teach us and let us grow.
Sometimes as Asians, you're very scared to ask for help or you are very self-reliant – which is me! But I realise that Ken is very open. He's the one who actively went to talk to all these people, and got them all to mentor him or help him, or give him advice. Through this experience, I learned that it's really very important.
So... what's it like having a life partner for a business partner?
Ken: We got married right before COVID happened. Once COVID happened, it was a lockdown. When we worked, we were working right beside each other because our work desk at home is next to each other, and you would see your partner literally the whole day.
Of course, there are challenges. There are gonna be times when we’re stressed. But that's the beautiful part - it's as if we extended our honeymoon. It's like we stayed together for the whole year, three years.
Sarah: I think, pragmatically, we split roles so that we are not doing the same thing. The clash is much less, but we are also very different people. In our first company, he did more of the programming side and I did more of the media side. And so even for this space, even though much more collides, we still kind of separate into different departments so that we each hit different things. We respect each other’s boundaries!
Lai, what's your elevator pitch for first-timers? Send it!
Ken: I think just very simply - come and experience. That's what I would say. Just come and let us show you. Let us introduce you to the beauty of climbing.
I'm still learning to appreciate the beauty of climbing. Every time when I climb now, I'm still learning something. I just recently learned that athletes have to work on failing so many times so that they can grow. Even in a work aspect, I gotta keep thinking, how do I fail more so that I can reach that level?
There're always new things to learn and [ways to] grow here. I like that about this space.
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