Lifestyle

Meet the Rock Climbing Group Empowering Asian American New Yorkers

"There was a call for an Asian community. A space where we could share experiences and be there for each other."

Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist

While the notion of dangling off a 50-foot wall would make almost anybody’s palms sweat, for avid rock climbers it’s the closest thing to nirvana. What you’ll hear often from members of the climbing community is that it’s the sense of accomplishment combined with an wild adrenaline rush that keeps them coming back for more.

In the words of history’s greatest ever free climber Alex Honnold, quoted in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, “The big challenge is controlling your mind, I guess. You’re not controlling your fear, you’re sort of just trying to step outside of it.”

It’s both Honnold’s incredibly inspirational free solo climb of El Capitan-captured in the film-and the 2020 addition of sport climbing into the Olympics that have contributed to the noticeable uptick in new climbers over the past few years. But, the most consistent draw for beginners? The close-knit sense of community.

Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist

In New York City, there are more than a dozen commercial climbing gyms spread across the five boroughs. But picking up a new hobby (especially one as daring as rock climbing) in hopes of befriending like-minded participants is easier said than done.

This is where local communities like the Asian Climbing Tribe come in. Co-founded by Peter Wang and Paul Jung in 2021, the Asian Climbing Tribe is a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting and uplifting Asian climbers in New York City. The spark that ignited the creation of this group presented itself to Wang and Jung via social media during the summer of 2021.

Within the climbing community, “We never felt that there was any hate or animosity towards Asians, until the height of the pandemic,” says Wang. “But it was then that we started observing microaggressions along with the Asian hate crimes across the country.” Around this time, an Asian climber, who the duo were acquainted with, expressed her anxiety and fear for her own safety in a NYC climbing group Facebook page. Another member dismissed her outright by replying with something along the lines of, “It’s not the climbing gym’s responsibility to make you feel safe.” It was then Wang and Jung decided to do something about it.

Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist

“That was a trigger for us,” recounts Wang. “Even though the climbing world is usually a very safe space for people, we needed to acknowledge that there was a call for an Asian community within it. A space where we could share experiences and be there for each other.”Since the first meetup in December of 2021, the Asian Climbing Tribe has grown astronomically. Compared to the initial 50 participants, these days upwards of 800 Asian climbers now gather for themed Asian Climbing Tribe events (like the Summer Bash Climbing Night and Send-tember Climbing Night) held at gyms across the city including The Cliffs at LIC and The Cliffs at Harlem.

It’s here that Asian and Asian American New Yorkers bond over the shared pursuit of conquering challenging problems (a sequence of climbing moves that leads to a defined top) without fear of judgment. “At our meetups, you can approach anyone and they’re happy to share their wisdom, happy to talk to you. Part of that is just intrinsic to the sport,” explains Weison Ding, an officer on the Asian Climbing Tribe board. “Climbing is a lot of problem solving. You end up getting a lot of people sharing, what we call betas-the solution to a problem is the beta. It naturally facilitates people connecting.”

Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist

For Summer Liu, the treasurer of the Asian Climbing Tribe and also Wang’s fianc√©, the mat (the foam pad used for protection beneath climbing walls) has proven to be the biggest help in improving her climbing skills. “When you get stuck on the wall, people beneath you on the mat call out things like ‚ÄėSummer, put your feet there’ or ‚ÄėPut your hip a little closer to the wall,'” tells Liu. “That kind of support matches the slogan we developed: Together, we’re stronger.”

When the organization was first finding its footing, it was local AAPI-owned and -run businesses like holistic healthcare office Nava Wellness, coffee shop Bird & Branch, market and cafe Local Roots NYC, kombucha brand Culture Kitchn, muy thai and Brazilian jiu jitsu gym Hinds Combat Sports, and outdoor clothing and gear store Patagonia Brooklyn that provided help, supplies, and resources along the way. Following in this philanthropic spirit, the Asian Climbing Tribe incorporates local initiatives, fundraisers, and small businesses into their everyday practices-from fundraising for Chinatown’s Yu and Me Books (which recently experienced a devastating fire) and Be the Match swabbing for a fellow climber to self defense classes run by Safe Island City and local vendor setups during each meetup.

Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist
Photo by Lanna Apisukh for Thrillist

At the core of its mission, the Asian Climbing Tribe is focused on the needs of its community. Every day, the team considers, “‚ÄėWhat are the challenges that Asian people face in general? What do I need as an Asian person living in New York? What do my friends and family need?'” says Liu. “We seek inspiration through that lens and then come up with solutions and campaigns to help or resolve the situation.”

Expansion is up next for the Asian Climbing Tribe. “We’re trying to get a community started in the Philly area, then slowly moving down to DC,” says Wang. “We understand that other cities need this kind of community too. It’s more than just a meetup, it’s a networking platform and support system.”

Stay tuned for an Asian Climbing Tribe coming to a city near you.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Izzy Baskette is the New York City Staff Writer for Thrillist. Talk to her at [email protected] or find her on Instagram.

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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