Dorian Niaki didn’t have class that day in 2017, and he was restless.
Well, her mother said, Gretchen, what do you want to do?
Out of the blue, he suggested rock climbing. So they went to Vertex Climbing Center on Coffey Lane in Santa Rosa.
Under the tutelage of instructor Carlo Traversi, Dorian immediately excelled in this sport. After watching his student climb the wall like a spider monkey for a few hours, Traversi suggested Dorian try the Vertex Vertical Vipers youth climbing team.
Dorian tried out the same day and made the team.
Five years later, he is Vertex’s most talented young climber. At Norcal Youth Climbing League Championships in Santa Cruz on April 9, Niaiki, an eighth grader at Healdsburg Junior High School, placed first in his age group for speed and difficulty – a double he achieved in all four competitions in the team this season.
Continuing his dominance throughout the season, Niaki helped Vertex win the championship in his nine-member league, which includes teams from Concord, El Cerrito and Oakland in the East Bay, and Santa Cruz in the South Bay. . Rocknasium, a Davis team, finished second behind Vertex. Gravity Vault Marin climbers placed third.
Vertex is trained by 18-year-old Sielya Parkinson, who has been climbing at Vertex since she was 7 years old. While the climbing gym was closed to the general public last summer due to COVID-19 concerns, members of the youth team were allowed to train.
“It was almost like a camp,” she recalls. “It was just these 20 kids who had the whole gymnasium to themselves.”
Because the school was remote, they craved the social interaction, which the climbing sessions provided. Yes, it was tedious and difficult to apply COVID-19 protocols – masking up, keeping a distance, constantly disinfecting – but it was worth it, she said, to see the team improve and bind.
“It was really cool,” Parkinson said, watching his students “grow and learn and make all these different friendships. They’re constantly helping each other out and giving each other feedback.
“It’s a very tight circle,” admitted 14-year-old Maia Benefield, who won the speed category in her age group and placed second in difficulty. “We all want each other to succeed, so during competitions we are there for each other.”
A ninth-grade student at Maria Carillo High School, Benefield started climbing just over three years ago and quickly developed a passion for it. Where climbing helps some people overcome a fear of heights, for example, it has helped her more generally.
“When things are hard and I’m tired, [climbing] teaches me to keep going and not give up,” she said. “It helped me to persevere.”
Vertex swept the top four spots in the Girls 10-12 difficulty category, with Ruth Pence, Edith Likitprakong, Charline Rivera-Hoagland and Pearl Fisher taking those spots, respectively. Amelia Bates placed 8th. In the girls of difficulty 13-14 years old, Benefield (2nd), Hudson Meyer (4th) and Madeleine Keefer (5th) all placed in the Top 5.
Henry Harper and Neko Fitzpatrick, also of Vertex, went 1-2 in boys 10-12 trouble. Vertex climber Felix Fitzpatrick finished second behind Niaki in boys’ difficulty 13-14. Vertex climbers Jackson Houghtaling and Chad Smith finished 1st and 2nd in boys 15+ difficulty.
While Niaki may not be as tall as many of his peers, he is “crazy and super creative in the way he solves these problems,” said Parkinson, his trainer. “He’s just very naturally talented”, with an innate understanding “of how to move and position his body on the wall”.
Climbing having made its debut at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020, and Climbing & Fitness Sessiona brand new facility in Santa Rosa, slated to open next month, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this adrenaline-intensive sport in North Bay right now.
Session was co-founded and designed by Santa Rosa native and Dawn Wall climber Kevin Jorgeson, who grew up climbing at Vertex.
“There’s a lot of demand for rock climbing in the area, and it’s going to bring a lot of new people into the sport,” Parkinson predicted.
“I think it has the potential to be really good for everyone.”
You can contact editor Austin Murphy at [email protected] or on Twitter @ausmurph88.