Business Monday: Nonprofit and Big Island Climbing partner to bring more keiki to the sport

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Kainoa Yates-Tese, 14, on a bouldering wall with his brother Theodore, 5, at Big Island Climbing in Hilo. Photo credit: Beverly Tese

Beverly Tese remembers the first time she saw her 14-year-old son Kainoa take to the wall at Big Island Climbing in Hilo a year ago.

“He was really timid about it,” Tese said, adding he initially wasn’t sure he could get up the wall.

But he did. And for the past year, Kainoa has been learning more about the sport, reading routes and pushing himself to get better, talking with other adults and teenagers, “soaking it all in.”

Tese remembers being surprised there was a climbing gym in downtown Hilo. Big Island Climbing, located at 126 Keawe St., is a bouldering gym, where no ropes are used to climb, that opened in 2021. With approximately 700 square feet of wall at 14 feet high, the climbing routes, comprised of colorful foot and hand holds, are designed for younger or beginner climbers.

“When I saw them first attempting to go up the wall, my heart sank because I was terrified,” Tese recalled of her first visit to the gym with her boys, adding she didn’t say anything and watched how Kainoa and her youngest son, 5-year-old Theodore, take to the wall and fall in love with the sport.


Kainoa was one of the first keiki to get a free yearlong membership after the launch of Adventure Centers Hawai‘i, a nonprofit that provides climbing memberships for families that can’t afford to pay the cost to climb.

Kainoa Yates-Tese boulders at Big Island Climbing. Photo credit: Beverly Tese

Tese said the grant has made it possible for her sons to climb, and they want to go all the time.

Adventure Centers Hawai‘i was started last year by Donna Nichols, who also works as the gym’s executive manager. She said they raised $3,000 last year and gave away 500 free climbing memberships.

“We’d like to triple that,” Nichols said.

Theoretically, Nichols said the money raised through the nonprofit could benefit any climbing gym in the state.


“Hopefully someday it will be that big,” she said.

Tese said Nichols and her partner Bradley Leighton watched her sons develop into more confident climbers for months. After six months of climbing, Tese said the couple gifted Kainoa his first pair of climbing shoes.

“They just want kids to show up, move their bodies and gain confidence,” Tese said. “People need to know about it [Big Island Climbing]. We don’t get things like that here.”

Kainoa’s scholarship lasted for about a year. Tese said he will be able to keep the membership as long as he volunteers time at the gym.

Adventure Centers Hawai‘i and Big Island Climbing publicly announced the grant program July 2 to reach more keiki and young adults.


The nonprofit and climbing gym are actively seeking local schools to participate in a program “Climbing For Kids,” which invites keiki and young adults to Big Island Climbing for a free one-time experience or for memberships.

The initiative is funded by donations made to Adventure Centers Hawai‘i. The goal of the nonprofit is to ensure that bouldering (rock climbing) is accessible and inclusive for everyone, including the underprivileged, to experience the physical and mental benefits of indoor rock climbing.

Day use at the gym is $20 for adults and $15 for youth up to age 16. The kama‘aina rates are $15 for adults, and $10 for keiki under 16. The gym also has shoe rentals for $3 per day.

The adult one-month membership is $45. For three months it’s $129, six months is $240 and an annual adult membership costs $470.

A youth annual membership for keiki under 16 is $365.

Tese said climbing has not only made Kainoa more confident with himself outdoors but it’s opened a community up to him that he’ll be part of for the rest of his life. No matter where he goes, Tese said, her son will be able to go into a climbing gym, get on a wall and connect with fellow climbers.

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