Buz Lewis held on for dear life.
The matted floor spread out underneath him as he gripped the indoor climbing wall, all the way at the top, just a few feet from the high ceiling. Earlier that day, he and his daughter Sarah were attending a trade show in Fremont, CA, and after conquering the wall herself, located in the same building as the show, she convinced her father to try it too. He acquiesced and triumphantly made it to the top. But now, he was stuck. Sure, he was secure with an auto belay machine that gently lowers the climber safely to the floor. But with his adrenaline pumping as he glanced over his shoulder at the miniscule people standing beneath him, Lewis was frozen, afraid to let go.
The gym manager called up to him, finally convincing him to come back down. Lewis loosened his grip in one hand, then the other, and trusted the belay device to lower him to the floor, unscathed. “One time on that baby,” he says, “and I was hooked for life.”
On his return home to Indianapolis, Lewis, CEO of Buztronics Inc. (asi/42963), immediately researched indoor rock gyms in his local area and began climbing regularly. That was six years ago, and Lewis is as zealous about it now as he was when he first conquered the wall at the Fremont trade show.
“Climbers are like golfers, fishermen, pilots,” says Lewis. “We all speak the same language and are passionate about what we do. When I get to a new rock gym, it takes no time at all to meet new people. If the locals like and trust you, they’re more likely to take you to the good hidden climbs outdoors.”
As if rock climbing wasn’t extreme enough, Lewis also dirt bikes and skis. But rock climbing best complements his busy travel schedule. “I just throw my climbing shoes and harness in my luggage and it takes up almost no space at all,” he explains. “I like to warm up at the familiar spots, but I love new places for the challenge. For me, indoor climbing is inspiring and outdoor climbing is more spiritual.”
Lewis has climbed at countless locations over the past six years, both inside and outdoors. But one location is particularly memorable for him. “Red Rock is about 40 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip,” says Lewis. “It’s a 14-mile loop with thousands of bolted sport routes mapped out on the rocks. The routes are pre-set with stainless steel eyelets fixed to the walls to clip in to as you climb, and you use a guidebook that shows the routes. It’s like following a treasure map – you locate a route at your desired difficulty level, set out on the path to it – also called the approach – and after hiking through the beautiful canyons, you and your buddies set up and start climbing.”
After several years of scouting out epic locations, Lewis claims it’s the best workout he’s ever had. “I never had luck with regular gym visits,” he says. “I couldn’t bring myself to ride a stationary bike or run on a treadmill or lift weights. But now, I do those things to become a better climber.”
It has even made him a better businessperson: Lewis claims the benefits of climbing are tangible, citing clearer critical thinking and improved professional productivity. “Climbing is packed with endorphins and adrenaline,” he says. “Making your way up to these significant heights goes against everything you’ve learned since you were two years old and learned to walk. That’s where the adrenaline really kicks in.”
In addition to the physical and psychological benefits, climbing is also a great way to forge new bonds with a diverse group of people all sharing a common language and experience. “The people I meet are from such a great mix of professions and lifestyles,” he explains. “There are air traffic controllers, CEOs, bankers, college kids and hipsters, and we’re all networking while climbing. I like to keep challenging myself, but just getting to hang out with fun people who challenge me and each other is satisfying enough.”