Climbing to greater heights

By K. S. Usha Devi

OUTDOOR activities, particularly rock climbing, became a passion for Chan Yuen Li when she was a teenager.  

While her girlfriends were going ga ga over Donny and Marie Osmond, who used to enthral TV audiences with their brother-sister act in the late 1970s, Chan was enthusiastically poring over magazines on rock climbing. 

But it was not until she went to the United Kingdom for her law degree sometime in 1987 that she began to indulge in it. Being an adventurous person, she chose to study in Lancaster University, a place that was closer to the mountainous region so that she could pursue both her studies and climbing simultaneously. 

“The first thing I did was to enrol into the mountaineering club so that I could go climbing and learn from the more experienced members,” says Chan, 35, who confesses to have no natural flair for climbing, just sheer interest. 

“I would not say that I am a naturally gifted climber or a born climber but it is the challenge that continues to absorb me,’’ she says. 

Her enthusiasm is evident even as she speaks about climbing. 

“Even sitting in a bus I would imagine myself climbing up a route of a mountain with a sense of elation and emotion. Suddenly I would realise that I had been moving my hands in a climbing motion,’’ says Chan with a laugh. 

After coming back from the UK in the 90s, Chan began to fuel her passion by climbing the hilly regions of Malaysia with anyone who was interested in the activity. 

“At that time, setting up a business venture was furthest from my mind. All I wanted was to climb and bolt as many routes on mountains,'' she says, adding that a bolt costs RM20. 

“At least 10 bolts are needed to create a route, so I was living on a very tight budget at that time.''  

To supplement her income, Chan, who used to go climbing every weekend, began to sell imported climbing equipment to potential climbers. This was because there was limited equipment available locally and whatever was there was rather expensive. 

With an initial investment of RM2,000, Chan ran a small direct selling business from her home, using a motorcycle for deliveries for about four years.  

“Whatever I got from selling the rock climbing equipment, which was about RM1000, I reinvested into my climbing activities to keep me going,’’ she says. 

Besides working hard to get her hands on cash to finance the pursuit, she also had some problems finding people among her peers who shared her interest. So she would go with anyone who showed even a little interest in the sport. 

“This was to be expected at any rate as rock climbing was not a traditional sport and not many people took it up as a hobby,’’ says Chan. 

“I actually had to persuade people to come rock climbing with me and even offered to teach them the ropes because I was desperate for a partner to billet. At that time (in the early 90s), there was only a select group of rock climbing enthusiasts in Malaysia.  

“The young professional class of people were interested in other hobbies, so I would go with taxi drivers or factory workers who were game to try out rock climbing.” 

Chan’s positive attitude in gearing up people to venture into rock climbing eventually paid off in that there is a substantial number of people who are involved in the sport these days. 

And then came her venture into kayaking, which led her to set up Nomad Adventure Sdn Bhd in 1994, offering outdoor adventure sports. Initially, it was a part-time business as she enjoyed white-water kayaking and there was a following for the sport.  

“I went into kayaking to try it out. I developed a liking for it and encouraged others to join in as well. The first time I tried it out I went alone and it was no fun. So I rallied other people to join in and a community was soon established,’’ she says.  

“I even bought a couple of kayaks out of my own pocket and then realised that I would not be able to sustain this venture without charging a small fee. The kayaks cost quite a bit,’’ explains Chan. 

When public interest in rock climbing increased, Chan decided to set up the Summit Climbing Gym in USJ Subang Jaya in 1999. The currency crisis during the late 90s actually helped to pave the way for the set-up, which was budgeted at RM250, 000. 

With three partners, Chan secured the premises at the Summit for a good price and set to work, minimising the costs as much as possible.  

“When we started out, there were about 50 climbers in the country. We had to start from scratch, wondering if this would work as we had no business model in the world to suit Malaysia’s climbing needs,’’ says Chan. 

The climbing gym became another key feature of Nomad Adventure Sdn Bhd, in addition to organising white water kayaking trips. 

Since then, Nomad Adventure’s activities have expanded to include managing the annual eco-challenge race, running Pro-shop, a store selling a comprehensive range of adventure equipment and doing special projects on a consultancy basis. 

The gym has been a success judging from the increase in the number of climbing enthusiasts that come to practise their skills. 

After four years, it can now boast of having 50 rock climbing enthusiasts a week, which shows the steady development of the sport. Furthermore, Chan has also managed to recover her initial investment in the business. 

“The Pro-shop is also located at the gym. Having experienced selling gear before, it is easier for me now to deal with running the store,’’ says Chan, adding that the gear is sold at the lowest affordable prices. 

“The sales people are also knowledgeable in selling the products. The information and recommendations are based on real experience. This reflects the motto of the Pro-shop. It’s not just stuff to buy and sell. For us, it’s about passion. It’s about having the means to achieve a dream.’’ 

Part of the proceeds from every sale goes into sponsoring the development of new rock climbing routes, Team Summit and other community-based adventure projects in Malaysia, Chan says. 

In fact, Chan herself feels that she has been successful in her business venture, counting the management of the Toyota Team 2020, the first Asian team ever to compete an Eco Challenge race, as one of her triumphs. 

Toyota Team 2020 competed in four Eco Challenges, winning the Team Spirit Award in 2002. The campaigns by the company have made adventure racing and Eco Challenge a household name in Malaysia.  

“For the first three years, we were trying out things to see what would work and good decisions were made. Events that existed as sports had people participating, which showed there was interest,'' says Chan. 

“Then we developed the ideas with a goal to meet the needs of that market while sustaining it as a business. We have an edge as a company because we understand the nature of what we do, be it in risk management, safety procedures, and trying out difficult challenges. All in, the dream has become resonant.'' 


o Summit Climbing Gym (Nomad Adventure Sdn Bhd) is at 4.06B (Fourth Floor) The Summit Subang USJ, Persiaran Kewajipan, USJ 1, 47600 Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: 03-80245152. 

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