Extreme sportsman Robin Postnikoff spends his days at a job, and a hobby, most kids would envy - climbing around on stuff.
The 31-year-old former industrial worker has managed to combine his work and his passion by opening a climbing gym where, by day, he trains industrial workers in safety and, after hours, monkeys around with friends and fellow climbing enthusiasts.
When Postnikoff first started working in the oil industry he was immediately drawn to the enormous rigs and vessels. "I thought, these structures look really neat for climbing on, but of course you can't just go climbing around on industrial structures, they kind of frown upon that, but that's what I wanted to do."
He's an avid recreational climber who also ice climbs, downhill mountain bikes and motocross races, so his impulse to jump on an oil rig wasn't surprising. He managed to turn that interest into a business when, six years ago, he started Mountain Industrial Safety, a company that trains workers in "fall protection," often by getting them out climbing on the enormous rigs at the Canadian Petroleum Information Centre, where his office is based.
Three rigs on-site range in size from 27 to 52 metres (90 to 170 feet). He's even taken a group rappelling (for fun) down the 52-metre-high Leduc No. 1 derrick.
In February, Postnikoff added a recreational component to his business by opening Climb Edmonton, a facility in Edmonton's northwest industrial area that looks a lot like a climbing gym. By day, he uses the facility to train industry workers, simulating rescue scenarios from enclosed spaces, high places and anything in between.
In the off-hours, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. during the week and all day Saturday and Sunday, the gym is open to recreational climbers who buy memberships for $5 each. They can rent equipment, including climbing shoes, and get instruction from staff just like at other climbing gyms. But Postnikoff says Climb Edmonton won't be offering kids birthday parties, summer camps or school-group activities, like other climbing gyms might. Instead, they offer extras like a wall with special holds fitted for dry tooling, where climbers can use sharp, ice-climbing tools to practise climbing frozen waterfalls and the like.
Interest is growing among women, who now make up about half the recreational climbers he sees. Jen Dong, a 30-year-old physiotherapist who has been climbing for seven years, says the sport is a great physical workout that offers a bonus, psychological boost.
"It's great for co-ordination, for balance," she says. "There's a sense of accomplishment with a lot of the routes that you do. That's the psychological part, just mentally getting through a lot of it."
Women make good climbers, even though many don't have the same upper body strength as men, she adds. "They have a lot better balance and agility, and it's really graceful when they do climb."
Dong is a good example. She moves along the wall with smooth, even movements, as agile as a cat or, given her position perpendicular to the ground, perhaps a spider. Postnikoff looks more like a spider monkey when he climbs, powering along the wall, bouncing from hold to hold, even swinging from one wall to another.
Each climbing wall is covered with holds of different shapes and sizes, marked with climbing routes of varying difficulty. "It's a lot of core strength, using your feet, trying to get your weight balanced as much as possible and then using your hands for lifting as well." The goal, says Postnikoff, "is trying to get weight off your hands wherever possible because, obviously, your legs are much stronger."
Postnikoff is seeking to emulate the French climbing and rescue equipment company, Petzl, which has a high-tech training facility in France.
"This doesn't quite compare to it in grandeur, but the concept, on a very small scale, is similar," says Postnikoff. "We're trying to provide a truer experience."