We (Seth Johnston and Zoë Kozub) started Teknik in 1999 with a bucket, a stick, and a thousand dollars.
Many years and many adventures later; we’re still at it.
Here’s a bit of Tek history, we hope you enjoy it!
Our first encounter with hold making was back in the early to mid 90’s when Seth and I were living for months on end out the back of our rattle-trap pick-up truck.
We spent a good bit of time in and around the Boulder, CO area and spent a number of rest days hanging out at the Straight Up hold factory. We saw the all the best/ freshest holds of the time first hand, as well as the molds and a vague idea of the manufacturing process. We got to watch others work with foam and we did a little “practice” shaping ourselves. We finished up factory seconds on their belt sander, and took them back to Canada to our garage wall.
We fell in love with holds.
Somewhere along the line, we met up with superstar climber Elie Chevieux. We spent time playing fooseball with him on rest days from Rifle, and listened to his stories of how he would shape holds in Europe, then sell them to fund his travels for a few months. This sounded very appealing to us, so we took his lead.
After experimenting with a few trial hold companies, we came up with a few nice shapes, and in the spring of 1999 we had the opportunity to present them to the climbing buyer at the Mountain Equipment Co-op
. We showed him the quality we could produce and pitched to him our ideas for some new theoretical sets- the Geeks
and Fat Pinches
. He put in an order with us, so we got busy over the summer shaping, molding and pouring (to back up our talk!). We registered Teknik as an Inc, opened a bank account, bought a computer, and Seth’s brother Aaron set us up with a logo, a website and a whole world of great business advice.
By early autumn, we were in biz… in our garage… in Edmonton, AB Canada.
Winter was coming and we had orders to fill so we had to do something… We moved into the Campus Outdoor Centre; the centre for the climbing wall at the University, and did some pouring there, but the resin stench killed the room, the 150 ft hallway, and every classroom down that hallway.
So we searched around and found another option; a mezzanine on sub-lease from a guy operating a local fiberglass shop.
We spent the next 5 years sharing a commercial space with this mulleted chain smoking fellow, who wallowed in the same resin fumes and sanding dust as we did.
The difference was that we wore respirators as filters, and he filtered the resin vapors through his cigarettes.
Seth and I cranked out loads of holds, and he cranked out gun stocks, vintage muscle car parts, skidoo hoods, and oddities such as high end DJ tables for the NBA. It was an unlikely pairing, but it worked.
During this time we made a lot of magic. Our creative juices were flowing out streams of new shapes; classic after classic- Muscles
, De Blocs
, Fat Lips
, more Fat Pinches
, and on and on.
In addition to prolific production, we were also busy with Team Teknik;
Seth, Nels Rosaasen, and I were traveling, competing, and kicking butt.
The PCA was hot, Nels
was hotter, and our holds were taking off.
Notably was one of the Summer OR trade shows in Salt Lake where we brought down the first ever NKR1
hold for the PCA
It was used in the finals, and when Nels saw his hold on the last problem, he went into terminator mode
to grab his signature shape for the first ever win over the reigning Chris Sharma. Along with Nels, Seth and I had great seasons too, and Team Teknik won the PCA team title.
In addition to our sponsorship of the PCA’s, our holds were also used exclusively at a Canadian bouldering Nationals, once all lime green and once all yellow, as well as at Asian X Games and everywhere in between.
Our fan base in Japan exploded too, resulting in a 2004 Team Teknik pro gym tour- Teknik vs Japan; style vs style.
Seth, Nels, and I set and sessioned with the local radsters, as well as superstars Yuji Hirayama and Dai Koyamada. We had an insanely fun and crazy time and came home with a suitcase full of awesome Japanese multi-tiered legwarmers (well, at least I did). Unfortunately this was the trip that Nels blew out his shoulder in a career-ending sort of way.
It seems this was a turning point for Teknik. Shortly after our return from Japan, Seth and I went down to Boulder to sponsor and compete at the last ever PCA.
During the finals, I fell groping for a hold I hoped was at the top of the tallest boulder, but wasn’t… I fell and next thing I knew I was lying on my back in front of a huge crowd with my foot facing sideways, ankle completely and badly broken.
With 2 of our 3 active Team Teknik members now sidelined with injuries, morale was low. Seth stuck to the grind of the daily pour on his own while I rocked the computer.
Our mulleted friend informed us that our time in his shop was almost up; he had purchased an acreage with intentions of moving his business out there. It was perfect for him. He was finally able to hunt coyotes via remote control high powered guns, with video scopes, from the comfort of his couch in front his TV (while dining on deep fried hot dogs care of “the wife”).
While he built his workshop on his new piece of land, we set to finding a new space we could afford. It turned out to be a block away from our house. It was a dilapidated, old, and haunted cold storage building, lacking all the bells and whistles such as lights, basic plumbing, a bathroom, a watertight roof, and solid walls and doors. But it was in our price range.
Seth and I (still in a cast) packed up our biz and got ready to move out into our own space.
We signed a lease (in the contract referred to as ‘the demised building’), got some lights installed, scraped the sticky beef and broccoli sauce off the floors from the previous storage tenant, replaced the doors, filled the gaping holes in the holes in the walls and roof (kind of- they never really stopped leaking). The bathroom was an ongoing epic.
After the building was made livable, we set to work building an enclosed and ventilated pouring room and sanding room.
We built inventory shelving, and a shipping bench.
We set up an office and a ‘lounge’ complete with projector and movie screen, video games and a Ping Pong table.
Things were going well again, orders were shipping, and on top of that we had created an awesome clubhouse workshop. Art making was abundant, hold shaping was flying, parties were happening, the Chalk Yeti came into being along with the shipment of a literal ton of the white stuff,
and we got Ninjin (our shop bunny).
Then urethane happened.
We had been noticing a steady and increasingly fast decline in orders due solely to the fact that we weren’t pouring urethane yet. People loved the shapes but were unwilling to purchase resin.
So we dove in and made the switch. We were glad to do it and be rid of horrible, horrible resin, but it was a big step in a different direction, and brought with it a massive learning curve. A material that used to allow us an hour to get out of a bucket now took a minute before going jelly.
We wasted a ton of material and realized we needed to drastically change our systems.
So we bought a dispensing gun, and invented and built a custom machine and pouring station to go with it- we fiddled with mixers, re-built pumps, customized hoses, made spinning multi-tiered tables, and got in way over our heads.
Throughout 2007 we worked with our local urethane supplier to tweak our formula over and over again. But no matter what we did our molds didn’t like the new goo one bit; it stuck, it frothed, it was horribly misbehaved. We had heartbreaker after heartbreaker as we lost mold after mold to this urethane’s destructive forces.
On top of this we were constantly dealing with stuck components and clogs in the pouring system which created off ratio mixes that didn’t cure (unbelievably huge messes!).
Our shaping of new holds came to a dead halt; we were spending all of our molding time on endless repairs to our existing silicone. Our website essentially became to a grinding stop too. Seth’s brother Aaron, who had been doing a fantastic job working with us from day 1, as our all-things-computer-design guy, got an intense job with Vodaphone UK managing all their gaming content, and unfortunately had no more time to spend on Tek fun. Aside from our blog, updating the site ourselves felt to us like hacking the matrix, and fell by the wayside. The combination of all of these things was very bad for business.
So early 2008 we looked for a different urethane and found one from a supplier in the US.
Shipping drums of the stuff across many states, up across the border, and through a few provinces cut deeply into our margins, but the stuff worked so much better with our molds; no more sticking, no more frothing, and it had a much nicer finished quality.
We were back on track, but had a ton of re-building to do after our devastation.
During a springtime visit from Chris Danielson
, we spoke with him about other options for production; he recommended outsourcing. Although our material was working well, it certainly wasn’t the best out there. We wanted Chris to become our rep in the US to help us with sales across the border. He was more than keen to do so- he loved our shapes, but he wanted us to pair that with a top of the line and indestructible material before taking us on.
We weren’t convinced about outsourcing just yet, so Seth rocked along pouring all the holds on his own. I was expecting a baby and wasn’t able to help out with the chemical side of things. That summer, Seth hit a chemical overload. He had been feeling bad after pouring for some time. 9 years of working with nasty stuff is a long bid and then one day it got worse. Neither of us willing to jeopardize his health (further), we made the decision to pull the plug on our in-house production.
We knew there were a few options for outsourcing, but felt if we were going to go this route, there was no going with anything other than the best
. We wanted to be unbeatable in every way, including material, which had always been our Achilles heel.
We made a great connection with the top urethane hold producer in the US, loaded our molds up onto a pallet, and sent them all down.
August of 2008 we packed up the rest our shop, sold off our equipment, filled dumpster after dumpster, and somehow jammed the rest of our shop into our basement and garage. We set up a new little carving station, a home office, and got Chris Danielson started up with Tek-reppin.
Easy street now, right? Wrong.
Our funky old molds didn’t work with our new manufacturer’s urethane either. Everything was sticking and epic. What was supposed to take a matter of weeks to get up and running with production took 7 months. During that time, a minimal number of orders trickled out; our line was far from fully functional. We had to re-mold everything in a new silicone, which was no small task, or cost. Neither Seth nor I had jobs outside of Teknik and with production not rolling as it was supposed to and a baby on the way, things were stressful to say the least.
Things turned around early in 2009 when our line became functional again, the majority of things remolded and a few new shapes to boot.
Seth got an awesome University job running the climbing facility (where we had ruined the air pouring holds ten years earlier), and I took the reigns of Teknik. Game on.
Bringing Chris Danielson on to our team proved to be one of the best things we could have done. Through his amazing connections and professional experience within the climbing industry, he got busy for us in the US (and later Canada too) re-connecting us with all our old customers and introducing our brand to new ones. His enthusiasm for our shapes made our sales to these gyms soar. He also used our holds in his setting clinics and comps he set at, personally bringing our shapes into the hands of a new generation of North American climbers and setters.
We got busy shaping again for the first time in a while and were so very happy to be spending time doing so rather than messing around with stuck equipment and molds. Moreover, our manufacturer was consistently cranking out perfect holds for us in an absolutely dreamy material.
And thus began the slow and steady, focused climb out of our Sarlacc pit of despair.
By 2010, we had more new shapes in production and our Teknik fan base was exploding again. Everyone was loving the new shapes, new material, and continued energy. We brought on Tondé Katiyo
from Paris to help us with our sales and connections in Europe.
In addition to being a travelling routesetter
, he was also a skilled web designer. We began working with him on this website to better show and tell our holds and happenings.
With Chris and Tondé’s help, we brought our holds to the limelight again at major competitions such as the US Bouldering and Difficulty Nationals, Pumpfest in Singapore, Youth Nationals in France, the UBC Nor’easter, and World Cups in Eindhoven
We also hit the silver screen with Josh Lowell’s groundbreaking Insiders video
; it featured a desperately hard Teknik route set by Chris Danielson and climbed by Paul Robinson.
2011: we’re keeping that ball rolling. New shapes are abundant as are ideas for more.
To help show these off, we’ve come on as sponsors for a number of major events including the IFSC Bouldering World Cup in Canmore
(Teknik is the sole hold sponsor for this first ever World Cup to be held in Canada!!), and as season sponsors with USA Climbing
and the UBC Pro Tour
Our USA Climbing sponsorship includes all Regional, Divisional, and National level comps, as well as premier events such as the US World Cups (Bouldering and Difficulty). The US Nationals were comprised of 50% Teknik holds!
Our UBC Pro Tour sponsorship includes all three events: NYC Central Park, SLC OR show, and Nor’Easter. One third of the holds used at each of these comps will be Teknik.
Team Teknik has been re-envisioned as a setting team: Chris is setting the US and Canadian Nationals, UBC’s
and World Cups in the US. Tondé is setting the French Cup, and Boulder World Cups in Eindhoven, Barcelona, and Munich. Seth is setting at the World Cup in Canmore
To be continued…