Monday, May 22, 2017

Review > Select Agents > Real Rock

Select Agents Inc.
Nick here: A mutual friend friend set us up with this review for Todd Joyal. Oddly enough, we had never heard of Select Agents, and Select Agents hadn't heard of us!

We thought we knew everyone in the industry :p guess we learn something new everyday:) Our mutual friend brought Todd on board for a review. Todd is the owner of Select Agents Inc. who manufactures climbing holds made from real rock. Select Agents uses all types of rock to manufacture their holds. If you have a particular stone you wish to have on your wall, Todd will be more than happy to accommodate you. Needless to say, this review is going to be different in a lot of ways. Different good, different bad ? Well we will let you decide ;)

We got these back around winter 2016, and they have been at the Wall Nuts Climbing Gym in St. John's, Newfoundland ever since. They have spent majority of their time on the wall through several resets, needless to say, we have had a lot of time to thoroughly put these holds through the ringer to see how they hold up, and their pros and cons. Select Agents sent us a variety of different holds made from Canadian Shield Granite out of Northwestern Ontario. They sent us seven holds.

The 6 holds survived over a year with an 18V impactor that we used to set them with, the same force we would use on any other product. We didn't handle them with any special care either because we want to treat holds the same as much as possible.  We dropped them from the top of our ladders onto Crash Pad like any other hold; they held up pretty well.

None of the meatier holds broke yet. We will keep you posted. There will always be some space on the wall for real rock, especially in the bowels of the winter season. Lets see how long they last :)

Our set with One Years Worth of Traffic (Never been Cleaned)

Select Agents rock holds
Brand Spanking New. (Not our exact holds, but same material)
We did manage to break one hold. This gnarly thin pinch that Nick had become rather fond of, oh well, so much for that.

It broke right at the bolt hold. From intuition and experience, that would tell us the hold thick enough on each side of the bolt hold after they drilled the bolt hole, and we whacked it with the impactor (Reasonable) for a year. When we asked Todd what would happen in this situation, he said that it would be refunded, within normal wear and tear.
So, let see how they took chalk and rubber. We set most of our problems using a lot of tracking (i.e. handholds = feet), so they seen their fair share of rubber. The problems were on the harder side mind you, so they didn't see the kinda traffic you would get on a V2, but in a year, we did not wash them once until we got them back from the gym. When we got them back, we gave them a quick 20 min soak in water and vinegar and a mild scrub. A pressure washer would probably take all the chalk off. If the holds become polished, you can totally sand em down with the right gear. (or even if you want them slightly different)

None of the holds were watched for a Year then they were cleaned, so lets take a look at the before and afters:




The pinch we had broke at bolt hold. If this were on the wall, it may have sent two fair sized pieces (3 inchs by 1 inch by 1 inch) of granite falling. If this fell 20 ft, We would be worried about someones head. This can be a concern for some consumers. Most modern plastic holds are designed to break in relatively smaller and lighter pieces than how this hold broke.

So, we'd probably feel more comfortable using them on bouldering walls or closer to the ground on routes. That being said, everyone needs to decide for themselves what their risk tolerances is. After all, rock climbing has many hazard by nature. These hold are prefect for the home woody though

  • Number of holds: 7
  • Type (Bolt / Screw Ons): 6 Bolt Ons, 1 Screw on
  • Price per hold (set price divided by number of holds): $90/6 large holds = $15 
  • Color: See Pictures
  • Bolt placement: Good (exception being the pinch)
  • Sanding: Decent
  • Hollow backed: No
  • Soft back (Rubber backed): No
  • Texture: Rougher than most Plastic
  • Set size: Small to Large
  • Versatility: Bouldering Walls (Low to Ground)
  • Pre-drilled screw holes: No (Future holds will)
  • Shaper: Todd Joyal
  • Weight: Heavier than Similar Sized Plastic Hold (TBD)
  • Where can you get them:
If you read our reviews, you know Noodles is a stickler for sanding. The sanding could have used a bit more care. They sit perfectly flat, but it requires no extra work to make it prefect. This is us being nit picky, but that's what we do.

The holds are made of Northwestern Ontario granite. We have climbed on many different types of granite from Yosemite, Bishop, Colorado, Ontario and East Coast Canada (Newfoundland and Nova Scotia). It is definitely on the rougher end of the granite spectrum, but by no means, the roughest. We'd say it is slightly easier on the hands than the Buttermilks Granite. You know your climbing on granite your skin significantly more worked than the average plastic session, which is good for conditioning. It scientifically proven, your skin will adapt and toughen up.

The weight of the holds is heavier than that of a similar sized hold which drives up the shipping. We are going to try to find out exactly how much more heavier on average, if we can get our heads on a digital scale. We will let you know.

The holds we received are made from Canadian Shield Granite. If you google it, you will find out that the Canadian shield runs through an enormous distance through most of central Canada. The Canadian Shield covers over half of Canada.

However, Select Agent is makes their holds from every rock type. If you have a favorite climbing area, Todd will do his best to match that rock type as closely as possible. (Most times that means rock sourced from the identical rock in your favorite climbing areas) If you want holds from Squamish, Red Rocks or Northwestern Ontario, Todd can accommodate you.

Packing was okay. The box was a little beat up but the holds were wrapped in a foam, none were damaged in shaping.

Hmmm I've not touched these holds but I will weigh in because I have done what these guys are doing....

I've drilled rock; with various bits of various types... and I'm not talking a bog standard drill press set up here I'm talking machine shop lathes and various other means.

I've sanded rock to make them sit flat on the wall

I've used a water jet to cut my bolt hole (yeah we have a good shop back in the UK in the garden)

I've had my dad do the same, I've glued washers, I've put metal sleeves though where we drilled (expoy'd in)

I've done it all when it comes to drilling rock and there is one thing I can say for sure is that it will break! Drilling a piece of rock no matter how slow or careful you are causes fractures, these fractures will grow over time as you put pressure on the hold and eventually it will break. Now the rock I've used worked better when it was cut with a water jet, but not everyone has one of those at their disposal to play with and even though they lasted longer... they broke

Adding a rubber back helps mitigate a piece of rock falling on someones head and you getting sued but it isn't 100% reliable so you can skip that horrible smelling messy piece of the puzzle

I've done it, if I want rock I'll go outside... if I want rock like holds (texture and coolness) I'll buy Synrock and Stick Rock holds... I'd not buy drilled rock from anyone because like I said they will break, maybe not today, maybe not tmrw but it will break

Dream Holds who used to mold and pour actual rock shapes isnt' around anymore, some shapers take their inspiration from rock (Louie Anderson did some great stuff in plastic with some river rocks) ... but like I said... anyone can drill and sand a piece of rock, but will it break on you?

Would I recommend them?
Depends, on what you are looking for. Plastic and Syn Rock is more durable, lighter and cheaper, but it is still not real rock. It is not always possible for me to make it too rock for a number of different reason. I have never seen a product that I thought could imitate real rock close enough, it doesn't yet exist to my knowledge. I admit I have not tried out the new Sticky rocks. Even if Sticky Rocks mimics HP40 or Southern UK sandstone, there is 1000 other areas that it does not mimic. I like the idea of being able to order rock from my next North American climbing area to train on or even just get nostalgic. I like to imagine having a problem from Hueco, Bishop Squamish and HP40, all next to each other on one wall.

I think its pretty hard to mimic the 1000's of climbing areas around the world. Therefore, this product serves a demand I have that other products out there currently can't, even if it breaks. I do not expect these to outlast any manufactured hold, but I don't care. I like climbing on them enough that I would still want some problems set with real rock on any bouldering wall for me.

There is a number of training benefits too. There is no doubt in my mind if your climbing on the same rock in the gym as the area of your next climbing trip, you will get more out of your trip. For northerners, it is great for skin conditioning as well. Here in Newfoundland, we have a abundance of really good, really sharp granite that my friend says makes Veudauwoo, Wyoming feel gentle. So, it is advantageous to me to be able to climb on real rock just to condition my skin for roughness. I will get more days on before my skins toast.

Ultimately, it depends on how much you value the real rock characteristic because it is the only characteristic that it beats alternative products in. If it out weighs the fact that you may only get a couple years out of them, than you will buy them or you wont.

Currently the price point is pretty similar for holds of that size. I think they would be successful if they can produce them for cheaper than alternatives. Given that they break easier and are heavier. And, I think there is probably room for that to happen. So, that challenge is issued.

Then it wouldn't matter so much if they broke. Again, you can place orders on their facebook page if your interested.

  • Real Rock
  • Variety in Rock Type
  • Each Hold is Unique
  • Refund if Holds Break (Normal Wear)
  • Canadian Company = Relatively Affordable (Current North American Exchange Rate) 
  • Shipping Costs Higher than Plastic
  • Inconsistency in Strength
  • Each Hold is Unique

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