By Kent Coules, Publisher
When Aaron Campbell bought Keana Farms with a partner over 13 years ago, ziplining wasn’t even on his radar. “We bought the land to create affordable housing. For a number of reasons that were beyond our control we had to back off from that goal.”
Having been raised on the North Shore since he was a little boy, Campbell’s mission was still to use the land to help the local community. “I loved the fact that the 450 acres was a working farm that delivered a million pounds of food a year to the local market. We were trying to figure out a way to preserve the land while creating a viable investment model.” Not an easy thing to do in Hawai‘i.
Around that same time, a quarter world away, Utah State students Nick Thompson and Jesse McVey met while in Pennsylvania on a two-year mission for the Mormon Church. Thompson, an Entrepreneurial Studies Major, started building climbing walls and rope courses for summer camps in New York and Northeastern Pennsylvania, and Jesse, a Construction Services Major, joined him.
“Nick was forfeiting profit for quality,” says McVey. That’s not a good thing if you want to make money, but it turns out that it’s great for establishing your reputation as a safety-conscious builder. “Word spread, and demand got so high that we dropped out of college and started building full time,” which included work for Pi‘iholo Ranch on Maui.
Shortly thereafter, the twosome built their first zipline courses in the Northeast. Then, in 2010, Nick decided that he should be operating his own zipline course, so he and his father invested in land in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. That became the first CLIMB Works.
Meanwhile, back in Kahuku, Campbell was considering a zipline course as a way to perpetuate Keana Farms. He looked at the Pi‘iholo Ranch Zipline on Maui, where Thompson and McVey had built the treetops course. Impressed by their work, Campbell struck an agreement with Thompson and McVey to build Keana Farms’ zipline course on the North Shore. The more the three worked together, the more he became convinced that he wanted to work with them as partners.
Campbell had an idea that quickly became his passion. He wanted to educate people about the Hawaiians’ unique relationship to the land, including the story of the modern-day farmer. “Our community exists so close to these farms yet hardly any of us know the struggles and unique challenges farmers and agricultural landowners face.” Aaron worked hard to create a unique educational tour that would appeal to anyone who was interested in learning more about the Hawaiian culture in a fun and exciting way.
CLIMB Works was the ideal partner for this because they had already incorporated similar elements into their operation in Tennessee, where they “sought to educate our Smoky Mountain visitors on the history and ecology of the region,” says McVey.
So was born CLIMB Works’ second location. McVey soon moved to O‘ahu to become its general manager, and their shared vision for a zipline at Keana Farms took shape.
“We use the farm below as an experience for our guests as they traverse the zipline course,” says Campbell. “Each tower is a learning station and every zipline includes a farm lesson. We want people to leave the farm with respect for the land, and knowing the Native Hawaiian people’s approach to its care.”
Yet, education mixed with adventure isn’t an easy sell for everyone. “Adventure gets a bad reputation for being dangerous,” says McVey. “It doesn’t have to be. For us, it’s not about pushing to the extreme, it’s about pushing beyond the comfortable.”
That doesn’t mean sacrificing safety, though. CLIMB Works developed their own braking platform that is the safest in the industry. “Our braking system eliminates the human error factor, which is the most common cause of accidents,” says McVey. Knowing that we have a perfect safety record allows people to enjoy the adrenaline rush of the ziplines and the awesome views and education with no unnecessary fear.”
Guests come to CLIMB Works expecting a thrilling experience zipping down the hills of the north shore of O‘ahu while taking in amazing views. They leave with that and so much more—a knowledge of local culture and history, an appreciation of the close-knit island community that exists here, and memories to last a lifetime.
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[This story appears in print in the October-December 2019 issues of This Week Oahu.]
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