The original Acopa factory was founded in Guadalajara, Mexico by Ernesto Vazquez and Dario Piana, two Mexican climbers in April, 1997.
Guadalajara, founded in the 15th Century, is Mexico's 2nd largest city and has traditionally been the home of artisans and shoe makers.
“Acopa” means “up” in the ancient language of the Aztecs, called Náhuatl. Both the brand name and the logo they chose are meant to communicate a climber’s basic impulse; to go up!
This impulse to climb, to explore, to grow and learn by pushing our limits; is what Dario & Ernesto sought to empower and support when they took on Acopa's original mission: Designing and producing the best rock-climbing shoes in the world.
Acopa’s first factory was located near “El Diente”, a popular sport-climbing area in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Running into customers and friends at the crags; seeing their energy, efforts and persistence inspired Ernesto & Dario to work harder, innovate, grow and make better shoes every day.
Being a climber-owned business, performance-oriented changes were always implemented quickly at Acopa. A love of climbing and an obsession with comfort, performance and quality became the foundation for Acopa during those early years.
Soon, Acopa shoes became the choice of climbers all over Mexico.
By 1999, Acopa began exporting shoes to the US.
In 2003, legendary climber John Bachar joined Acopa and became an Acopa USA founding partner.
This collaboration became a close friendship over the years. Having been inspired as climbers early on by legends like Bachar & Croft, this was a dream come true for Dario & Ernesto. It also brought John the opportunity to build the shoes he’d always wanted to build.
JB also loved the fact that we were, as we are today, a company of climbers and that our shoes were, then as now, handcrafted by highly-qualified artisans.
The attention to the smallest details and the pride in their work shows. Climbers feel the difference in performance and comfort.
Steve A. Karafa, Jr. also joined Acopa USA in 2003 as co-founder and CEO.
Steve was a life-long lover of the outdoors. A master fly-fisherman and fly-tier, Steve had a brilliant mind, loved to climb, camp and hike.
He, Dario and John formed a close-knit team that would, over the next few years, introduce Acopa to climbers all over the USA.
In 2003, with Bachar on board, Acopa set out to re-invent climbing shoes.
John’s groundbreaking idea was to make shoes that conform to the natural shape of people’s feet, rather than force people’s feet to adapt to unnatural shapes.
That was a quiet game-changer.
The resulting models, the Sidewinder, B-3 and Merlin, among others, quickly gained recognition, receiving multiple awards and inspiring a design revolution in the climbing shoe industry.
Soon, as it had in Mexico, Acopa became the choice of climbers all over the USA.
Beginners loved how comfortable Acopa shoes were. Expert climbers loved the high-performance they delivered on the hardest routes.
Acopa RS Rubber also excelled in a wide variety of conditions.
When the company that makes your shoes cares about you, you can feel it in the comfort, quality and performance of your shoes.
Climbers could feel we care, as only climbers can, about the shoes they wear. In the end, we know it’s just you and your shoes up there.
Over the years, Acopa received numerous positive reviews and awards.
Even more important to us, we developed a fan base that remains deeply loyal to this day.
When your customers care about you, you can feel it too.
Here is one of many deeply inspirational expressions of that care and support in the form of a portrait of our Aztec model, made and sent to us by a young fan, some years ago.
Comfort, performance, durability and super-sticky rubber were important to top-level climbers. Before long, many of them, including some of the very climbers who had inspired us to start climbing in the first place were wearing the shoes we built.
There could be no higher honor.
John introduced many of these top-level climbers to Acopa, leading the way, as usual.
He was deeply involved in the R&D, product design, material selection, testing and quality control of Acopa shoes. Every one of our models had to pass the Bachar Test before going into production. That meant being tested by John on high-grade climbs in a variety of conditions, rock types and locations.
John’s courage, experience and ingenuity helped us advance shoe design and develop more comfortable, better-performing climbing shoes.
Bachar loved spending time in Guadalajara. He visited the factory between two and four times per year, spending weeks at a time working on new models and “onsighting” some seriously solid routes.
He also developed a deep friendship with both Dario and Ernesto and enjoyed the local food and culture. He was particularly fond of “tortas ahogadas”, “tacos al pastor” and “carnitas”. If the right music was playing, a few beers might also have been enjoyed. The only right music, of course, was funk.
Here you see John onsight-soloing “La Gran Ilusion” (5.10c YDS), a classic route in the "El Diente" area of Guadalajara (photo by Duane Raleigh).
John’s love and respect for the rock, the mountains and nature in general was ahead of its time.
Today, most everyone accepts the principle that first ascentionists should do as little damage as possible to the rock. John insisted on the importance of ethics and style, even during an era marked by an attitude of "anything goes".
“Respect the rock. If you lack the skills to put up a route ground-up, walk away. Don’t bring the route down to your level. Work your way up to the level of the route or leave it for someone else to climb in the future."
Driving in fewer pitons, placing fewer bolts and adhering to ground-up ethics all contribute to preserving the original quality of the rock for future generations. Not coincidentally, they all contribute to preserving the adventure and purity of the climbing experience as well.
Bachar and Croft inspired Acopa’s founders, but they inspired some extraordinarily talented climbers as well.
One such climber was a force of Nature we called Michael Reardon.
Michael, who became an Acopa climber and a dear friend, was a passionate and creative whirlwind -a true “Renaissance man”.
He was an accomplished film producer, writer and director; as well as a consummate artist. Laser-like focus and deep sensitivity lived happily alongside the spirit of a rebellious teenager.
Although he was seriously good at what he did, Michael didn’t ever take anything too seriously. He had fun no matter what he did.
Michael first came on the scene climbing at Tahquitz, Stoney Point, Malibu Creek and Joshua Tree. His highball bouldering style soon developed into full-blown free soloing.
Initially, some doubted the accounts of Michael’s first big solos. But JB went climbing with him. Michael did not only enjoy the benefits of Bachar’s inspirational boldness; he could also match it on the rock. They became regular soloing partners and close friends.
Hanging out with Michael was always fun and often wild. Whether discussing metaphysics, climbing or sipping tequila, Michael’s optimism and joy of life were contagious. He lived every moment to the fullest.
Michael also loved buildering. At any given moment, without warning, he might casually jump on some iconic building, structure or sculpture and start climbing.
Michael did these things for the pure joy of climbing; for the pure joy of living.
By the summer of 2006, Acopa was thriving. We had built a solid team of passionate, dedicated professionals and close friends.
Acopa rock shoes were sold all across the US, as well as in over a dozen countries around the world, from Mexico to Italy.
We were climbing fast and within sight of the summit.
Or so it seemed…
As the Acopa US partners and crew gathered for a group picture at a trade show in Salt Lake City, in August 2006, we had no way of knowing this would be the last time we’d all stand together.
On the evening of August 13, 2006, after the trade show had ended and everything was packed away, the Acopa crew boarded John’s SUV and headed home. They made one last stop to drop Dario off at the Salt Lake City airport and got on the road.
While traveling from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, John lost control of his car. As a result of the ensuing tragic accident, John was gravely injured and Steve Allen Karafa, Jr., our dear friend and Acopa USA’s co-founder, President & CEO, lost his life. He was 40 years old.
Steve’s family, his fiancé and friends were shocked and grief-stricken. They’d lost a young son, a brother, a future husband and a true friend.
This was also a devastating blow for our small company. Though grieving, Steve’s family valiantly stepped up and helped John and Dario as they tried to regroup.
Then, on July 13, 2007, news broke that Michael Reardon had gone missing. Michael had been swept into the water by a rogue wave, while walking along a rocky shore, after a climbing session in Ireland. A search and rescue effort was mounted and went on for days, but no sign of Michael was ever found. He was 42 years old.
This terrible loss was unfathomable for Michael’s wife and young daughter. Michael’s family and friends mourned. Less than a year since Steve’s passing, losing Michael was also terribly painful for John and Dario. Michael, his joy of life, optimism and positive energy would be sorely missed.
Acopa was still dealing with the aftermath and emotional turmoil of these tragic events when, on July 5, 2009, John Bachar fell to his death while soloing at the Dike Wall, near Mammoth Lakes.
John’s death left Tyrus, his young son, without a father; his friends, family and loving girlfriend, Paola, heartbroken. Dario, the only surviving Acopa USA partner, had lost his closest friend. Like all of John’s friends, he had also lost a real-life hero.
That Bachar had fallen while soloing initially shook the climbing community. Then, it brought it together.
The group that gathered by the shore of Tenaya Lake for his Memorial -which included Royal Robbins, Jim Bridwell, John Long, Peter Croft, Ron Kauk, Lynn Hill, Jeff Lowe and many other members of what might be considered Yosemite’s climbing royalty- was a clear testament to the way John’s climbing had moved and inspired so many.
Those who knew John already knew that he had died doing what he loved. But it would take some time to begin to understand that the way John lived was much more important and significant than the way he died.
John lived as he climbed; boldly, honestly and joyfully.
Back in Guadalajara, Dario and Ernesto faced not only the pain of losing such close friends, but also the complications resulting from losing two key partners in such a short period of time.
They dug in and fought on for a while, but this final blow was too much for the small company. By late 2010 it was undeniable; in spite of everyone’s best efforts, they’d have to abandon the route.
After 14 years making climbing shoes, Acopa was forced to shut down.
The factory closed and everyone went home.
The dream was over and all was lost.
Or so it seemed…
“We knew Acopa had earned the loyalty of many climbers. However, we didn’t fully realize the depth of that loyalty until years had passed and we kept reading posts on various internet forums, getting calls and emails from them; not only lamenting our absence, but also expressing a desire to help us make a comeback. This was a moving realization. Those emails, posts and calls became a clarion call; an urgent reminder of our responsibility to figure it out and bring back their shoes. We had to get back on our feet and finish the route.”
– Dario Piana, Acopa Co-Founder
Soon Ernesto, Acopa’s original Master Shoemaker, started building shoes for himself, his young son Diego and a few local friends under the “Rock On” brand.
Diego had been a gifted climber since he was a young boy and was climbing in the “teens” before he was a teen. Ernesto started teaching Diego the rock-shoe craft and, in the process, passing on to a new generation the design and manufacturing philosophy he, John and Dario had developed at Acopa.
The rave reviews of Rock On shoes soon reached two visionary and energetic climber-entrepreneurs; Adrián Haro and Fredy Girón.
Inspired by Acopa’s story, they decided they wanted to help bring Acopa back.
The following year the new Acopa team incorporated in the US, on their way to relaunching Acopa worldwide.
A New Vision was born.
At Acopa, we see outdoor and indoor climbing, sport and trad, as complimentary rather than opposite pursuits.
Like the Ying and the Yang of climbing, like Robbins and Harding, both are necessary to the development, growth and advancement of climbing as a whole. Each contributes and responds to our human desire to play, grow and explore.
Climbing is Balance.
Ethics & freedom, effort & fun, courage & fear; go hand in hand. They need each other, make each other possible. There is no courage without fear, nor ethics without freedom.
At Acopa, we believe that tradition & innovation, comfort & performance; also go hand in hand. Tradition breeds innovation. Performance requires comfort.
A New Mission became clear.
ACOPA will bring you top-quality, high-performance shoes and gear that help you push your limits. We will uphold a tradition of artisanal craftsmanship while pushing innovation ever forward. We will make the best rock climbing shoes in the world.
By innovating and improving our shoes, we can help climbers reach new limits. Once they do, they will demand new and even better shoes from us. Better gear and more advanced skills create a virtuous cycle.
Through that process, together, we will contribute to the development and evolution of climbing.
Climbing puts us in touch with Nature in a way few other pursuits ever could.
Approach-walks, contact with the rock, expansive summit views, the gradual and difficult nature of upward progress; all contribute to an increased awareness and appreciation of the environment in which we climb.
Acopa will continue to undertake and support efforts to minimize the negative impact our climbing, manufacturing and distribution activities have on the environment.
As climbers, we also look out for each other and help each other as much as possible.
That’s why Acopa also supports and will continue to support initiatives to increase awareness, safety and inclusiveness in climbing, such as Yosemite Facelift, Outdoor Outreach and Climb Smart.
Every generation takes climbing to the next level by standing on the shoulders of those who climbed before them.
Acopa will celebrate and support the preservation of the history of rock climbing.
We will strive to foster in new generations an appreciation and respect for the history, ethics, values and traditions of the mountains; for climbing’s legendary pioneers and for those who made important contributions to the development of rock climbing.
We will also keep and honor the memory of our founders and partners.
Acopa will proudly seek to represent Steve Karafa’s love of nature, Michael Reardon’s adventurous spirit and John Bachar’s respect for the rock.
We will carry their torches forward with us and they’ll light a bright path into the future.
The Legend Continues...