Arkansas rock climbers find a new use for rope
By Michael Roberts / Photos By Novo Studio
For cousins Jason D. Sapp and Brian E. Bowen, starting Buddha Rugs, a company outside Jasper that upcycles mountain climbing ropes into sturdy rugs, mats, coasters and keychains was just a continuation of a deep friendship they have had since childhood. “We’ve been climbing together since 2000,” says Jason. “And before that, we did bull riding and rodeo in the '90s.” But it was a chance moment of inspiration that got the two men into the rug-making business—inspiration coupled by a lot of hard work, perseverance and innovation.
“In 2006, we decided to do the 24-hour climb competition at Horseshoe Canyon,” says Jason, referring to the Jasper dude ranch’s “24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell” endurance event where two-man climbing teams compete to see who can complete the most climbs in a 24-hour period. The grueling competition pitted the cousins against other climbers, the clock and their own drive and stamina. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it out alive,” says Brian with a laugh.
These days, Buddha Rugs’ products are almost entirely made from recycled materials.
It was the ropes from that climb that would become the prototype Buddha Rug. “I was trying to figure out what to get Jason for Christmas,” says Brian. Deciding that a handmade gift would mean the most, Brian had a stroke of inspiration one night playing around with a piece of rope. “I coiled up this piece of rope and noticed that the spiral pattern looked like an Eastern rug,” he says. “So I snuck into Jason’s house and stole the ropes from the Horseshoe comp.” Ropes in hand, Brian set to work sewing a rug using 50-pound test fishing line and a set of curved needles that had belonged to his grandmother.
“When I first saw that rug, I was like ‘oh my gosh, there’s that rope,’” says Jason of the day he received Brian’s creation. “It looked really good—had a nice, clean appearance.” The attractive look of the rug coupled with its extreme durability made the two men realize that other climbers, hikers and campers might find a use for rugs like this. And so Buddha Rugs was born.
Jason and Brian officially launched the company in 2010, and the response from their fellow climbers has been positive. “These aren’t just a novelty,” says Brian. “They work for indoors or outdoors. And every rug we’ve made since we’ve launched is still alive, still functional.” It’s a testimony both to the strength of the climbing ropes themselves and the heavy stitching employed to hold everything together.
The company buys rope cut-offs and end pieces (called “shorts”) direct from manufacturers like Sterling Ropes, and the cousins are currently working on a method to use recycled material for backing. Once the materials are in-hand, it takes about four hours to turn raw rope into a finished Buddha Rug—a slow process that must also compete with each man’s full-time job and family.
Because each rug is handmade, there is generally a turnaround of several months for orders, but Brian says that customers don’t mind. “We like the grassroots feel of it,” he says. “The long turnaround is part of the joy.” Most of the company’s orders still come from people who climb at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, an association that Jason and Brian are so proud of, they have also begun making trophies for the event.
The current Buddha Rug product line has expanded to include the “Butt Rug,” a smaller, back-pack-friendly mat designed to provide hikers with a clean place to sit out on the trail, and the coaster-sized “Mug Rug.”
While Brian and Jason are always trying to think of new ways to use climbing ropes, they are happy to allow the company to grow slowly, enjoying the organic spread of their product through word of mouth. “If we methodically move through this, it’s something that later on we’ll have a strong business,” says Jason. Given the strength of the Buddha Rugs themselves, it’s easy to agree.