Made In America: BlueWater Ropes

Richard Newell started BlueWater Ropes in his basement in Carrolton, Georgia, in 1969, because he didn’t like any of the

Richard Newell started BlueWater Ropes in his basement in Carrolton, Georgia, in 1969, because he didn’t like any of the caving ropes on the market. So he bought a rope braider and turned out the first-ever American-made kernmantle caving rope. More than four decades later, BlueWater is still located in Carrolton, population 25,000, but its climbing ropes have been to some far-flung places: Mount Everest, for one, when Conrad Anker found George Mallory’s body high on the mountain in 1999. Tommy Caldwell has used BlueWater ropes on his six-year Dawn Wall project on El Capitan, including a 2,800-foot continuous rope custom-made for the 30-pitch, 5.14+ project.

BlueWater employs 35 full-time employees, most of whom have been at the company more than two decades, keeping productivity high. The company is still family owned – Richard Newell’s son, Scott, is the president of the company, and keeps his hands on the product.

“Our president spends more time in the production line than he does in his office; this is able to happen because we haven’t sent production overseas,” says David Long, BlueWater’s sales manager.

Every inch of rope produced in BlueWater’s Georgia facility is inspected by hand, Long says, and the company believes it’s able to keep quality at a high level by maintaining operations in the States. Quality, of course, literally meaning life or death when it comes to climbing ropes, a piece of equipment that cannot fail. BlueWater’s roster of sponsored athletes includes some of the biggest names in the climbing world: Anker, Caldwell, Craig DeMartino, Beth Rodden, Boone Speed, Cedar Wright, and dozens of other high achievers. Dynamic climbing ropes are only one part of BlueWater’s business, which includes caving and canyoneering ropes, climbing gym ropes, ropes for military, police and rescue operations, and other accessories.

BlueWater takes on a wide range of custom projects, producing custom ropes and cord for lots of unique requests: Navy SEAL teams, the rope included in BowFlex fitness machines, even safety straps and ropes for Cirque du Soleil performances. Someone once used a BlueWater accessory cord to capture a 13-foot, 800-pound alligator.

“We take a lot of pride being a U.S. based manufacturer and helping boost our local economy by providing jobs,” Long says.  “There are a couple of other U.S. based rope companies but we are the only family and American-owned manufacturer. We don’t have to answer to a board of directors or investors so we’re able to act quickly and adapt to what our customers are wanting.”

For more stories from our Made in America series, go here. For a list of companies that make their gear in the U.S. and Canada, check out this page.

Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
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  • Dan

    Thank you for this inspiring story. It must have taken quite a bit of passion and courage to invest and develop such a complicated and vital product; I don’t think Richard set out to make the most return on investment, and I applaud that decision as a I am a direct benefactor of his hard work and appreciate that character it takes to invest you hopes and efforts towards something satisfying besides just making the most bucks possible. My first ever climbing rope was a BlueWater. I would like to recognize the courage of the Newell’s to take on such a financial and high liability endeavor to make these wonderful ropes. I am happy that they have thrived and wish them many years of success and satisfaction. Thanks guys, I have literally trusted you with my life!

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