inPRACTICE / AQUATICS: A Ninja-Worthy Upgrade

Pirates Bay Waterpark // Baytown, Texas

During a "normal" summer, Pirates Bay Waterpark—operated by the city of Baytown, Texas—hits capacity three to four days every week, according to Jenna Stevenson, aquatics superintendent with Baytown Parks & Rec. And while features like their lazy river, wave pool, surf attraction and many waterslides are a big draw, this spring they added a new attraction: a NinjaCross aquatic obstacle/fitness course.


Unfortunately, after opening for two weeks in June, the park had to close for the season due to COVID-19 concerns. But the new obstacle course—the first outdoor installation in North America—instantly proved a hit. "The addition of the NinjaCross system has already surpassed its purpose as one of the park's most frequented attractions in the short time we were open," said Stevenson. "Everyone loved it!"

Debuting in 2019, the retractable system can deploy in less than two minutes, utilizing a structural support truss for outdoor applications and ceiling mounts indoors. With interchangeable elements and modifiable obstacles, the system can be redesigned to appeal to all ages, fitness levels and programming needs, designed to challenge users above, below and on the water surface. An integrated timing system lets users track times with a touch screen interface, and scores are recorded in a database.

"It's very easy to operate, to change the obstacles and to transform our pool from swim lessons to a Ninja course," said Stevenson, explaining that they can change the height, order and difficulty of all their current obstacles. "Each obstacle has four height settings and can be moved anywhere on the course."

Kyle Rieger, vice president of sales for NinjaCross Systems in North America, described how their standardized Obstacle Attachment Bar and three standard connection points allows owners to quickly change the system for high-impact or low-impact lanes—similar to a universal gym. "We anticipate—and have already received—requests from owners to send out new updates and obstacles monthly, annually, etc., to keep things fresh or cater to various demographics, from advanced athletes to beginners, even handicapped individuals. This gives owners a chance to continually create a unique experience time and again without getting stale."


And while the systems offer recreational, racing and competition opportunities, Rieger listed other potential applications as well, including fitness, aquatic High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and aquatic therapy and rehab. These might be instituted through daily classes, weekly leagues or monthly paid events. "We're in the process of creating and implementing a NinjaCross fitness program that we'll roll out in 2021 to help the community get into their best shape," said Stevenson. In fact, the Pirates Bay team has already used the system for elevated lifeguard conditioning.

Stevenson added that they'll also be holding Ninja training and competitions during the 2021 season, providing opportunities to draw spectators. Rieger explained how their timing/entertainment system allows competitors in two lanes to race against the clock to best their own personal times or to compete as teams against one another. Included is a start/reset trigger as well as an end bollard for competitors to hit after the final obstacle. "We have music that's customized for the system when it's retracted and deployed, as well as music during 'action' mode when in use." Upgrades include the ability to incorporate above and underwater cameras and RFID tracking to track multiple participants and stream live uploads to the cloud. "This provides the owner an opportunity to sell/monetize photos, videos and create a social media following."

Several of the systems have already been installed in Europe, and several more—both indoor and outdoor—have been or will be installed this year in the United States and Canada, according to Rieger, including existing facilities and new construction. He said they've been talking with municipal rec centers, waterpark/theme parks, universities, resorts, YMCAs and military MWR (morale, wellness & recreation) facilities. "Our team designs, manufactures, installs and maintains the systems with a mandatory annual inspection. The system is installed in six days, where we conduct certification, training and owner turnover on day six or seven, depending on site conditions."

Rieger said they want to help facilities fill downtime at their pools, pointing out that many facilities these days lose money or are subsidized in the public sector. "We're trying to move these facilities to more of a self-sustaining model."

They believe the systems can provide many revenue-generating opportunities. "Think about junior highs creating teams, sponsorships, donors, fundraising efforts with local companies, selling advertising and brand awareness on our banners, leg wraps, digital displays, front and end signage for the obstacle displays—the opportunities are endless."

In fact, though the pandemic temporarily derailed game plans at Pirates Bay, the NinjaCross system was still available for private rentals, and Stevenson said they're excited about the future. "We're ready to jump into 2021 with a lot of new programs, classes and events because of this system." RM



Baytown, Texas:
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