Ninja wannabes who have always dreamed of testing their mettle on the “American Ninja Warrior” reality competition TV show can now tackle the elevated obstacle course without worrying about ending up in the hospital.
The first American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park in the United States will debut on Friday, July 8 at the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana.
“The challenging thing about this whole project is to make it look as close to the TV show as possible, but actually making it achievable,” American Ninja Warrior Adventure Parks CEO Adrian Griffin said. “Not too easy, but not too difficult.”
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The new 17,000-square-foot Ninja Warrior obstacle course based on the hit NBC reality show will let fans of all ages test their skills on Monkey Swings, Spider Walls, Tilting Logs, Floating Bridges and the final Warped Wall.
The indoor mall space — which takes over four former retail shops — will be divided into two main zones.
The Ninja Warrior course with obstacles attached to aluminum truss sections will look like the TV show — complete with show lighting, sound effects and video cameras to capture all the action.
An inflatable arena with family-friendly obstacles similar to the ninja course is designed to be tackled by young kids and their parents who might not be up to the challenge of the warrior course.
Friends and family who don’t want to partake in either the ninja course or inflatable arena can watch from the spectator area next to the cafe. The whole experience is expected to take an hour or two. A one-hour session costs $20.
The Ninja Warrior Adventure Parks are making the leap to the U.S. for the first time after Griffin spent years rolling out the concept in the United Kingdom.
“The MainPlace Mall was the perfect location for us,” Griffin said during a phone interview. “It just seems to tick all the boxes.”
Four adjacent MainPlace stores were demolished, the concrete slab reinforced and the roof lifted to make room for the new ninja adventure park.
The mall-based family attraction is not intended for would-be warriors training for the next season of the “American Ninja Warrior” TV show.
“What we didn’t want to do is target the elite athletes,” Griffin said. “There are ninja gyms all over the U.S. and the U.K. that specialize in really difficult features. We call them professional ninjas. That’s not the market we’re targeting.”
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The main ninja course at the MainPlace Mall will be divided into five lanes with increasing levels of difficulty.
Each lane starts with a version of the Floating Steps — with simpler Mushroom Steps in the easier lanes and Diminishing Steps in the harder lanes that get smaller and higher with each step.
Along the way, competitors face daunting obstacles with names like Cargo Grab, Log Runner, Flying Saucers, Bacon Back, Cheese Doors, Rock Canyon, Dancing Stones, Side Swinger and Spinning Log.
Every lane ends with a smaller version of the TV show’s famed Warped Wall — with heights ranging from 8 to 14 feet depending on the lane difficulty.
The most difficult lane on the ninja course features Striding Stones, Spinning Poles, Unstable Bridge and Jumping Spider obstacles before competitors must scale the tallest Warped Wall.
“We’ve carefully designed them not to be too difficult,” Griffin said. “The challenge is to make it progressively more difficult in each lane and with each feature, but not too difficult. What we found through trial and error is that if it’s too hard, somebody may get embarrassed and they won’t want to go back.”
How-to videos starring Ninja Warrior and stuntwoman Jessie Graff play in each lane outlining a strategy for tackling every obstacle. Course managers will be on hand to offer help if needed.
The inflatable adventure arena is intended for fans of all ages who aren’t ready for the ninja course or just need a bouncy, laugh-filled break from the competition.
“You don’t need to be fit. You don’t need to be active,” Griffin said of the inflatable arena. “You just have such a blast. The adults feel like kids again. Everybody is getting fit and exercising without actually realizing it.”
Part of the allure of watching the “American Ninja Warrior” TV show are all the spills and crashes when the competitors fall from the elevated obstacle course. But how do you let amateurs try their luck at the course without sending them to the hospital in traction?
On TV, competitors fall into the water with a dramatic splash when they fail to complete the ninja course. But that wouldn’t work in a shopping mall setting. The simplified adventure park courses use gymnastic padding instead of water to cushion competitors when they fall.
“Some of the features have been watered down — but not with actual water,” Griffin said. “The drop heights have been reduced. We have padding everywhere that is gymnastics grade. We try to make everything as safe as we possibly can.”
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The biggest challenge for the ninja park: Keeping competitors from bringing mobile phones onto the course for selfies.
The solution: Competitors wear RFID wristbands that allow the video cameras capturing all the action to identify each person on the course. Mobile phones must be stowed in free lockers and each competitor gets a digital video of themselves in action via a mobile app.
“At the end of your visit, you press a button on the app and the system automatically sends you a compilation of all your best and worst runs and fastest times,” Griffin said.
Special effects are added to the videos to create the illusion of splashes and water ripples whenever competitors crash to the gymnastic mats. The online videos — which are included in the cost of admission — can be shared on social media.
Times are recorded for every competitor’s run — a feature the ninja parks plan to gamify via the mobile app about three months after opening day at the MainPlace. The goal: Let every competitor vie for the fastest time and bragging rights.
“The idea is eventually to have the system in place where you can actually challenge people in other parks in other countries,” Griffin said. “It’s just another layer that we’re going to bring in at a later date. There’s some brilliant stuff that’s coming.”
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Ninja Warrior Adventure Parks attract about 250,000 competitors annually who bring extended family and friends with them, according to Griffin. Those competitors and their families often bundle in a meal, movie and shopping at the mall along with the one- to two-hour ninja experience.
“We have landlords banging on our doors to get the concept within their malls,” Griffin said.
More Ninja Warrior Adventure Parks are already planned across America.
“We’ve got lots of locations lined up,” Griffin said. “We’ve got a plan over the next 10 to 15 years — which is how long we’ve got the exclusive licenses with American Ninja Warrior — to fully explore these locations and hopefully bring the offering to every corner of the U.S.”
American Ninja Warrior Adventure Parks are partners with Universal Live Entertainment — the live entertainment division of Universal Parks & Resorts and part of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal. Universal Live Entertainment productions include the Jurassic World Live Tour and Kung Fu Panda, Minions and DreamWorks Animation touring exhibitions.