One minute I’m swinging like a monkey through a forest of dangling rings; the next I’m clinging like a sloth to a yellow net hooked to the ceiling.
Before I leave Hot Lava Obstacle Course, I’ve wobbled across a slack line, scuttled up a thick rope and leaped into a pit of molten rock (OK, it was actually red foam blocks, but what’s the difference?).
Overgrown kid Ben Broussard and his wife Kate opened this indoor gym in June next to a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall on Burnet Road. It might look like Romper Room for adults, and yes, it’s named for that kids’ game in which you pretend the floor is molten rock and you’ve got to jump from coffee table to couch to avoid it, but there’s plenty of fitness value here.
“You can practice running anywhere, but where are you going to find cargo nets, walls to go under and ropes to climb?” Broussard asks.
He’s right. Most fitness centers offer structured workouts under the guidance of an instructor. At Hot Lava, you can take the skills hammered into you by a trainer and cut loose without supervision.
“This is an indoor, air-conditioned playground where you can come try things you saw on YouTube, in a padded environment,” Broussard says.
If you watch “American Ninja Warrior,” “Wipeout” or “American Gladiator,” some of the obstacles will look familiar. You can stand on an inflatable balance trainer and duke it out with someone using a padded club. You can clatter across something called a pipe slide, or grab a mat and launch yourself across the floor in a newfangled version of Slip ‘n Slide.
That’s how Broussard, 28, came up with the idea. He grew up skateboarding, snowboarding, break dancing, and doing martial arts, gymnastics and parkour, that graceful, French-rooted art of movement in which athletes leap, duck or bound their way around whatever obstacles stand in their way.
“My wife and I did some obstacle course races and I loved it, but I just wanted to play on the obstacles,” he says.
The 2,000-square-foot playroom they created features a springy floor, thick mats and padded blocks, so athletes can practice free-form gymnastics or parkour. There are wooden walls suitable for leaping over or scooching under, and a series of thigh-high wedge-shaped blocks spaced a giant stride apart, so they can spring from one to the next.
“It’s an extremely physical place and you get a good workout, but what gets worked out more is your creativity,” Broussard says.
That’s part of the lure for David Thomas, 36, who says he’s not a conventional athlete or an exercise buff. “I don’t have the attention span to work out in a gym,” he says. “But I used to do this as a kid. I was always outside running or climbing on stuff.”
Even though the gym is geared toward adults, kids are allowed. They’re typically the ones who don’t need instruction.
“They just jump in. Adults come in and say, ‘What do you do?’” Broussard says. “Then you see the light come on and that inner child comes out. They figure out how to play again.”
Paige Balius, 40, dropped by on this day with her son Lance, 10, and his two friends. She wants to encourage an active lifestyle, but while she’s here, she tests out a few obstacles herself.
“I tried everything and some things are harder than others,” she says. “It was all challenging.”
Suddenly a disembodied voice rises from the sea of red blocks.
“Lance, try to find me!” comes the muffled cry. Then, with a rustle and a swirl, a smiling 9-year-old Miguel Alvarado rises from the foam pit, where he submerged himself 10 minutes ago. Lance whoops and dives in.
Me? I latch onto those dangling rings and lurch away. No way the kids are going to have all the fun here.
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