When I hear the word inflatable obstacle, the TV show Wipeout is the first thing that comes to mind followed by a bunch of events that are not timed like inflatable fun runs. However, there is one major brand that has and continues to put in inflatable obstacles, Rugged Maniac. Known for its party and epic festival area, Rugged Maniac is also an Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) World Championships qualifier. Which brings us to today’s question. Do inflatable obstacles belong in competitive OCR?
No doubt you probably have an immediate answer to this question, but let’s try to keep knee jerk reactions and emotions out of it. So, here are some arguments for and against inflatables in OCR.
"NO" TO INFLATABLES
Inflatable obstacles make our sport look silly.
When I first heard about OCR, a sport that sometimes includes things like fire jumps, ice baths, live electricity, or leaps from heights into water, I didn’t think it was a serious sport like road running or triathlon. However, if you have ever run in an Elite heat at a major race, you know that OCR has some of the most versatile and well-rounded athletes in the world. Furthermore, if you are involved in OCR, you know there is a competitive side and a fun side. The fact is OCR has options for everyone. Nevertheless, including inflatable obstacles delegitimizes the sport in some people’s eyes.
Most Inflatable Obstacles are Too Easy.
One argument against inflatables is they are “too easy.” However, you typically don’t hear that about things like low crawls or low hurdles for which people barely even break a stride. If this is a reason not to include inflatables, I would ask what other obstacles we should get rid of because they are too easy? Which sets up my counterpoint…
"YES" TO INFLATABLES
An obstacle is still an obstacle even when it is easy.
The difficultly of an obstacle doesn’t necessarily make it a “hard” or “unworthy” obstacle. In fact, I would argue one of the easiest obstacles is also the one I’ve seen the most people bypass. World’s Toughest Mudder’s The Cliff, a 35 foot cliff jump into water, literally requires no skill or effort to complete. You just walk off the edge of the platform. Yet people skip it because they are scared (aka, it is too hard for them). Obstacles like short walls, tunnels, or going through the gap in the wall obstacles help break up stride; they provide some stress; and they allow obstacles to be included early in the race when very high throughput is required.
Inflatables add a unique Fun Factor.
Perhaps the best reason for including inflatables is simply that they are fun. When running Rugged Maniac in the competitive heat, I recklessly threw my body down a giant inflatable slide (The Accelerator 2.0) and dove headfirst through an over/under inflatable obstacle that is floating in water (Rinse and Repeat). I never would have been so reckless if these were obstacles made of harder materials. The inflatables are simply a ton of fun even when racing hard.
They save on build costs.
I don’t work on build crews, and I’m not going to speculate on the cost of inflatable obstacles or the ability to pack it up/rinse it off at the end of an event. However, logical reasoning says simply laying out the obstacle, staking it down and turning on the machine that fills it with air probably makes setting up inflatables one of the easiest and quickest obstacle builds. You may be thinking, "Great; but what does that have to do with me?" Easier builds equal less labor costs which, hopefully, result in lower registration fees.
At the end of the day, 99.9% of us are racing because it is fun. If we can add something to a race that makes it more fun, then why not do it? Whether you are just coming out for fun or are deep into the competitive side of OCR, I think inflatable obstacles can continue to have a place in our sport. While I don’t think they are essential, I’m not necessarily opposed to having them in either open or competitive courses. What do you think? Should inflatables be in OCR? Drop your thoughts in the comments to make your case.