API Summer 2021

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ADVENTUROUS BY NATURE

Funcha! Installation at Blue Mountain, Ontario

Kees-Jan Verwaal got his start as a landscaper. Now? He’s blazing new trails in aerial adventure.

This is the first of a series of profiles we will be featuring in Adventure Park Insider highlighting the history, passions, and goals of the people around the world who have, literally, built this industry from the ground up.

BY THE EDITORS

Kees-Jan Verwaal built his first simple aerial adventure elements 14 years ago for a backyard garden in France. Today, his company, Neth- erlands-based Funcha!, designs and constructs cutting-edge adventures around the globe, from South Africa to South Korea. His evolution from landscaper to aerial innovator has progressed fast and serves as a reminder that standing still in the adventure park industry is rarely an option.

API: A CORE VALUE OF YOUR COMPANY IS “RESPECT NATURE.” HOW DOES THIS COME TOGETHER IN YOUR BUILDS? Kees-Jan: We are always connected in nature. So everything we do has to do with that. If you do something that negatively impacts nature, you have to make a recovery plan. I personally feel that, as human beings, our existence causes some level of harm. We can’t avoid it because we’re here. We try to keep [our impact] as small as possible. We all want that, and we try to achieve that in such a way that people don’t feel forced to do it; they are more guided to do it. And they see that our installations are not harming the trees. We build in such a way that we can promise to give the forest or the area back to nature after we use it. We have developed a tree-friendly build system. You can adjust the installation a couple of times a year as the tree grows. And, typically, this costs money. Total cost of ownership is obviously a very important part of the business. It needs to be profitable, and we understand that without profit there’s no life. So it

Verwaal this spring to explore his vision for the industry and understand how all this came about.

API: HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN THE INDUSTRY?

Kees-Jan Verwaal: I started my first business when I was 20, a landscaping company, a very small one. I was doing private gardens, eventually moving onto bigger gardens and large landscaping projects. The first inquiry for a ropes course was in 2007. This client had a house in France, and he asked me to build a ropes course in his garden. I had never come across a ropes course before; in the Netherlands it was still a young industry. So, I started looking into it. I went to France, and to Luxem- bourg, and explored some forest-based ropes course builds. And it really got me. I thought, “This is my next step in life.” But I wanted to do this in a much better way. The builds I saw had no connection with nature. It was purely technical builds in the trees. You could go there, and it was nice to do because it’s fun to be at height and in the trees, but the landscaper in me wanted to do more. In 2010, we built our first real-world course in Belgium.

While Verwaal and Funcha! dream big, they are grounded by four core values:

1. A deal is a deal. 2. We take action ourselves. 3. Our communication is open and sincere. 4. Nature has our respect and is our passion.

These all stem from Verwaal’s over- riding desire: to make the world a better place and, especially, a greener place. While he’s gratified by the many successful projects he been associated with, Verwaal continually looks for new challenges, new adventures, and higher standards.

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