He’s spent every cent he has – and more – realising his dream. Now Megaland is here, will it pay off?
Three years ago, Corey Ealand was at a children’s birthday party when he watched his young son slip off his shoes, climb onto a blow-up bouncy castle and begin having the time of his life with all the other kids who were there.
Standing there listening to the squeals of delight, watching his son beaming from ear to ear, a thought came to him: “I went, ‘I want to be on there with him,’” says Ealand. But he wasn’t allowed. This good time was just for kids. “Adults [don’t get to] go on the bouncy castles,” he says.
So he decided to do something about it. Ealand, a builder and drone pilot based in Auckland, began researching how he could create an inflatable obstacle course that could handle the kind of power and weight provided by the adults he wanted to be able to use it.
As Covid arrived and lockdowns began, Ealand’s work dried up and he found himself with more free time than he’d ever had before. So he kept busy by working on his obstacle course, the dream getting bigger and bigger as he covered walls in print-outs and photos. What he ended up with was his ultimate bouncy castle.
He wanted it to feel to epic in scale, like the bouncy castle at the birthday party would have felt to his toddler son. It hasn’t been easy, and Ealand believes it’s never been done in Aotearoa before: “You can’t just go buy one off the shelf,” he says. “It’s taken thousands and thousands of hours.”
As Auckland’s longest lockdown began in August 2021, Ealand started having second thoughts. He thought, “I’m not working and I’m spending all my money. What’s going on? All the events are not going ahead. This might not be the best business to be getting into right now.” The words “mid-life crisis” crossed his mind.
But every time he showed the concept to friends and family, they approved. “Everyone loved it. Everyone loved the idea,” he says. “We got really good feedback and that’s what got me through Covid.”
Scale was still an issue. An early prototype that included a 12-metre slide was dismissed for being too small. “It felt too kiddish when you’re an adult on there,” he says. “Going bigger has definitely made it feel like an adults’ course.”
Now, the finished product is bigger than he ever believed it could be. Megaland takes a full day to set up, and covers close to half a rugby field. End-to-end it’s 300 metres long, and can take up to 15 minutes for punters to get through. It can handle the weight of up to 500 people, but he’s keeping it capped at 50-60 at a time so there’s room to enjoy it properly.
And there’s lots to enjoy. Megaland includes themed zones, a rugby field, a maze, a mini maze, a ball pit, six slides, climbing walls, covered areas, trees, hoops and much more. In honour of his inspiration, Ealand included a two-storey bouncy castle for adults in the middle of the course. (Kids will be allowed to use it, with adult supervision.)
Megaland recently launched with a trial day at Mt Smart Stadium’s Lilyworld. How’d it go? “Amazing,” says Ealand. “It was very cool.” He hopes to have a more permanent location locked in for the next school holidays, when the weather’s more settled, and is looking to lock in contracts to take it around summer music festivals.
He’s coy about who made Megaland for him, saying that finding a manufacturer was one of the build’s hardest aspects. He’s also secretive on its final cost, admitting only that the shipping fee was $30,000. Ealand says he has a business partner because “it’s a lot more money than I can afford”.
Will he make any of it back? “I have no idea. At the end of the day it’s just fun,” says Ealand, who points to the smiles on the faces of everyone who experienced it during his trial day as proof that Megaland will be popular.
Finally, adults have a reason to enjoy some bouncy castle mayhem too. “Everyone who got off it, even people who don’t like bouncy castles, were beaming from ear to ear,” he says. “That’s worth more than the money factor at the end of the day.”