MANCHESTER, NH – Cowabunga’s Indoor Inflatable Playground has opened for business in Manchester, a “family fun” place where free-range kids can bounce and play. Whether for fun and exercise, or to jump around with friends as part of a party celebration, the colorful emporium with a “surf’s up” theme began seven years ago as a “crazy idea” hatched by a Pembroke couple, after navigating the strange new world of kid birthday parties in public spaces.
“We started Cowabunga’s on a whim,” says Matthew Pearson, giving the grand opening tour Friday at the Huse Road location with his wife and co-conspirator, Kelly.
“We were going to birthday parties with our son, who was 3 at the time, and thought, ‘geez, we could do something better.’ We started with bounce house rentals, but quickly realized it was a lot of work,” Matthew Pearson says.
So the Pearsons explored options, including an empty space where the Hooksett Walmart had been and, in August of 2011, Cowabunga’s Hooksett was born.
At the time, Matthew Pearson was working in retail at iParty, and Kelly Pearson was working in the non-profit sector. Creating a party atmosphere that fulfills some of the most basic needs of human families – to laugh and play and run and jump – has been a good mesh of their collective skill sets, says Matthew Pearson.
They opened a second Cowabunga’s in North Reading, Mass., but bringing what the Pearson’s expect to be a flagship site to Manchester has been an exciting journey.
Currently, there are about 20 employees working at the 24,000-square-foot Manchester site, but Matthew Pearson expects to scale up to about 45 once the new venture is “cooking on all engines.” It’s a metaphor that’s quite literal, in that this is the first Cowabunga’s to include a full kitchen.
The Pearson’s had no trouble hiring – they reached out to all the area high school guidance counselors, who responded enthusiastically, and sent along referrals.
On Friday, Mayor Joyce Craig stopped by for her first official ribbon cutting, but was relieved of duty on a technicality – the Pearsons’ sons Jack, 10, and Owen, 7, scissors in hands, couldn’t’ wait to do the honors.
Craig said her own 13-year-old was looking forward to checking out the new fun spot.
“It’s wonderful addition to our city, especially in a place where the winter’s can be long and cold, to have a welcoming place where families can come to escape,” Craig said.
Take a virtual tour of the new Cowabunga’s in Manchester.
As the Pearsons showed the mayor around, a small boy with a “Born to Bounce” T-shirt asked if he could speak to the owner. His grandmother, Barbara LaFlamme, flagged the Pearsons down for him. Gavin Beebe, 5, has been a Cowabunga dude since he was 18-months old.
“He’s grown up at Cowabunga’s. He just wanted to tell him how amazing this place is,” said LaFlamme, of Merrimack, who is Gavin’s caretaker. “And I’m thrilled because it’s half the distance from me as the one in Hooksett. Also, because it’s a place where he can run and be a little boy, without a care in the world.”
Gavin gave Matthew Pearson a high-five, then ran toward the “Glow Room” to marvel at his glowing socks while he pounced on an inflatable shark fin perpetually surfaced in a bouncy plastic sea of fun. Kelly Pearson continued the tour, which includes several walled-off party rooms, which encourages kids to play together during parties, rather than splintering off for roguish romping. The $12 entry fee for kids includes all-day admission. If you have to leave to pick up a kid from school, you can return for another round of extended family fun.
The Pearsons thanked Craig for the city’s assistance in getting the place up and running, a process that overlapped with the birth of their youngest future Cowabunga kid, 5-month-old Grace, who was definitely born to bounce.
“Everything’s designed in a way that families can play together,” says Kelly Pearson.
Cowabunga’s Manchester, 725 Huse Road, is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday (closed Mondays for deep cleaning). Admission is $12 for children. Adults and babies are free.