Boda Borg: thou shalt not Quest

Despite ultimately being a no, this was one of the most reasonable and
reasoned email exchanges I've ever had with a business.  It's
fairly self-explanatory.


Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2018 15:43:52 -0500
Subject: that rules question...

Hi -- your site manager said it was okay to send email; hopefully
this doesn't land in your spam-box.  This is a little long but
contains many facts related to my footwear question.  Part of the
online rules document reads

     ... or similar open-toe shoes, or bare feet, are not nearly as
      safe while Questing.

For some of us, the exact opposite is true -- we are far *more* safe
and surefooted without any type of footwear than with.  I and a
couple of friends who are considering a visit are experienced long-
time "barefooters" -- we go through the vast majority of our lives
without the encumbrance of shoes.  That includes all of our hiking,
climbing, dancing, physical work, and other activities.  With some
people who are otherwise able-bodied, they have a *medical necessity*
to remain barefoot as much as possible, as shoes [even the new
"minimalist" types] will quickly bring on showstopping discomfort
due to joint pain, plantar issues, or whatever.

Unfortunately here in the USA a lot of social prejudice against bare
feet has developed, stemming from that old discrimination against
hippies and others back in the sixties.  There has never been any
factual basis for it -- not concerning health, safety, liability,
insurance, food, or any of it.  That is starting to slowly turn
around nowadays here -- there is a lot of growing awareness of the
health benefits of avoiding shoes, easily findable by some online
searches for "barefoot" in combination with "health", "hiking",
"running", "training", etc.  You might be aware of the book "Born
to Run" and the barefoot running trend that started a few years ago.
Part of our particular group enjoys going hiking the woods and
climbing mountains without shoes -- here's a pictorial of one of
our adventures last year, up Monadnock:

There is likely nothing about a Quest that our feet couldn't handle.
You have people going through passages on their hands, knees,
elbows -- all of which are more vulnerable than feet, and yet nothing
is said about gloves or knee pads.  The online waiver in fact states
that participants are not given or *required to wear* protective gear,
and assume 100% of injury risk.  Why, then, would anyone worry about
shoes?  That is at odds with the document people are expected to
sign.  We're fine with how we travel and live, in the woods, in urban
environments, on construction sites, and wherever else.  Trying to
clump my own way through a Quest with bricks on my feet would hinder
my mobility and balance and really detract from the experience.

If you haven't fielded this question before, you are likely to see
it more often as time goes on due to generally increasing awareness.
The Laguna Hills office has already stated that there's nothing
about footwear under general Boda Borg corporate policy, especially
given what the waivers cover.  Note that the pervasive "foot fear"
is fairly unique to the US -- in fact the Boda Borg website areas
for Sweden and Ireland mention nothing about this, and I even found
a couple of online videos showing people happily Questing in the
Swedish locations without shoes.  It is far less of a "concern"
across the pond, and has always been an entirely fabricated and
false "concern" here as an excuse to discriminate.

Ideally, the verbiage about footwear or at least specifically about
bare feet would simply be removed, applicable to all future USA
locations as well, leaving such things to a patron's own judgement.
Facility managers and staff could then be informed that unshod
participants should be welcomed like all others, to head off any
uninformed confrontations.  If someone enters the premises barefoot
to begin with, you can assume they know what they're doing!  For our
local group and circle of friends, there are a couple of us who would
simply be *unable* to participate if a "shoe rule" were insisted upon
and they would be rather upset by that.  There's no point in such
rules anymore, especially when customers formally assume all
liability in writing and go in expecting to get a little banged up
as part of the fun.  Their feet are the least likely part to be
affected, even less so if they're well-conditioned by being put
through far more rigorous treatment elsewhere.

Hopefully I've succeeded in providing you some reassurance!
I could also even stop by the location and chat more, although this
week is a little busy for me.  I'd also love to get some insight
on the thought process behind *designing* a Quest and keeping it
within the capabilities of such a varied client base.




Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2018 19:40:54 -0400
From: Chad Ellis <>
Subject: Re: that rules question...

Thanks for writing and explaining your interest. David had mentioned your
calls with him earlier today and that you would probably be contacting us,
and since I had a bit of quiet time I was able to browse some of your
writing about the barefoot lifestyle. I know a handful of barefooters from
my many geek worlds (not sure, but it seems to be more common in gaming,
tech, etc.), but your page is the first time I've had a chance to see the
case for barefooting in detail.

I understand that your request for a change in policy is thought out and
reflects something that's important to you and to others, and that our
policy would -- if maintained and enforced -- either prevent some of your
group from coming or would make your visit less enjoyable. That's something
I take seriously. I also take at face value your assessment that with your
barefoot experience and with your feet being conditioned, you may generally
be as safe or safer with bare feet than with shoes.

That said, I don't agree with your conclusion that there is no need for our
policy or that we can safely assume that anyone who comes in barefoot or
wishes to Quest barefoot knows what they're doing. Quite the contrary; we
have seen firsthand that many people who want to Quest barefoot do not have
anything like your experience level and do not have conditioned feet. When
we consider this and the unfamiliar situations that Questing entails, I
think the risk of injury is higher for most Guests if they are barefoot. I
recognize that I may be wrong, but my honest belief is that for people who
lack your expertise and conditioning, Questing barefoot would be less safe.

A basic reality of our business is that we have to have simple policies
that apply to everyone. We have age requirements based on a lot of
experience, but of course we know that they are somewhat arbitrary and that
different people mature at different rates. One child might be totally
ready to Quest at age six or even five or younger, but trying to evaluate
each child on a case-by-case basis is impossible. In the case of bare feet,
even if we concluded that it was safe for people with appropriate
experience and conditioning to Quest barefoot, it would not be practical on
an operational basis. We can have over 200 people Questing at a given time;
if we have one group Questing barefoot we know from experience that others
may take their shoes off -- and we can't run our business if we're having
to explain team-by-team why they have to wear shoes when someone else

I recognize that you may not find this persuasive. I hope you understand
that our policy is based on an honest assessment of risks, combined with
the practical needs of operating a business that serves thousands of people
every week. You would be welcome barefoot in our social area and to eat
barefoot at our taco bar (or whatever other food options we were offering).
Unfortunately, however, if you choose to *Quest *you would have to do so in
Quest-appropriate footwear.

Best regards,


Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2018 08:07:56 -0500
From: *Hobbit*

Thank you for being as lucid as I was, if not more so, in your reply.
That's quite rare to find in email these days, as our overall social
literacy continues to circle the drain, but I always appreciate it.
Your reply came as an honestly measured answer, rather than the
thundering ivory-tower edicts I usually get.

If you've been around the geek/tech world, or at least parts of it,
you might have even heard of me in passing at some point.  I was in
the "internet insecurity" game for quite a few years, and also work
various theatre/convention production gigs here and there.  Sans
shoes, of course, and that's had its little battles here and there.
Barefooting may be more common in those worlds because its people
enjoy being themselves, and like to dig around and find the facts
to answer their questions instead of just heed mob rule.

I'm trying to fully understand your position -- it's an interesting
perspective, and I don't envy your job of having to balance one's
individual skills and merits versus wanting a simpler and less
granular management task.  At one end of the "uniformity" spectrum,
I suppose, is Disney, where they pick nits with peoples' overall
attire and would probably be happiest if all their guests showed
up in official school uniforms.  That place gave me the creeps, with
its utter failure to acknowledge anyone's individuality.  At the
other end, I suppose, could be our local parks, where the trails are
an impartial judge of one's skill, and nobody's about to sue the DCR
or the Trustees over a booboo they sustained on an outing.  Out
there, I'm a hero, a superman, that crazy barefoot guy who zipped
bravely ahead over the sharp rocks and broken glass.  There are
even places in the Fells where people hang out naked, I discovered.

But I will certainly grant you that a lot of people have weak feet,
unsuited for suddenly jumping into active adventures, and for the
obvious reason that they keep them imprisoned in shoes all the time!
You've already seen how I'm trying to do my part and encourage the
equivalent of quitting smoking in that regard, but the barefooter
community is still very small and doesn't have the resources to get
that message on prime-time TV or the like.  Maybe someday, looking
ahead to a golden time when more of your clients would consider
Questing shod as an unwelcome hindrance.  I'm glad I was able to give
you some perspective as well and I hope you found it entertaining.
I've been writing a lot about this in the past year-and-some, partly
because I've been enjoying really pushing my limits recently.  Did
a lot of "coldfooting" this winter, and it was pretty awesome.

The policy as it stands, however, is contrary to what the waiver
says -- "Participants ... are not required to wear or provided
protective gear, in general ... [they] agree to engage in Questing
activities without protective gear voluntarily and at their own
individual and group risk."  That would really seem to leave you
free to not worry about anyone's feet along with other parts.
What has historically happened to people who inadvisedly jumped
in barefoot?  What could they have done differently while still
unshod to avoid whatever problem they encountered?  I'm really
curious about what *real-life* risks are present that aren't also
present for head, hands, etc, anyone's experience level aside.
[Perhaps you could show me one of your most significant
foot-hazard areas someday.]

With any requirements imposed in conflict with such waivers, it's
almost surprising that attractions don't require latex gloves and
face masks in the height of New England flu season, isn't it...

Now I'm going to fish for a couple of ideas.  As a society we are so
stuck in that "shoddiness" mindset that barely credible risks loom
large in everyone's minds, and only a "universal" restrictive policy
will adequately reduce worry and starve the lawyers.  I think this is
short-sighted on all of our accounts, and I suspect that in general
principle you'd agree with that.  Are your clients given some basic
intro and instruction before they're sent off to Quest?  Are they
advised as to what might be more or less suitable for them as
individuals at all?  That's maybe the opportunity to do your quick
visual evaluation and warn them about specific concerns.  Perhaps
you could have an area for a "barefoot ability test", a box with a
pathway of angular stone like we find in the Blue Hills and such,
and if they can confidently barrel across that without obvious hurt
then they can wear a distinctive leg-band or something that says
they've proven themselves to not need shoes for the rest of their
visit.  Like climbing gyms, which make sure you can belay properly
before confirming your membership and letting you at the walls.

Or maybe you could set up and publicise "barefoot night", where
everyone gets specifically told of the potential risks but then
are allowed to make their own footwear decision.  Maybe with extra
training in "barefoot techniques" like we do on some of the hikes?
Could that be parlayed into an interesting PR angle too?  Like
I said, groping for crazy ideas toward better accomodation.  But
you know the dynamics, perhaps you and the facility design teams
could come up with something reasonable that could set everyone's
mind at ease.

Why don't they worry about this at all in Europe, where Boda Borg
is probably cranking ten times the amount of business through its
locations?  It's not like humans are that different there, other
than maybe being in better average physical shape than here.
Perhaps you can consult with your Swedish counterparts and get
*their* take on all this.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts, and please let me know if the
general outlook changes and/or if you'd like to chat about any
other stuff.  I've been finding videos on topics like "DIY escape
rooms" and the hardware utilized, and that's rather fun.



Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2018 09:54:12 -0400
From: Chad Ellis <>

Thanks for the thoughtful reply -- and I'm glad my own was taken as
intended. It's not always easy to communicate via email or text, where
social information has to be conveyed by words rather than expression or
tone of voice.

I take your point about our waiver not requiring protective gear. I
interpret we the language differently, although I think your interpretation
is also reasonable. As you point out, footwear is considered the norm in
most contexts; I think when most people see "protective gear" they think in
terms of knee and elbow pads, helmets, cups, mouthguards, etc., that are
not generally worn and are put on exclusively to reduce the risk of injury.

Liability is only part of the concern, however -- if we think something
increases risk then that's a serious issue for us, even if we think our
waiver covers us completely.

Your solutions are interesting, although I don't know how practical they
are -- especially at this point. As you can imagine, with 150,000+ guests a
year, we get a lot of special requests, and our business only works if we
keep things operationally simple. Setting up a barefoot testing zone with
sharp rocks, for example, is clever but would require space, staff time,
etc., and would then still assume that other Guests would know what the leg
band referred to.

Sweden is different in a few ways. (As a side note, we see far more people
than any of the Swedish locations, because they tend to be built in remote
areas while we are close to a major city.) Some of it is legal and
cultural, but a lot of it is history. Once you've allowed something it can
be much harder to stop than it is not to allow it at all, and there are
some things that we don't allow that our Swedish compatriots do -- but wish
they didn't have to. Two examples are our age requirement and shoes. I
think their feelings are stronger about age -- they would love to stop
allowing kids under seven, and urged us not to -- but even with the Swedish
outdoor and "do what you like" culture, they believe that their barefoot
guests have a higher injury rate. We formed our policies after a lot of
consultation with Swedish operators, and most areas where we differ it's
either because of something specific to being in the US (e.g. they don't
even have waivers there) or it's because they said, "We don't do this but
wish we did."